Have you recently been in a virtual meeting that was unproductive? A meeting where no decisions were made, no clear topics were addressed, and people weren't engaged?
As a tech startup founders or team lead, your meetings should be a productive means to prioritize, solve problems, decide, and achieve your goals. Not a time waster.
There are tons of posts on meeting productivity, but they often focus on superficial tactics:
Hold smartphone-free meetings
Make sure everyone has their camero on
Keep meeting shorts
Meet standing up
These are nice ideas, but they don’t address the core issue with meetings: human nature and egos.
In this post, we’ll give you a few key hacks that will definitely transform your virtual meetings into a productive and effective alignment and decision-making tool.
In his book High Output Management, Andy Grove explains that there are different types of meetings:
Process-oriented meetings: include one-on-ones, staff meetings, and operational reviews.
Mission-oriented meetings: often ad hoc meetings that you schedule to address a specific problem or decide on a strategic direction.
Today, we’ll cover the operational reviews, or the weekly meetings you have with your core management team.
3 key obstacles to having highly productive virtual meetings
There are three problems that fundamentally turn your virtual meetings into time wasters.
1. You use meetings to share information.
Too often meetings become a lazy (or default solution) to share information. It’s not a good use of your time to spend an hour in a meeting to have someone read information on a slide. I'm not saying that productive virtual meetings do not include information sharing. You just need a smarter way to get the information flowing.
Instead of setting a meeting to get an update on a project or on how sales are going, create a simple Executive Dashboard to track key metrics or milestones on a weekly basis. If you see metrics going in the wrong direction, you can start asking questions, dig deeper, and use the meeting to make a decision. If all is on track, you can focus on something else. You can also use a simple Issue tracker to monitor special or unusual problems. Whenever you want an update, you can simply have a look at your document. Of course, these solutions only work if your team updates these documents regularly. In our Growth Leap online course, we teach you how to implement these tools with your team without creating a massive bureaucracy. We show you exactly how to make your virtual meetings more productive and help you accelerate growth.
2. You don’t have a set meeting agenda
Over the past 15 years, I’ve attended plenty of virtual and in-person meetings on four continents. I’ve seen a clear trend.
Asking your team to add any items to the agenda a few days before your meeting doesn’t work. Instead you end up with:
The same people talking about the same topics
People rambling about their problems
“Recency biased” agenda items (people bring up recent problems instead of the most important challenges)
An empty agenda
And that’s normal. You and your team are busy selling, developing, and supporting customers. It’s tough to get out of the weeds and think clearly about what needs to be discussed and prioritized in the next meeting if you don't have a simple system to track your projects and metrics.
For many years I struggled to find an approach that would make my virtual meetings consistently productive. The solution I found is quite simple.
You need a well-organized agenda structured around key themes. This helps you reduce decision fatigue and the last minute rush to fill out your agenda. It also helps remind you of the critical business challenges that you and your team need to address.
Your agenda should cover themes like:
Employee, customer news/issues
Recap and to-dos
3. You don’t have clear rules
Many people like to hear themselves talk. Some like to show off their knowledge or accomplishments. Some like to repeat the same problems over and over again. Some like to speculate or gossip.
To have productive virtual meetings, you need to establish a few rules. You don’t necessarily need to print a series of 10 commandments and show it at the beginning of each meeting. But you need to agree on 3-4 rules that people are allowed to remind the group whenever someone gets off track.
For example, here are some rules I put in place:
No blaming/finger pointing We use meetings to solve problems and improve our business, not to blame each other for past mistakes. If someone screwed up, we do a retrospective to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And then we move on. Ray Dalio talks similarly about creating a culture in which people can make mistakes, but they're not allowed not to learn from them.
No speculation Speculating (in meetings and in general) is a waste of time, unless you work for a 24-hour News network or are into investing for the wrong reasons. If you don’t have the facts or data needed to have a meaningful discussion or make a decision, stop talking and go do your homework. Don’t speculate.
No rambling about or rehashing the past Whenever there’s a problem some people like to rehash old problems that they faced 2, 3, 4 years ago. In our meetings, you cannot do that. We focus on getting better, finding solutions, and moving forward.
No selling Meetings should help you come to the best possible decisions and solutions. It shouldn’t be a pitching show in which the loudest wins. We use meetings to look at the problem from different angles, analyze the data, and come up with various scenarios.
To make these rules stick requires commitment, time, and consistency. You need to allow everybody to call it (in a nice way) when they see someone break one of the rules. In the long run, this will boost the productivity of your meetings especially as many are working remotely now.
Make sure you discourage the show-offs, speculation, sales pitch of ideas, and instead, encourage people to find the root cause of your problems and fix them for good.
Get your meeting agenda template
If you're tired of wasting your time and are ready to transform your virtual meetings, start using our meeting agenda template. This template walks you through each section of the agenda and what needs to happen.
It’s an extremely effective tool to increase productivity, keep your team focused, and make faster and better decisions.
After reading a lot about virtual meeting productivity and a lot of trial and error, I developed an agenda structure specifically designed for tech startups and scaleups.
Agenday Structure: You can download the template here
First part (20 min.): Quick reporting on key metrics/aspects of your business
Good news (5 min.): Start meeting on a positive note with the right energy
Scorecard (5 min.): Speed reporting on key numbers for Finance, Sales, Customer Success, P&E to flag any issues potentially preventing us from reaching targets/completing OKRs. All
Customer/Employee/Product Releases (5 min.): Raise awareness, flag any potential issues
Follow up on last week's todos (5 min.): make sure we keep ourselves accountable on our to-dos
Second part (30 min.): Solve your top three issues
Here you will discuss, clarify, and decide on the top 3 issues that are blocking the team or that need to be resolved.
Conclusion (5 min.): Recap the to-dos and their owners, and agree if there are any messages that need to be cascaded to the teams
Total meeting length: 55-60 minutes.
That's all folks
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Have a good one!
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