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Finding the right cadence
Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert
Spend time during or at the end of the meeting creating some commitments.
The best companies create a structure that protects employees time for important work.
Create structures to capture ideas or conversations that are serendipitous or spontaneous.
Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen
Step #10 Next: Finding the right cadence
Ideally, you're spending time during the meeting, and at least the last five, ten minutes of the meeting converging, clarifying, making commitments, figuring out what got decided and who's supposed to do what by when, and what the follow up will be. After the meeting, there should be some continuity. Either it's a future meeting, or a check-in, or some document, or some communication to one, hold people accountable.
Not in a sense of heavy handed stick if you didn't do it, but we've all had the experience of, there's something we commit to doing, we want to do, but we forget, or we lose track. Accountability, the notion of accounting for our commitments, is a really useful service to help us be more likely to do the things we want to do and that we said we would do.
That can be another meeting. One of the things we're building into Meeting Heroes is linking meanings together, so that your action items and open issues resurface at the next meeting. That close-loop process makes it much more likely that the things actually get done, and people feel accountable. Or if they don't get done, that can at least be discussed. And teams can decide, "Okay. It clearly wasn't highest priority for you. Why is that?" and teams can decide, "Let's just take it off the list," versus what happened today is just, stuff all disappeared into history.
As soon as the meeting is done, it just evaporates into history. All the commitments dissipate, or maybe some of them get done, some of them don't. Either someone really vigilant and diligent and disciplined has to track it all, or it just doesn't happen. We're trying to make all that automated and simple.
The other things that need to happen after the meeting are communication of what happened in the meeting to people who weren't at the meeting. Having this really well-structured summary that you can, in a click, send out to people, and that also exists in a cloud that you can refer people to. Teams are finding that useful to share in a really streamlined way with other people who weren't in the meeting, what happened in the meeting.
Also just to refer back to yourself, so that you have context. If there's some new person on the team, you want to get them up to speed quickly, for them to be able to go back and read through the summaries of all the different meetings is useful.
It is definitely interesting that a lot of companies now have a meeting culture where you really spend most of your day in meetings. There's not a lot of space to focus on individual thinking or work. What the best companies do is they'll create systematic structure around this. It can be hard as an individual to say, "I'm going to protect my time. I'm not going to have any meetings on Wednesdays, or from 12:00 to 3:00, or from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. when I start my day," or 10:00 a.m. to noon, if you're an engineer, when you start your day.
It's just hard to do, because people will schedule meetings in there. If you create agreements throughout the organization, like "no meetings Wednesdays," or "no meetings after this time or before this time," that's when I've seen it actually work if you enforce it. A lot of the times they'll create the rule, but then, "Whoa! There's all this open space on Wednesday, and we need to schedule this meeting. Let's schedule it," because we all know how hard it can be to get a meeting on everyone's' calendar.
There's two questions to think about. One is micro productivity versus macro productivity. The second is control versus serendipity. On the first one, what I mean by "micro productivity" is this local maximum, where you get really efficient, for example in your meetings, where they stay focused and you're making decisions and coming up with clear action items, but they're the wrong ones. Or they're moving projects along that don't really matter.
I think it's important to have the right overall cadence of meetings and communication such that you're constantly asking the questions and having the conversations to make sure that everyone's focused on the right things. That there's actually alignment between what people are working on and what matters to the company. I've seen that, where you can over-optimize at the micro-level, and miss the forest for the trees. That's one thing to think about and to be intentional and thoughtful about.
The other is this issue of control versus serendipity. A lot of the best practices around meetings is this tightly controlled space where there's a clear agenda. You don't stray from it. What if people have something come up, serendipitously? An idea or a topic of conversation that wasn't planned, but it was really important.
Truthfully, I think some of the best meetings didn't follow an agenda, and maybe even didn't have any clear action times. There were no decisions made, but just a breakthrough in communication or idea. It's important to consider that there's many different types of meetings and reasons for communicating.
One way to address that is to have a really clear process or space for what to do with this serendipitous stuff that isn't on the meeting plan. A simple tool I've seen teams use is what they'll call a parking lot, or an open issues list. Like, "Whoa, that's an amazing idea. I hadn't even thought of it. Let's park it, but in a space that we'll actually come back to it." That's just one way to balance the two, where serendipity becomes part of the plan. It's important to have the flexibility, too, to recognize in the moment, "This was our plan, but this is a much more important topic that just came up, so we'll talk about this one."
I think it's important not to relate to an agenda, or frankly, any plan as handcuffs and prison rails, but rather as guiderails to keep you on track. If you see another quicker, better path, you might want to get off that path, lose the guiderails and take it. Ultimately, it comes down to the judgment of the leaders and the group. It's important to consider that planning is really useful, and you don't always follow your plan. Every entrepreneur hopefully understands that, and if not, would really benefit from having that clear.
We create plans, they're useful, they help us define what we're testing, what we're trying to do, but there's a quote, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, or no startup plan survives contact with the market." In a similar vein, not every agenda survives contact with the actual group, and that's okay. Having a way to handle the agenda that's dynamic can help with that. "Here's what we decided beforehand, but let's be able to reorder things, or change things dynamically during the meeting as we see fit."