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8 Ways to Make Meetings Suck Less

For many, “meeting” is an evil word. Meetings can suck the life from you and your staff, particularly your millennial workforce, by distracting from the critical day-to-day actions that are needed to keep a business afloat. Poorly-run meetings waste more time and money than any other facet of corporate life, a problem to which startups are especially susceptible. 

On the other hand, well-run organizations properly hire and train managers who can keep meetings short and to the point, with an outline and an accurate list of who needs to be in the room. This frees top performers to continue their winning streak, rather than find themselves stuck in an office-wide meeting that has no bearing on their work. 

While transparency is critical, wasting time is stupid. The rise of “scrum” and “lean methodology” have slowed the trend of two-hour team updates, but since managers and founders still feel the need to host them, it’s time to discuss a better way to operate. 

1. Increase your one-on-ones.

A manager’s or founder’s best strategy for keeping their finger on the pulse is to schedule one-on-one meetings with each department’s leadership team. These quick check-ins reduce the number of agenda items in staff-wide meetings, increase the speed of decision-making, and build trust and rapport with senior staffers, while simultaneously getting the information you need and the knowledge of where improvements can be made. However, canceling these meetings because something else comes up can show you’re not committed to their success - a significant morale killer in smaller teams. Therefore, these meetings should be regularly scheduled, maintained, and rarely moved or canceled.

2. Use meetings to inspire your team.

The best managers go further than simply encouraging their direct reports to complete tasks. They inspire their staffers to own their accomplishments and exceed their goals by leading by example. Bringing excitement into a workforce is an under-appreciated skill, and meetings are a welcome opportunity to showcase this enthusiasm.

3. Be the Captain of Meetings.

When there’s no real leader, meetings can quickly spiral out of control. After you’ve established your one-on-ones, you can begin to craft a meeting outline with very specific goals. Stick to the schedule, keep an eye on the clock, and ensure that everyone knows what the meeting is trying to achieve. Designate someone as the notetaker who can build a follow-up schedule based on action items, then address these points in your one-on-ones afterwards.

4. Run a tight ship.

Related to the last item, it’s critical that the meeting leader understands which questions are in bounds and which can be handled offline. Sticking to an agenda shows power, clarity, and respect for the time of everyone in the room. A founder or manager who does not keep control of a meeting will inevitably find that disagreements arise. When this happens, the meeting itself can oftentimes get sidetracked as you suddenly will need to diffuse a situation. 

5. Invite no more than 10 people.

The larger the group, the less you accomplish. An ideal group is 8 - 10 people, though that number can be reduced for startups where even 5 might be sufficient. Understanding your agenda and inviting the right people to accomplish key goals is the best way to determine the perfect number for you. For example, instead of inviting the whole team, invite only the leader of the group, who can then share the meeting’s agenda and notes to the rest in a follow-up email. 

6. Time is money.

Every time that you have a meeting, you must consider the impact on your staff’s productivity and bottom line. Is the meeting critical for achieving a business function? Will you accelerate the solving of a problem - thus saving you money in man-hours - or will this merely serve as a paid vacation in which your employees zone out? While meetings are sometimes necessary, they can be detrimental to your team’s workflow. Thus, it’s critical to weigh the opportunity cost to your company before emailing out meeting invites.

7. Rethink check-ins.

While some consider “scrum” the biggest time-saver in product management, others misunderstand the concept and pour hours into unproductive check-ins. Rather than asking everyone in your team to share what they’re working on, move this conversation online or into your one-on-one so that only those who are affected by each other’s projects receive updates.

8. Make yourself available.

Ironically, despite the emphasis on transparency, overbooking one’s calendar for weeks can actually reduce the ability for staffers to reach you when they most need help. Sort through your calendar and delete any meetings that can just as easily be conducted via email, making more time for actually “urgent” meetings and calls from decision-makers. Another excellent way to clear up clutter is to limit all meetings to 20-30 minutes with a buffer of at least 15 minutes between each one. Always start and end a meeting on time - running over indicates that you are neither the Captain of Meetings nor capable of discerning between important and non-important discussions. Neither makes you look very responsible. 

While we might not be able to get rid of meetings altogether, we can certainly make them more efficient for ourselves and those involved. Following these simple rules and keeping the “pets, kids, and weekend plans” conversations to the water cooler are easy ways to help accelerate your company’s success.