“Goddammit Kevin, this could’ve been an email!”


Due to COVID-19, my entire team is scattered. Things that used to just happen naturally while in the office now need all sorts of planning and discussion. And that means meetings are a must.

Or are they?

At Skynox Tech, we work with a lot of different startups to help them materialize their ideas, and hence, we have multiple teams. I have to coordinate with them all to achieve this. But that takes a huge chunk of my time. Moreover, as new projects come in and old ones are concluded, team structures change from time to time. This means that team dynamics also change and people may not always be able to work with their favorite teammates.

I had been noticing for a while that meetings just crept up on me and stole a lot of productivity. And no doubt, the same was the case for my teammates. It was becoming more and more apparent to me how unproductive this was, and I was also noticing a lot of people on social media decrying the practice of holding too many meetings.

I wasn’t happy with our situation either, so I decided to conduct a small survey after every meeting, to know how my teammates felt about the meeting, and to my surprise, 70% of them were unhappy and found the meetings unproductive or even counterproductive.

This isn’t something new, but it did make me realize it was time to take serious action. That is what prompted me to start my research to determine where the problem was. Over a period of 3–4 weeks, we tried a couple of different things and made some internal principles and rules. The results were amazing. Meetings were so productive that more than 80% of people were in favor of it. We reduced the average meeting duration drastically and accomplished most of our goals as well.

So here are a few things to keep in mind to save everyone’s time.


A meeting is not always needed 🤷🏾‍♀️

Yep, it’s as simple as that. That meme about “this meeting could have been an email”? It’s true.

If you really think about it, most of the meetings can be avoided. You don’t need a meeting to get updates or give updates. Consider a daily stand up meeting as an example. I think when we were all in a physical office together, a big reason we used to do this was just to start the day with the right energy and the right direction. But if you consider a fully remote setting, the first two parts of a standup meeting — “What did I work on yesterday?” and “What am I working on today?” — can also be addressed by using a text-based channel. Unless there is something in the last part of the standup — “I need help with…” — that needs to be discussed, you don’t need a meeting. So, apply this rule before scheduling a meeting. If it can be avoided, avoid it.


Meetings should be short by default 🕰

Ever heard of Parkinson’s Law? It dictates that

The length of time needed to complete a task will expand or contract according to the time you have to do it.

In simple terms, if you assign two hours to do a certain task, the task will expand to fill those two hours. And to be honest, it’s true. This is why, when scheduling a meeting, you should first finalize the duration for which the meeting will last.

And how do you do that?

We all have a natural attention span, and I believe that meetings should not exceed that time.

Thanks to technology, our attention spans are even shorter now. Whenever in doubt, go for a shorter meeting. We do a lot of huddles, short meetings that last only for 15 minutes. It’s highly effective because, at the 15-minute mark, the meeting is over by default, unless there’s something important left to discuss. People don’t dilly-dally for no reason.

Paul Graham seems to share a similar view. ;)

Always have a meeting agenda📊

I always tell my teammates that writing a meeting agenda is an art. Let me show you why.

Image for post
A better way to write a meeting agenda

This gives a lot of clarity to your teammates before the meeting. 10 minutes spent preparing for the meeting can save an hour during the meeting! Be very specific and save time for both yourself and your teammates. Most of the time when you go unprepared for a meeting, you end up discussing a lot of unnecessary things that you had not planned to and waste a lot of time.


Fewer people = better meetings 👩🏻🧔🏽👩🏾‍🦳👱🏼‍♂️

Ideally, you should not have more than 7 people in a meeting. More people increase the inefficiency of a meeting. More people will adversely affect all the essential points we’ve discussed previously.

More people = Longer meetings = Inefficient meetings

But sometimes, you just cannot avoid it, like when you have an annual meeting and everyone’s presence is required. In such a scenario, try to add breaks in between or introduce some fun, engaging elements because otherwise, your meeting time will exceed the average attention span of your teammates, and beyond that point, the meeting will be extremely unproductive.


Ensure 100% engagement 📈

Not everyone is good at expressing themselves. As a result, the ones who are the loudest or good at communicating end up dominating the meeting, and that’s not always the most productive result. Not only do the teammates who find it difficult to express themselves feel left out, but you also miss out on some great ideas. As a meeting host, you should try your best to get everyone’s input. If it can be done quickly, a round-robin works well. If it’s something that needs planning, a better way is to practice Brainwriting.

During a brainwriting session, each attendee anonymously writes their ideas down instead of verbally presenting them.

Afterward, the meeting leader collects these notes and privately reviews them. This ensures good ideas are not left out, especially when they come from the quieter members of your team.

Image for post
Thoughts on asynchronous brainstorming by Sanjeev NC.

Post-meeting actions☑️✔️

Lastly, sharing post-meeting notes is the best way to make sure that the meeting objectives are properly assimilated by the attendees. Assign one person to write meeting notes and share them with the team post-meeting. Then encourage teammates to review and add their inputs if something is missed. Most of the teams don’t do this last bit, but in my experience, this is the most important thing to do.

Image for post
An example of how we manage post-meeting action items.

And here’s another great idea on the subject from the wonderful David Perell!


Conclusion

While on the face of it, meetings look productive, more often than not, they’re filled with unnecessary time wastages, especially when held in a traditional manner. To increase the efficiency of your meetings, you must tweak a few things. Experiment and see what works for your team, but don’t blindly follow conventional advice. Meetings aren’t inherently bad. They have an important role to play in ensuring coordination among teams and maintaining a certain synergy. Just make sure you use them wisely.

Cheers!


Want to change how you do meetings with your team? I made a cheatsheet that you can print and hang on your office wall! Tell all your teammates we’re making meetings more productive from tomorrow.

Download the cheatsheet here!