Here’s a basic truth about big team meetings: They don’t get things done, but you have to hold them.
When we first started TeamBravo! back in 2009, meetings were productive. Lots of brainstorming happened and we were all extremely good at contributing new ideas or sorting out existing ones. But after a few months of this, something changed: Meetings became long snoozefests, held so as to regurgitate information and enforce certain policies. People would spend more time navel-gazing than even listening to the latest updates. What’s worse, some people would find excuses not to attend meetings.
In short, the meetings began to suck.
At least 90% of people out there hate meetings because of how boring and unproductive they are. So how do you make meetings better?
1. Stop getting distracted. As geeks, we’re very attached to whatever thing it is we’re following, be it a vlog, a chiptune band, or the latest figurine from Revoltech (a personal favourite). That’s well and good, but you have to learn to separate your personal interest time and your company time. If you’re a geek running a geeky business, that’ll be especially hard to reinforce, but you have to do it. Keep your phone in your pocket, don’t allow laptops at the meeting (people can write with pens and paper just fine, after all), turn off the wi-fi (or password protect it), and run a timed agenda.
2. Run a timed agenda. Your team probably has a topic they want to speak on at length. That’s fine, but have them add their topic to the agenda, and then assign them a block of time to speak in. 5-10 minutes is usually sufficient. Have someone keep time and don’t let anyone go over. That way you place importance on delivery of information, which in turn makes your team begin to value the time they have.
3. Keep the meeting short. Most meetings can be concluded in 1-3 hours, depending on the bulk of work, the size of your team, and the tasks which need attention. After 3 hours, people get hungry, bored, and inattentive. Avoid breaking this barrier if you can.
4. Don’t hold as many meetings. Most of your discussions with individual team members can be done via email, Skype, or other services. If you know there’s a big project that needs attention, break it down into smaller parts. Figure out which team members you need to meet with and meet only with them. Don’t drag the whole team into it. Follow up by disseminating information via a weekly (or bi-weekly, monthly, etc) newsletter that gets sent out after every milestone of the project.
5. Don’t start late. If people arrive late, let that be their problem. A grace period of 5-10 minutes is advisable, but after that cut your losses and start. This can also be useful in revealing weaknesses in the team, or logistical problems in where/when you’re holding your meetings. The people who care will be there promptly and ready to work 9/10 times. One or two lates are forgivable. If it becomes a habit, it’s time to talk to that person and figure out what’s wrong.
At the end of the day a meeting serves one real purpose: To update the big picture. You can hold some as brainstorming or troubleshooting sessions, but that’s usually better left to smaller meets. Get as much work done as you can before the meeting, and then use it to get everyone on the same page. You’ll get fewer snooze-fests and more productivity that way.
Mark P. Tjan is a graphic designer and event planner working out of Toronto, ON, Canada. He enjoys giant robots, Gangnam Style, and sleep. Precious sleep. You can find out more about his work as a geek at http://teambravo.ca