5 Ways That Major Companies Invigorate Their Meetings
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Meetings are an essential component of company life. They offer your most valuable assets -- your employees -- time to update one another and to strategize in a collaborative context.
If your meetings are failing to produce strong results, however, or often meander and waste time, they could have a catastrophic effect on your business and employee morale. Meetings need to be kept in check! Here are five ways to reinvigorate them:
1. Tesla & Space X: thorough preparation
Elon Musk is perhaps the most well-known entrepreneur on the planet, and his often easy-going interview style can mask his hard-headed attitude to business. According to a former Tesla employee posting on Quora, Musk demands thorough preparation from all his employees before meetings begin. “When we met with Elon, we were prepared," the employee wrote. "Because if you weren't, he'd let you know it. If he asked a reasonable follow-up question and you weren't prepared with an answer, well, good luck...”
2. Amazon and Apple: Change meeting size.
Did you know that Jeff Bezos has something called the 2 Pizza rule? One of his pet peeves is groupthink, so he always ensures that meetings are kept small enough for everyone to contribute. Are there more people than two pizzas could feed? That’s too many.
Steve Jobs had a similar attitude to meetings at Apple. He would try to reduce meetings to essential people and was known to ask people to leave if he wasn’t sure why they were there. A book called Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall goes into some detail:
“His eyes locked on to the one thing in the room that didn’t look right. Pointing to Lorrie, he said, 'Who are you?'
"Lorrie was a bit stunned to be called out like that, but she calmly explained that she’d been asked to attend because she was involved with some of the marketing projects we’d be discussing. Steve heard it. Processed it. Then he hit her with the Simple Stick. 'I don’t think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks,' he said. Then, as if that diversion had never occurred -- and as if Lorrie never existed -- he continued with his update.”
3. Apple and Facebook: Try rigid or relaxed agendas.
Steve Jobs often strolled into meetings, chit-chatted a bit if he felt sociable and ran the meetings as a free flow of updates. He would fill in his employees on whatever he thought was relevant and the employees would raise any relevant issues. This was in contrast to the meetings run by Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook.
Sandberg sets a rigid agenda for meetings at Facebook and crosses off each item as the meeting moves along. If the list is completed before the allotted time is up, then the meeting concludes. While some companies may benefit from a slightly freer meeting format, allowing for new ideas to form and be discussed, Facebook seems to be surviving without the extra wiggle room.
4. Microsoft and Yahoo: Change meeting length.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella likes to have four-hour meetings with his leadership team, as he believes that keeping everyone on the same page, and preventing siloing, is essential for company health. This is the opposite of Yahoo! CEO and former Google employee, Marissa Mayer, who holds around 70 short meetings each week, around five to ten minutes in length.
She believes that such micro-meetings keep things focused and solution-oriented. If this doesn't persuade you to try shorter meetings, consider how the meeting-notes company Hugo, according to its blog, keeps its total meeting time to under four hours per week.
Meeting length will often boil down to what senior management thinks is more effective for keeping track on what’s going on in their business. Certain company cultures could respond better to more extreme meeting lengths.
5. Google: Appoint a decision-maker.
When Larry Page became Google CEO for the second time in 2011, he sent out a companywide email explaining how to hold more effective meetings. One of his key rules was to assign a person to be the main decision-maker. This person would be responsible for reaching a conclusion in the meeting and deciding the path forward. If a meeting didn’t require a decision to be made, it wouldn't happen.
This may be a surprising rule to many, as it seems to not allow for standard, check-in style meetings. But perhaps companies can survive without these nowadays? After all, there’s so much software available for task management (see Asana and Monday.com) that oversight should be less of a problem than it used to be.
Your employees are your greatest asset, so make sure that company meetings don’t waste their time. Offer them a clear goal and agenda a few days before meeting so they can adequately prepare. Stay on track throughout the meeting and finish by clearly stating what you need and what’s been decided. Also, remember to make your meeting’s notes and agendas accessible in a dropbox or collaborative tool.
Related: 4 Steps to Avoid 'Death by Meeting'
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new styles of meeting; your company culture could require something more unique.