Perfect Meetings

Early this year, Shopify made news by publicly ending all meetings. They killed 38 to 155 person years of meetings, depending on who’s reporting you believe. Some applaud the move. Others are concerned that it will lead to isolation and poor coordination.

I think the debate ignores the real issue. Most meetings are poorly conceived, executed and followed up on. Most people have too many meetings. But, there is a place for meetings. After all, companies should achieve more with their people working together than alone.

So, we need good meetings while avoiding any that could have been an email or slack. Here’s how to execute perfect meetings.

First, consider why you need a meeting instead of asynchronous interaction. Does the meeting have a reason to be? Do you need it as a better way to:

  1. Communicate: Perfect meetings allow for two-way, faster, and more effective sharing of ideas, updates, and questions. Meetings allow for a human element and good non-verbal communication that is not possible with other mediums.
  2. Make Decisions: Perfect meetings allow interactive brainstorming of root causes and potential solutions in a way that uncovers better solutions.
  3. Collaborate: Perfect meetings allow working together to share knowledge, and coordinate efforts with the goal of producing some deliverable or product.
  4. Plan: Perfect meetings allow teams to better agree to goals, define objectives, and develop shared strategies to achieve them.
  5. Evaluate: Perfect meetings share feedback on the performance of individuals or teams. Use them to assess outcomes, identify needs, and share feedback on good and needs improvement areas.

Next, follow ground rules for when and how meetings are scheduled. Shared policies keep meetings from dominating all working hours and help ensure a perfect meeting framework is possible. Consider policies for:

  • Focused time when no meetings can be scheduled
  • When in-person meetings are allowed or needed vs zoom
  • How much notice is required
  • What information must be shared when scheduling

Finally, Execute the Perfect P’s Framework to ensure live meeting time is as productive as possible. This framework requires all meetings to use the following practices:

  1. Purpose: Clearly define the objectives and planned outcomes and an agenda. The meeting organizer will publish these with the invite so that everyone attending knows them.
  2. Preparation & Pre-work: Adopt a flipped classroom approach. Any part of the meeting that is update or information focused should move to preparation. Have attendees create and distribute status updates, plans, measures, and other documentation in advance. Then focus on live clarifications, feedback, support, and problem solving during meeting time. This practice alone can easily cut meeting time in half.
  3. Participants: Invite only people who can make decisions or contribute knowledge or experience. Smaller focused meetings accomplish more than larger groups. Others can see the summary later. All participants should be on time and fully participate in only the meeting. If anyone is checking email or other matters, they don’t belong in the meeting.
  4. Process: All meetings have a facilitator who is often the organizer. They are responsible for executing a structured meeting process.
    Facilitation starts by ensuring the Purpose and Preparation is completed including making sure all updates and issues are shared on time.
    During the meeting, make sure attendees follow the agenda, stay on track and document decisions. Have a time keeper that alerts the team when time on the agenda has expired. Or have a safe word that anyone can use to call “time out” when off topic. Agree in advance about how to reconcile when there is a desire to continue a topic past this time. Negotiate time from other items on the agenda or document the point of discussion as an issue or action item and move on within no more than a few minutes of running over time. A focus on promptness results in higher evaluation scores, because no one feels like the meeting becomes a time sink. Keep true to the clock first, then focus on getting the most out of the time reserved.
    At the end of the meeting, have participants rate the meeting. Use a score from 1-10 and get at least one good and one needs improvement idea from each attendee. This is especially important for recurring meetings to help members become more effective working together.
  5. Product: Document all outcomes in the meeting. If decisions are made, create a solution statement to ensure agreement. Most meetings will have action items, communication needs or next steps that should be captured and assigned an owner and due date.
    Keep meeting documents in a standard place on Google drive, SharePoint or use a tool like Monday, Clickup, Trello, or Notion. More formal tools add structure and easily integrate action items with other accountability tracking.
    You can record meetings by including a Zoom, Teams or Google option. Other tools like Otter, Anchor and Hypercontext will create transcript minutes without anyone in the meeting being bogged down with note taking.
  6. P.S. = Follow-up: Communicate and complete the outcomes of the meeting. Make meeting documentation available to all attendees and anyone else that may need to act on it. The facilitator should track completion of at least the communication needs from the meeting. The best way to ensure follow-up is to make action items a part of your everyday execution. One company I worked with created metrics in the tracking tool to gamify the completion of activities and rolled it out across their startup. Allow for asynchronous discussion after and between meetings as needed.

So, yes, end all meetings as we know them. Start over with a clean slate that ensures all meetings are perfect. They must:

  • Have a reason to be
  • Follow ground rules
  • Execute the perfect P’s framework

Please follow, share, like, and reach out. Contact me from the about page or on LinkedIn if I can answer any questions or help address a specific need you have.

To see how these principles apply to strategy execution, read Great Leadership Team Meetings.

Follow your Passion, find Joy in your work, and create Freedom to pursue all life’s priorities.

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