Productive Meetings

with Dave Kashen

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When to call a meeting

Dave Kashen

Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert

Lessons Learned

Call a meeting if you are making a decision that requires everyone’s input or information.

Call a meeting if you are trying to create a plan with a lot of interdependencies.

Call a meeting if you want to generate or distill ideas.


Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen

Step #3 Communication: When to call a meeting

I think there are several decent reasons to call a meeting. One is if a team is trying to make a decision that requires everyone's input or information, I think that's a really good reason. Two, is if you are trying to make a plan that requires coordination amongst a lot of different people and there is a lot of inter-dependencies, it can be a really efficient way of getting everyone in the room to figure out exactly who needs to do what by when and get commitments from people.

One of the things that meeting do is they serve as an accountability tool if done well and if there's a path to coming back to what gets decided and discussed in the meeting. Too often there's not and it doesn't actually serve that function. But it can serve the function of an accountability tool and I think that's a reasonable reason to have a meeting as a way to keep the cadence or keep the team accountable for certain goals and tasks.

I know I've found that personally useful, when I've committed to people that I'm going to do something by a certain time and I know that as the meeting approaches where I know I'm going to have to report on those things I said I would do, I'm much more likely to finally get them done. Even if I procrastinate and wait until close to the meeting, at least the day the before the meeting I know I'm going to make sure I get it done because there is that social pressure and accountability.

Another good reason to call a meeting I think is to generate ideas. There is different research around brainstorming. I've seen a lot of research recently that says that writing the ideas first can actually generate a lot more ideas than the traditional way of brainstorming where everyone just start spitting out ideas verbally. But if you first have everyone write down their ideas, and then share those, then it can lead to that storm where you generating more and better ideas based on one another's ideas. And then if the group needs to then distill those ideas down and make a decision, I think that's a useful reason to meet.

The other ways to communicate outside of meeting, the most obvious way is email. In a sense, meetings and emails are the two primary communication vehicles and both of which have become some of the biggest pain points and frustrations inside of companies. We've seen a lot of technology tools and companies being established to try to attack the email problem.

There's an article I read recently about the unbundling of email, so what we used to use email for, now there's being more and more slices of workflows that are being carved out. So LinkedIn as an example, Salesforce as an example, Asana, project management, those kinds of tools are taking a lot of communication out of email and bringing them into a more special purpose communication vehicle. The same hasn't yet been done on the meeting side but we see that opportunity.

But the key tools for communication are one, just in the hallway, communication just grabbing someone, coming over to their desk and just having a conversation, email, different task management/project management systems, wikis. There are lot of different ways to communicate outside of just calling a meeting.

And I think it's important to consider whether the meeting is actually the right vehicle for communication -given the cost of it. And sometimes it is. Some people say when I tell them, "We are trying to rid the world of soul-crushing meetings," and they say, "Oh, you mean all of them?" And no, our goal is not to rid the world of all meetings. Some are really useful and necessary. Especially if a group of people need to make a decision or needs really quickly get to the same page to make a plan or commit to a set of actions. Or even for cohesion, it's often a really powerful tool to help a team just get to know each other better establish norms and agreements.

I think the ones people are most frustrated about are either when the meeting has no particular purpose, they’re not trying to make any kind of decision and they're not trying to get a group to work better together. They aren't trying to make a plan and they are just meeting to meet. Sometimes this will happen with recurring meetings. It'll just, "Well, it's always on the calendar, it's always been, so we just keep doing even way beyond its past it's useful life."

There have been some interesting companies, I think Dropbox did this, I think a few others where they wipe the slate clean, they cancel all meetings, and then they started over. And I think that's a really interesting idea to force yourself to consider anew, "Do we actually need this meeting? Is there a real purpose for it? Is it really useful or not?"

The ones where people get most frustrated by are update meetings where there's really a sense the information can be communicated outside of the meeting in an email, a document, in a wiki - etc.

One of things we are trying to build with MeetingHero is if we give every meeting its own live shared space, you can then communicate both before and after, around the context of that meeting so the meeting almost becomes a vehicle for communication outside of the meeting as well as in the meeting itself.

I think it's probably theoretically possible to manage effectively without meetings. I've never seen anyone do it. I think probably with a small enough team there's enough ambient awareness of what's happening, enough side conversations, and enough one-off, ad hoc conversations that you can get by.

I think as a company starts to grow and people aren't either in the same room or in the same conversations, you need some way to have communication across different teams, departments, units. People getting together either virtually or in person to communicate is a pretty age-old way of communicating and working together. It's hard for me to see a world completely without meetings, or how you'd manage effectively.

I think we've all seen that trying to have a substantive personal conversation, or a conversation with any degree of emotion on email typically doesn't work very well and backfires because you lose the body language and a lot of the context, and it's hard to gauge emotions. People put something in all caps and they you're yelling at them. So I think in-person communication is an important part of working together and it's more than just you communicating with yourself then that's essentially a meeting. I think it's pretty fundamental.

For teams that are distributed, one, I think it's important to recognize that part of the function of the meeting is social, is helping that team to build more cohesion, to relate to each other in a healthy way. There are some people whose view is that an efficient meeting is to get right to the point, no chit chat. I don't agree with that.

There are times when that is appropriate, but I think especially for teams that are remote and are trying to build their sense of team, of "Us as team," I think it'll be really useful to carve out time to have idle chit chat, or not so idle chit chat and just get to know each other, ask about your lives, etc. And whether you do it formally where minute zero to five is for chit chat, or you just expect it when you plan a meeting and allow for it, I think that's really useful.

I think it should be time bound, I think it can go too far and people get start to get frustrated if you feel like half the meeting you are just chit chatting and not getting anything done. So finding that right balance. I think frequency matters, especially for virtual teams. You need to be thoughtful about what's the right cadence of interaction to have the team feel connected and then obviously not become roadblocks for each other, and make sure there's enough communication that they are working fluidly together.

I think there are a lot of great tools out there also that are helping virtual teams work better together. Synchronous and asynchronous communication tools I think can be really useful. I've seen a lot of teams use video, obviously Google hangout, and, and GoToMeeting and WebEx and Adobe has Connect. I think a lot of teams find these really useful. There's something about seeing the person when you're talking that creates more of an intimate experience or feeling like you're together.

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