Mixmax has scheduled over 10,000,000 (!) meetings since its launch. We’ve learned what you already know: Bad meetings are a disease.
That sounds dramatic, because it’s a dramatically bad situation. More than $37 billion dollars are wasted across the unnecessary portion of 25 million meetings, 15% of your organization’s time. A Harvard Business Journal study found that 65% of managers said that meetings kept them from completing their own work, and 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient. The article goes on to discuss the who of meeting hell – those who waste time, both group and individual – which is somewhat more malicious than how I feel. It’s more that people know that they have to do meetings, versus why they have to, and thus meetings are set entirely for the sake of having them.
When you layer on the levels of sales, recruitment and success that the SaaS has, these lost minutes become brutally costly. It’s not simply a case of the calculable cost of a meeting (a 60 minute meeting of 4 people making $60,000 a year costs you $168), but the cost of the interruption to your day. A basex research report said that interruptions cost the economy $588 billion a year – that people do indeed have more productive times in the day, and interruptions burn morale and time they could be working. Considering the increasing use of sales enablement and workflows in sales, these interruptions aren’t just fiscally costly, but knock people off course. Focus and concentration are the lifeblood of small businesses and customer-focused roles, and losing momentum is painful.
So let me help you lay out the Commandments of The Great Meetings.
The Cursed Phrases of Meetings
- “Let’s just check in quickly,”
- “Oh I just have one question for you about something.”
- “Let’s get everyone in so we can brainstorm.”
- “It’s good to just hear everyone’s voice.”
The Who, Where, What, How and Why
At Mixmax, we abide by the 5 P’s: People, Place, Process, Presentation and Purpose.
Before anything, you need a meeting owner that’s the tribal leader of the 5 P’s – the mastermind of the operation, the person that makes sure every condition is met, or the person that cancels the meeting. If there’s no meeting owner, someone to abide by the 5 P’s and document the outcome and next steps, there is no meeting.
That isn’t to say that meetings are pointless – in SaaS, 1-on-1s with your direct reports and set executive staff meetings are crucial, but making sure they’re targeted, goal-oriented and organized is how you make them meaningful.
Atlassian also has a great flowchart for meeting decision-making – it’s not the absolutely authority on meeting success, but it’s a good start.
A great place to start with who’s in a meeting is truly asking the question as to whether someone is necessary. Small meetings are successful meetings, large meetings are large wastes of time. If it’s “nice” to have someone there, then they shouldn’t be there. If someone’s “just listening in,” record, transcribe and share the meeting with them. This attitude should pervade your organization – if you set a culture that accepts this isn’t an insult, it’s fine to uninvite yourself from a meeting or leave early (once your part is done). If you don’t need to know everything from the meeting, you can save everyone’s time by stepping out. Lower headcounts make for quicker meetings, which are better meetings.
This can also go the other way – Jason Lemkin suggests even joining some sales meetings with an account executive to get a feel for how a deal’s developing and where it stands. That being said, don’t just join “for moral support.”
Time Is of The Essence
One crucial rule about meetings is that they should start on time, and not exceed 25 minutes. At a massive stretch, one can go up to 45 or 50 minutes, but the hour mark leads to a breakdown in focus and communication. It’s actually a great idea to set follow-up meetings of 25 minutes each, and focusing your organization around the idea that they really do only have a set amount of time.
“Just a quick meeting” is a deceptive idea – getting on a call with no goals, no agenda and no structure leads to wasted time and energy, as well as a disruption in your day.
So start with a simple rule: if there’s no agenda, there’s no meeting. Comment in advance, and let everyone know when you do so.
The meeting itself should begin with closed laptops, phones face-down, and if you’re going to mess with your phone or laptop, you should excuse yourself and leave. Provide feedback as to why – if the meeting was ineffective, the owner should know why, and how to fix it. The owner should also be responsible for keeping you on task, and taking the notes necessary to share with those who may need to know about the meeting but not be on it.
Set up a structure, and require people come to a meeting with ideas surrounding the topic at hand. If they don’t have an idea, get them to ask questions in advance, and set action items and times around the actual discussion of certain points. Any meeting that has you sitting around saying “ummm” while you think is likely unfocused.
As I’ve hinted at, precision in process also leads into presentation. The standard industry expectation may be a Keynote presentation, but that may not be the best way to communicate information.
Similarly, it’s time to consider ending brainstorms entirely. They’re tornadoes of tangents, questions, theories, thoughts and ideas generated too fast and thought about too little. Make attendants come to meetings with ideas that they’ve already sketched out and discussed digitally beforehand, and if they don’t have ideas, have them bring specific questions that are shared in advance. Be ready to cut a conversation about a subject if it’s not getting somewhere, and make sure that there is time within whatever meeting format there is to execute on the goal.
And if there isn’t a goal, delay the meeting until there is.
Conversely it may be worth considering in some cases an in-person one over a remote conference over Zoom. In SaaS, we’re all used to doing things digitally, but if we need ultra-focused, attentive time, that means physical presence.
The key to any meeting is an actual reason for it happening. There are many meetings we have with no purpose, because they’re somewhat intentionally vague. So let me help you
- Weekly Check-in: Find out what you achieved this week, what you want to achieve next week, and find out what you need to achieve it.
- All-Hands Meeting: To inform whoever needs to know of specific things.
- Demonstration of Product: To show how a product works, and tell someone how it may help them. If it’s an internal demo, get structured feedback and set up next steps to improve on it.
I hinted at the issue of meetings for meetings’ sake. Forcing a purpose onto even a very general meeting requires you to also be ready to shed the cultural norms of how long a “meaningful” meeting is. How long a meeting is is a terrible metric for success: success is executing on the meeting’s goals in as little time as necessary. This doesn’t mean you can’t have quick, meaningful meetings (with your co-founder for example) – it’s just crucial to say “okay, we’re going to go down this list of 4 questions to go over, and if necessary set time to go over this specific part.”
In Conclusion: It’s Okay To Be Ruthless
A great deal of my commandments seem brutal because they push against decades of expectations of what meetings are for. Consciously or unconsciously, we have been trained to believe meetings are for getting closer to our teammates and “spending time together,” which leads to interruptions in getting things done versus bridges to more success. Instituting a truly efficient, successful culture of having meetings means a ruthless redefining of what a meeting is: it’s not just to “catch up” or to “hear each other’s voices,” it’s to get something done.
Meetings are wonderful things when done well. Learn to harness them to empower your company, rally the troops and make everyone succeed.