Meetings Suck

Boost your startup's productivity by having better meetings.

Everyone has sat in a meeting and asked themselves, “Why am I here again?” or maybe you’ve sat in meetings and attempted to estimate how much money you waste.

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Illustration: treskiddos/TOSLA

Meetings Suck! When meetings become dysfunctional, they bring nothing useful to the company. There is a time for meetings, but many meetings are inefficient and should have taken part as email communication.

When I left private equity advisory and founded Tosla, I wanted to build an agile food technology-driven company. Dysfunctional meetings were headaches that I did not want to bring with me to my new company. How much would you guess is wasted each year on unproductive meetings? Whatever your guess, it’s too much. The estimated price tag for unproductive meetings is $40 billion (don’t ask me where that number comes from, but it sounds about right).

Larger corporations are better equipped to handle such leakage, but smaller businesses and startups cannot handle it. The productivity of startups and small companies could very well correlate to how efficiently meetings are run.

Dysfunctional meetings bring little value to your company. I saw them as a significant block that hindered innovation and aided organizational sluggishness. Most of the “sessions” I’ve attended could have been emails and were inefficient.

If you want to boost productivity in your startup or business, two pertinent questions must be addressed. Is your meeting productive? And how can I make it more effective? The encouraging thing is that it can be done. You can make your meetings run smoothly. You have to, for the sake of your company. Make meetings not suck to see better success for your company. You can do it.

Is my meeting effective?

Someone who reads this may not know that their meetings are ineffective. Here are three ways to tell if they are. The first step to any solution is admitting that there is a problem. For you to make your meetings better, it is necessary to identify what makes a money-wasting meeting.

Here are three questions for more productive meetings:

Why are we here?

Many enter meetings without a clear sense of why they are there. They sit in silence, trying to understand their role. Often the session ends, and they still have no clue why they attended or what was about the meeting.

If people are not clear about the purpose of the meeting before they arrive, then you have a dysfunctional meeting. Would it be useful to ask sometimes, “Is everyone clear about why we are meeting today?”. It might be effective at the outset of the meeting to ensure everyone is clear about the goals. If people are not clear about the purpose of your meeting before they arrive, you are about to have a dysfunctional meeting.

But you don’t have to. Before the meeting, make sure that all invited attendees are clear about the schedule. Ensure that all the right people are encouraged to perform the desired actions. People should not be forced to attend meetings that they have nothing to do with.

It is possible to convert your messy meeting into a productive one; just be clear about why we are here.

Do you hear crickets (chirp chirp)?

Many meetings go on, with the majority of their attendees not participating.

Often meetings are dominated by individuals, while others keep their valuable thoughts to themselves. Everyone does not feel comfortable participating. So they keep their ideas to themselves.

If people are not participating in your meeting, then you have a dysfunctional meeting. All attendees must feel comfortable participating. I suggest that you ask, during the meeting, “Is everyone being heard?” Do not allow people to discourage participation in their meetings.

There are certain people whose presence in meetings causes others not to participate. They shoot down the participation of others. Do not allow those people to control your meeting.

Do you still hear crickets because not everyone is participating? One tip from Harvard Business Review is to have your meeting standing up. Only a few of us have mastered sleeping standing up. Sometimes that will encourage participation. Attendees are less comfortable and may think better on their toes.

Are new ideas shot down?

We are born with creativity. Creativity is a tool for our development. Sometimes we find that our creativity is not encouraged, so we stop using it, and it dies.

Often organizations will try and copy what they have seen or try and stick with normalcy, killing new ideas and creativity.

It is comfortable for an organization to continue what has always been done or to copycat ideas that have been successful elsewhere. Adopting a new approach is risky, and many people will shoot them down in favor of doing what has always been done.

Creativity is what moves businesses forward. Your company is your child, and you must safeguard its free thought. Some people would kill all new ideas. When you do the same old thing, you get the same old results. I suggest that you ask during your meeting, “What are we doing that is new and innovative?” “Are we just doing the same old thing?”

When you do the same old thing, you get the same old results. Do something different at your meetings to awaken your team’s creativity. If creativity is being assassinated in your meetings by team members that want to stick with the status quo, then you have a dysfunctional meeting.

But, there is hope for you. You can boost the productivity of your meetings by encouraging and rewarding creativity. Make your meeting stop being normal. Awake the creativity of your team and look forward to what they will come up with because you can boost the productivity of your meetings.

These are three signs of a dysfunctional meeting, but there is hope you can change. First, you must realize you have a problem. In my company, I have tried my suggestions and have seen outstanding results.

How can I make my meeting better?

Conversational and informal meetings

In our company, we have implemented light, one-on-one, conversational and informal meetings. Like the advice of the Harward Business Review, we sometimes stand in our coffee kitchen. Powerful ideas are shared, and as a company, we find this to be effective.

Actually, we often meet informally in our coffee kitchen. Inviting someone to talk in the kitchen is far less daunting than receiving a meeting invitation. Before we speak an email can be sent out. Emails can ensure that the participants in these informal meetings are on the same page.

Equal Voice

During meetings that I am involved in, I try to ensure that everyone feels psychologically safe. By doing this, I ensure communication between colleagues is efficient, effective, and open, maintaining the collaborative atmosphere.

In this collaborative atmosphere, creativity is welcome and invited. But magic is made in our coffee kitchen.

Meetings at Tosla

As the leader in the company, I am usually not the one that calls for the meetings. I gladly play the role of a pleasant observer in the meeting situation. I empower my teammates to take on responsibility for the meeting. They know what I expect, and understand those dysfunctional meetings are one of my dislikes.

During meetings, as I am not leading, I have the opportunity to observe and help the meeting to run smoothly. I encourage broad participation. People know I am looking for those who may shy away from participating because often, those are the individuals with the most important things to say.

I regularly use these three questions of a dysfunctional meeting because I understand the waste and damage that dysfunctional meetings can have on companies. I cannot afford that type of meeting to find a home in my company.

My company is like my child whose growth is safeguarded, warding off negative influences, and poor habits. So I am very wary of the practices that I have seen in other companies finding a home in mine. Thus it is very dangerous for me to encourage copycatting. In copying the good, it is possible to inherit negative habits and practices. I cannot afford that for my business, and I guess that neither can you.

There are several ways to boost productivity in your startup. The beautiful thing is that you do not have to do it the same way we did. Improve your meetings in a way that fits your organizational behavior.

Maybe you don’t have a kitchen, but you can meet outside. Perhaps you don’t stand up, but you sit on medicine balls or bean bags. Be flexible and do what works for you, but please do. Stop having meetings that suck. You cannot afford it. Time is money, so act like it.

My writing is based on true events and stories. It is as real as it gets. I changed parts of the stories and excluded real names as I don’t want people to get hurt. But most of the stuff I write is authentic and includes my thoughts and feelings.

Food Science & Tehnology Entrepreneur, Food startup CEO @ www.tosla.si, #1 dad of 2 girls :)

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