Productive Meetings

with Dave Kashen

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Setting expectations

Dave Kashen

Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert

Lessons Learned

The meeting plan should consider people, length, and purpose.

If your team is really busy, build in some time to get caught up on documents or metrics.

Many people try to do way too much in too little time.


Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen

Step #4 Scope: Setting expectations

When we talk about the notion of preparation before a meeting, there is the ideal world and then there's the pragmatism of our busy workdays and lives. So I'll start with the ideal. Ideally the person planning the meeting first of all thinks really hard about who actually needs to be there and who doesn't; second, thinks really hard about how long the meeting actually needs to be; third, thinks hard about what the purpose of the meeting is.

A lot of times agendas will be a list of topics, and that's a useful way better than not having that. But even better than that is if you could say for this topic what are we trying to achieve during this meeting? Because sometimes frustration is caused just by different expectations. There's some topic, some project you want to discuss. Some people think the goal of the meeting is to make dramatic progress. Other people think the goal is just to decide on one small piece of it. Just when you're clear about expectations, you're much more likely to have a productive conversation and for people to feel more fulfilled and satisfied from the meeting.

So in terms of meeting prep, figuring out what the purpose of the meeting is, figuring out what the flow of the meeting is, figuring out what needs to be done beforehand. A lot of times the efficacy of the meeting is determined by how much how prepared people are. If there are metrics that they need, if there are data you need, if there is research that needs to be done, if there are issues to consider, the more people can do that work beforehand the better because you'll have more substantive and succinct conversation.

Now that said, we're all so busy running around from meeting to meeting and getting lost in email. The pragmatism of it, what some companies like Amazon have done is they'll have at least some people, usually the meeting organizer, will create a document or there will be a document that the meeting attendees create together with some certain template and maybe they'll include project updates or metrics or backgrounds, things like that. Then they'll spend the first five, ten, 15 minutes of the meeting reading. They'll just read the document. They recognize that it may not be realistic for people to do it beforehand. So let's actually create space for that. By the time everyone has read that, now everyone is on the same page, has the same level of context, and then they can move forward.

So I think it's useful to think about what would ideally be done for the meeting to make it as productive as possible but also useful to consider the realities of better to create a system that people can actually do than hold ourselves to some ideal standard that's not realistic. Again one of things we're trying to do with MeetingHero is reduce the friction, make a lot of that stuff easier by having a mobile experience anytime anywhere, be able to review what the agenda is, and add items. I'll have the experience often where I'll just think of something that I want to talk to my co-founder at our next meeting, and I'll just quickly pull it up on my iPhone and add the agenda item. That's hard to do today or it has been hard to do. That kind of preparation wouldn't happen because it's more of just like a one-time instance. We're trying to make that more continuous.

So the question of what's the right scope of agenda is an interesting one. There's not a universal answer. What I see teams do that gets them into trouble is they try to do too much in the time allotted. You'll see a meeting agenda has eight substantive topics or items for a 60-minute meeting. If you thought about it for a second, the reality is maybe you could cover two of those. Instead of having a really productive, interesting, useful conversation about those two items, either you try to fly through all of them and have a suboptimal conversation about all or more likely you get through a few of them, and then people leave frustrated because three out of eight, that's a failing grade.

One of things we're going to start doing is helping people see how much time is allotted for each of their different items. We have a timer now on the site that people are finding really useful just to stay focused but being able to show that by items so they have a sense of whether they're on track or off track. One of our goals is to help people stay on track in the meeting by partially through timers and things like that. But also there's something about staring at the agenda at the time that you're taking notes.

One of our core insights we realized is most of the way people are doing this now, they're disjointed. You'll create an agenda and send it out by e-mail or put in the description field of the calendar or in one of the other tools. You'll actually be in the meeting and that's gone, forgotten, or you'll be taking notes in a completely separate system. So by bringing those together, it's much more likely that the guardrails are there. It's a little easier to keep people on track.

That's some of the feedback we've been getting. Teams are finding, wow, our meetings are more likely to stay on track when we have MeetingHero up. Because it's this real-time collaborative experience in a meeting with lots of people on their laptops instead of being off doing different things, they're all on the same page together. You can see one another take notes together in real time whether it's virtual or in person teams. Sometimes someone will have it projected on the screen, and then everyone is looking together at the summary notes being created. So it has this feeling of, oh, we're working together on this project of creating the artifact of the meeting which will then live on beyond the meeting.

The other thing we're hearing is that managers love getting the summaries because today people will take notes in meetings in this really unstructured way, and then either have to spend a lot of time structuring it or more likely they'll just send them out and then people have to try to parse out what they're talking about. We give it structure automatically so that managers will get these notes. They'll know exactly what decisions were made, what action items people are committing to and finding that really useful. It actually leads to people not having to attend as many meetings, so fewer people per meetings and fewer meetings per person because there's this ambient awareness. There's a sense of even if I don't go, I can still now and forever access the notes from the meeting in a structured way so I'll know exactly what happened. I don't need to be there in person.

If you had to do one thing, it would be just to create some kind of agenda, some kind of clarity around what the purpose of the meeting is ideally in advance of the meeting, but at least before you start the discussions. Even if it happens during the meeting by minute five, minute ten to have agreed on, okay, this is what we're going to discuss or this is where we're going to decide or going to plan so that everyone can be on the same page and know what conversation you're having. I think that's one of the huge levers.

There are meetings for which there are no agenda that are super productive as well. There's no hard fast. I think for most types of meetings that are pretty tactical where you try to make a plan or make some decisions, it's really useful to know in advance what you're discussing or at least by the time you start discussing it to have agreement around what you're planning to discuss.

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