Productive Meetings

with Dave Kashen

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Bringing your best self

Dave Kashen

Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert

Lessons Learned

Be intentional about your focus and attention at each meeting. Make time to get present.

Make a commitment to candor. Make sure everyone knows their input is valued.

Meetings are both an artifact and a creator of culture.


Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen

Step #6 Fractal: Bringing your best self

The idea of bringing your best self to a meeting, there's a few facets to it. One is your own personal commitment to be fully present, to be engaged in a useful and helpful way. Two, let's say you're the meeting leader or facilitator, or someone who designs the way companies meet. How can we create the conditions such that people are more likely to bring their best selves, and bring the best out of one another?

Some simple things that I've seen teams do. One is to spend a few minutes up front just being really intentional about that. Some teams will set their intention, or do a quick go-around, where each person has to say or gets to say, how present are you right now? What do you need to be present? What has your attention right now? Which is a useful way to notice you're not present. I also sometimes do that in trainings or meetings that I lead.

I find that in just a few minutes, you can alter the qualitative condition of the meeting if people commit to being present, or just have the opportunity to get present. Some teams will actually, they'll have the team take a few breaths together. There's things that are arguably more New Age-y that teams will do. Meditate together is probably the extreme, but really having the intentionality around getting present at the beginning of the meeting, getting into a mental state and a way of being that really serves the rest of the meeting and interaction.

Another thing I've seen teams do to try to bring out the best in everyone in the meeting, and to create conditions to have an optimal meeting, is to be clear about the ground rules, or said in another way, some people don't like the term "ground rules," because they don't like rules. Create a set of agreements that if agreed upon at the beginning, fundamentally can alter the experience of the meeting.

I'll do this when I facilitate a meeting, or an off-site, or a training. We'll start with, "Okay, what are the agreements? Do we have confidentiality? Agreements to be fully present? How do we listen to each other? What do we do when we disagree? Is it okay to disagree? Do we demand that we speak up when we disagree in this meeting, but then we leave with a united front?" I've seen that often. No judgment. There's often agreements around "assume good intent." These are the kind of things that if people are intentional about, and create agreements about up front, can make the meeting a lot more effective, and just alter the experience of the meeting.

When you think about a good meeting, there's a lot of the structural elements, and that's what we're starting with, with "Meeting Heroes." There's a lot of important structural elements to a meeting like having an agenda, staying on track, etc. But there's this whole other dimension of peoples' intentions, and how they show up, that are equally if not more important to having an effective meeting.

For example, telling the truth, and maybe a better way to describe it is "candor." Truth sounds like, "Yeah, we're not going to lie." A commitment to candor. One of the things that makes the biggest difference between successful meetings and others, is if people are just real and open. If they disagree, do they speak up, or do they not speak up? If they have an idea, do they share it, or do they not share it? Again, there's a whole host of factors that impact that, and it comes back, to some degree, to safe people feel, how valued people feel. When people feel that their opinions are valued, they're more likely to voice them.

There's ways to help create those conditions in the meeting itself, and the company as a whole, the culture as a whole, will have an impact on that. The way leaders operate, the way people interact within the company, the patterns that get established, all have an influence over that. In a way, meetings are both an artifact and a creator of culture.

One of the things we're so excited about in dealing with meetings is, we see it as this fractal that gets multiplied so many times over, it can actually create patterns of interaction that impact culture both within teams and companies, and throughout the world. It's really interesting to think about meetings as both an artifact and a root cause of culture, and the way that we interact in meetings, the implicit and explicit agreements, how we make decisions together, how we share information or don't, are all a core part of how we work together and define the culture.

There's this new system of governance called "holocracy" that's been getting some press recently. Zappos is using it, and Medium, Evan Williams' company. One of the features of holocracy that I'm most intrigued by is their meeting process. They have a very specific architected meeting process. It's interesting to share as a potential process for people. They have a really clear template around projects, metrics, checklists, is their core three. They have a checklist of things they want to make sure happen on a regular basis.

They start by going through that checklist and seeing, "Did those things happen?" Then they have metrics that people update, and they want to see, what are those key metrics that they're tracking? For projects, what they do is they have a list of projects, and owners for those projects. The only thing you're allowed to say is what progress there's been since the last meeting. Not the usual typical report out. If you'll notice, there's often an inverse correlation between how much people talk about project, and how much work they actually got done. They try to eliminate that by just having people report on the progress made on that project. If there's none, you just say "none," and move on. That's really interesting.

They have a process of essentially "in the moment" agenda creation. They don't create agendas in advance, although I guess they could. They have everyone name what they call "tensions," just something blocking them or their organization from achieving its vision. They'll go around and around, and people will voice their tensions. They're essentially triaging and creating this whole list of possible agenda items. Then they go through each one as efficiently as possible. They get through a lot. The reason they get through so many is they have a clear rule around how a tension is resolved.

We have a list of agenda items. Often, they're just topics without clear objectives. Sometimes there are clear objectives for the item, but what's often not clear is, "What are the conditions for completing the discussion about that topic?" It could be just time, that's okay. It could be, "We're going to spend ten minutes on this, and get as far as we get." What they do is, their conditions for completing a discussion are, if the person who raised the topic feels satisfied with its resolution, they move on.

Which is an interesting idea. One, just having that level of clarity of, "How will we know when we're done with this discussion?" and they at least choose a specific measure, which is, the person who brought it up feels satisfied. The resolutions aren't typically full resolutions. The resolution will be, "You and so-and-so will have another conversation," or "We'll talk about that at this specific other meeting, " or sometimes it's, "We'll make a different decision, or we'll reallocate resources," etc.

What I appreciate about it is how conscious and thoughtful they are about making things explicit that are usually not explicit, like, what's the process? What are the rules or criteria for completing each part of the discussion?

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