The agenda: Making meetings work

We’ve all had those days where you look at your calendar and it is booked solid with meetings. This dilemma is certainly nothing new, and in many work cultures becoming increasingly challenging. Beyond a ballooning To Do list, life in a boardroom is inefficient and expensive. As work culture writer Drake Baer tells us in this Fast Company article, a 10-person meeting, even at just $50 per hour amounts to $500.

Internal face-to-face meetings are important, and when done right, a valuable, productive use of your teams’ time. As a first step, it’s worth asking, do we really need a meeting, or can this be handled with a few brief conversations with team members? If the answer is yes, conventionally, successful meetings rest on some key ingredients:

  • A limited guest list (Google limits their invite list to 10), with each participant providing input – or they are simply not invited
  • A tight agenda
  • A defined leader
  • Assigned action items

While these ingredients may be tried and true, there is a movement underway that is changing the rules. Rather than gazing at your phone under the boardroom table (and we know you are), here are a few modern approaches and tips from top CEOs that could breathe some life into your pre-booked Outlook events.

The Standing Meeting – Many in Silicon Valley are shaking things up and experimenting with no chairs. Popular with Agile software developers, a standing meeting is designed to keep people focused and the meeting short. Who wants to stand for an hour? Jason Yip wrote an entire manual on how to make this  style most effective. Similarly, many believe no meeting should go past 30 min without a mind and body stretch. A break can inject some energy and fresh ideas.

Get Challenged – The rules: come with great ideas and be prepared to get challenged. While there are legendary tales of tears at Apple under Steve Jobs, this approach is meant to encourage strong thinking and expose ideas to honest criticism.

Assign DRIs – This Fortune article describes that a DRI is Applespeak for a directly responsible individual, with everyone around the table assigned to a specific task on the agenda. This adds a layer of accountability and a sense of ownership at the individual level – no disputes on who dropped the ball! Included on the DRI list should be at least one note taker to formalize any next steps.

Get Fluffy – LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner encourages staff to go against the grain. In a heavily metric-driven environment, Jeff encourages is direct reports to share their “wins”, like a personal victory or professional achievement from the past week. This “soft and mushy” ritual is designed to drive positivity from the start and create a comfortable environment among team members before diving into the quantifiable more rigorous aspects of the business.

Shhh… Stay Silent – Rather than fighting for your turn, LinkedIn uses a radical model: kick off your meeting with…. Silence. CEO Jeff Weiner describes how they have essentially eliminated “the presentation” by sending out presentations in advance, then providing the first 5-10 min for attendees to review, collect thoughts, or delve deeper into questions (or answer emails). The idea here is to generate a valuable discourse and stir a meaningful debate.

Circle up – Research suggests that meetings structured in a circle limited power dynamics, encouraged more participation and were more group-oriented.

What approaches have you tried? Next up, it may be time to reinvent the dreaded conference call to avoid this painful scenario: A Conference Call in Real Life – YouTube.