Meetings: we love to schedule them but often regret attending them.
When our to-do lists are as long as our arms and deadlines are fast approaching, sitting in on a meeting that doesn’t achieve tangible results or worthwhile discussion can feel like an waste of time. Fortune 100 companies Google, Apple and Amazon have mastered the art of holding meetings that actually matter. Straight from Silicon Valley, here are some key takeaways from their strategies that can help you run a meeting like a pro.
Question necessity. First things first: don’t feel like a team meeting is always necessary for effective decisionmaking. Waiting for the opportune time to meet can delay projects so–when possible–trust in each colleague’s ability to come to the right decision on their own.
Back it up with data. Remember that office politics shouldn’t have a seat at the table. An idea isn’t always good just because it sounds right to a certain person. Every idea needs to be backed by rock-solid data in order to even be worthy of discussion.
Schedule them right. Any meeting should be as short as possible. Google’s Marissa Mayer would encourage 4 or 10 minute meetings rather than 30 minutes chunks of time; this made it easier for all team members to schedule time with her and also encouraged participants to get straight to the point.
Keep time. Consider using a physical clock or timer in a meeting to remind participants that time is limited and avoid letting any meeting run late.
Make it guest list only. Apple’s Steve Jobs was notorious for throwing out any participant who didn’t have a good reason to be in the room. Similarly, the rule of thumb at Amazon is to only hold meetings where 2 pizzas would be enough to feed all participants. Attending a meeting isn’t a badge of honour and you don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time.
Have a purpose. You should go into any meeting with a clear agenda. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg asks managers to identify beforehand if the goal of a meeting is to (1) make a decision or (2) have a discussion. This helps define the meeting’s agenda.
Assign roles. Consider assigning at least one note-taker and one decision-maker in any meeting. This will ensure that nothing gets lost and that things keep moving forward.
Be prepared. In meetings between Amazon’s top execs, all participants start by taking 30 minutes to read (in silence) a pre-prepared meeting memo that covers things like: the meeting’s context, questions to be addressed, possible approaches to take, and next steps.
Track progress. To stay on track, Amazon’s Sheryl Sandberg makes a list of meeting items and crosses them off as the meeting progresses. Once all items have been crossed off, the meeting ends even if there’s time left.
Encourage disagreement. Social cohesion is the kiss of death in a meeting. Steve Jobs would insist that all ideas in a meeting be challenged and questioned courtroom-style; you should aim to encourage participants to call out bad ideas, disagree and challenge each other in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Assign responsibility. Every decision made at Apple was also assigned a DRI: a “Directly Responsible Individual.” This individual would have the responsibility of ensuring that their assigned decision was implemented and tracked, thereby guaranteeing the meeting’s effectiveness.
Remember the customer. Over at Amazon, Jeff Bezos is known for keeping an empty chair in the meeting room to remind participants of the customer. This helps ensure that all decisions made ultimately benefit whom a company is aiming to serve.