A single question to improve the overall quality of meetings: Is a decision needed?. If ‘no’, then consider alternatives. If ‘yes’, then there are a few straight forward housekeepers for much better meetings.
Running meetings tend to either be ineffective, where most participants walk away knowing it was a terrible use of time, or effective at enabling a group to go further faster. Google Startup Lab has a talk Meetings that don’t suck that uses slightly more colorful language to describe meetings. One way of estimating your average experience is by using a meeting capability maturity model. The challenge is that the ineffective ones are much easier to run by accident.
Onto the two categories of meetings decision meetings and non-decision meetings.
There are a few categories of non-decision meetings that come up often. Some are useful, others are not so useful.
1) Status update meeting
- Remove if possible, this is the easiest type of meeting to remove and save time on
- Could an email or slack message replace this?
- A few questions answered, can those happen by email or slack?
2) Problem-solving, strategy, brainstorming, planning, other
- Is there a decision hidden here?
- Keep it scoped
- Limit attendees
- Work to make everyone a participant, not an observer
3) One on ones
- Keep them sacred
4) Daily standups
- Good chance to get a team all together
- Keep it quick and simple, more tips here
If we know a decision needs to be made, the best way to enable our team is to be as clear as possible. Ideally, nobody gets surprised walking into a decision meeting, all the relevant information was shared beforehand, space was created to decide without a meeting, and everyone walks out with clarity.
These are a few questions you can ask before a decision-making meeting.
What is the decision?
- Can it wait for a meeting?
- Can it be decided without a meeting?
- Is the decision clear and unambiguous? (e.g. yes/no)
Who are the deciders?
- Can block execution
- Ideally 1 person
Who are the reviewers?
- Can not block execution
- Have valuable input
What is the agenda?
- No agenda, no meeting
- Needs a decision and decider
- Includes links to materials
- Has a way to comments ahead of time
Agendas do not need to be complicated to get the job done. This is a sample that gives an attendee enough information to prepare, ask questions before the meeting, and the decider an opportunity to decide without a meeting.
Subject: Database upgrade agenda Hey everyone, We need to decide if we are going to go ahead with a database upgrade, this is the agenda for our meeting Thursday at 2pm: - Explored alternatives - Steve (doc link, 10 min) - Proposed upgrade plan - Eduard (doc link, 15 min) Decision: approval to start plan (decider: Dinesh) Reviewers: Ade (Eng), Juliana (Ops), Vivek (Security) Links attached, please take a look before the meeting and see you Thursday! -Andrew
When will it happen?
- Shorter is better. avoid 30/60 minute back to back meetings if 20/50 could work also
- Consider maker vs manager time, especially if you invite engineers
- Try to ‘defrag’ meeting schedules if possible (I am currently using clockwise to defrag my calendar)
- Avoid last-minute invites and give time to prepare
During the meeting
- Stick to the agenda
- Take notes (list attendees, capture action items and decisions, don’t transcribe)
After the meeting
- Confirm and circulate action items
- Make the notes available
- Get feedback on the meeting!
If you look at a decision meeting and it is not clear how or what decision could be taken without the meeting, you can probably ask one of these questions to get insight.