Five Steps to Fix your Pointless Startup Meetings
Everyone has meetings, but… who taught you HOW to have a meeting? I’m guessing you probably picked it up by pattern — been in this meeting, that meeting, finally had your own meeting. But were you learning the right things to make your meetings great or just emulating the pattern that makes many meetings garbage in the first place?
This is my hypothesis:
I believe there is a problem with most meetings. That problem isn’t based on a tool or that we need a tool to fix, but I believe that we need to instead give more care to what we get from a meeting. I believe our failing is that we’ve said ‘we need to have an ops meeting’ and maybe for week one we had an idea of what that ops meeting needed to do, but we don’t have that now, four weeks later. We have some idea, but that idea isn’t as strong as our ability to end up doing whatever we want in the moment of the day, and not make sure we all get a shared value from that meeting.
We don’t have a pattern for the meeting and the discussion the same way we have a pattern for a week of work; we don’t have someone leading a meeting that says ‘great, we’re moving from this to this, did we get everything?’ We might think we’re doing that, but we’re doing it far too softly. We haven’t even agreed or had the leader of a meeting explain what we ought to be leaving a meeting with. Instead, we all still have different ideas of what we’re supposed to be getting from a meeting and we haven’t reconciled them.
I don’t think a tool can solve that. I think better meeting planning/leadership/awareness of content can.
Maybe, this is what I’d do:
- Meetings need a leader.
- Meetings may have requirements.
- Meetings must have a goal/output.
- Meetings have an agenda.
- Meetings have a method of review/improvement.
Someone should be assigned or assign themselves the role of leader before a meeting. It should be on the calendar invite who the leader is, in case someone needs to ask something of them. The leader, well, leads the meeting. They’re responsible for ensuring that the requirements to have the meeting have been met and they’re responsible for asking the questions necessary (following the agenda)/moving the meeting toward the goal.
The thing to do here: Assign all meetings a leader and that leader is listed on meeting details. The meeting’s success is their responsibility.
Meetings have requirements when there is something that needs to be done in advance for them to flow successfully — say, updating Trello or the CRM. The leader’s responsibility is to ask meeting participants that their meeting requirements have been met before the meeting begins. The meeting may be paused, rescheduled, or cancelled if they’re not. This isn’t the leader’s fault — this is the fault of the person who failed their commitment to the requirements.
The thing to do here: Leaders determine a meeting’s requirements and ensure participants are aware of them by posting them in:
- Meeting notes on calendar
- A pre-meeting alert
- A pre-meeting email, if necessary
Meetings must have a goal. They must have a place to get to. The goal needs to be agreed upon and shared by the participants. I can’t have a different goal than you. The goal can be the dispensation of information; it can be acquiring new information by asking questions; it can be brainstorming some new ideas to review and agree later; it can be coming up with specific action items; but a meeting still needs a goal. Goals are varied; their option is not. A meeting without a goal is a dinner without food. What’s the point?
The thing to do here: The goal of a meeting needs to be shared with meeting details in either the same methods above or another output. The goal can’t be too soft.
The goal isn’t ‘to discuss our week’ — it needs to be about what we’re leaving with. For example: ‘to ensure our activities for the week are planned accurately and that is indicated in Trello by end-of-meeting’. The goal needs to be stated at the beginning of a meeting if it isn’t fairly static.
An agenda is the path to the goal. In some cases, the agenda is a pattern. In standups for example, it is ‘what have you done, what are you doing, where are you blocked?’ In other meetings, the agenda needs to be determined by the leader and participants at the very least need to understand and believe that the agenda can get to the goal for why they have agreed to be a part of this meeting. For a design review, the agenda may be very different, but it still needs to be outlined in advance.
The thing to do here: Add meeting agendas to meeting invites. Very quickly outline them at the beginning of a meeting. They should indicate a pattern/a set of meeting steps/questions that will be asked throughout the meeting.
A method of review/improvement
Meetings can get better. Doing the above, I believe, will make them A LOT better. But it won’t be perfect. Something might be missing from an agenda, for example. A step or question might improve the meeting greatly if we’d only thought of it an hour ago. Well, we’re going to go off-course in meetings, for sure, but we need to stop and ask ourselves, at the end of the meeting — in where we veered, did we discover something that needs to happen differently in this meeting next time? We need to ask the question explicitly and capture the improvement.
The thing to do here: At the end of a meeting, ask questions like: How did that go? Is there anything we haven’t said or done here? Do you feel like we’ve missed something? How can this go better next time? — Not all of them, but you know, ask what you feel like is necessary to get a sense of the participant’s sentiment. Don’t expect you’ll remember them. Have them written down to reference.
So… remember. Meetings don’t suck. Yours just might. Fix ’em.