How To Run Meetings That Build A Winning Start-up Culture

Meetings. They often feel like the bane of your workday – black holes that suck up your productivity and focus, frustrating any chance you’ll get through your to-do list and growing stack of emails.

Getting around the conference table, real or virtual, is nevertheless a necessity for most companies, especially during the early years, when growth requires extensive communication.

When building a company poised for fast growth, it’s imperative that employees are motivated, productive, and working on tasks with a high degree of efficiency. The only way to keep things running smoothly is for team members to routinely communicate what’s working, what’s not, and what might be done instead. It’s in this capacity that meetings come into their own.

Regularly meeting provides a great opportunity to keep team members abreast of new developments, reinforce company culture, and provide a sounding board for employee ideas. So, how can you approach holding meetings so that they are time efficient and yield value?

Here are a few thoughts on how to take your start-up’s meetings from time-sucks to super productive:

How long?

When it comes to planning meetings, duration is the first thing that comes to mind. The average meeting length is, unsurprisingly, an hour. But though this is the standard, there’s no actual evidence to show that this is the right amount of time for a productive meeting.

But this is where Parkinson’s Law creeps in – if you give yourself an hour, then (psychologically speaking) the agenda will increase in complexity to fill that hour, whether you need to take that time or not.

What’s the optimal meeting time? Well, there’s no such thing – every meeting is different. But a good rule of thumb is to set the meeting timeslot to how much time you think it needs and then subtract 5 minutes. This places some pressure in time and forces you to stay on topic.

And if you really want to make an impact, try keeping sessions under 18 minutes. Research shows it’s the maximum amount of time for focused listening.

Who’s coming?

Have you ever been in a meeting and wondered ‘Why am I here?’.  With virtual meetings, online calendars, and scheduling tools, it’s easier than ever to invite people to join your meetings. So, how do you ensure the right people are at the right meeting and reduce wasted team time?

One approach is the tier meeting system. For example, you hold a full team meeting, which all colleagues join and report their status. However, in the second half of the meeting, only those with an ongoing issue stay on. The rest of the attendees can leave and go back to work. This introduces a level of adaptability and efficiency to an otherwise rigid meeting culture.

Make it count

Purpose and content are, of course, essential to meeting productivity. But while agendas are important, merely having an agenda is not enough. 50% of agendas are reused.

So, instead of focusing on the agenda, instead communicate and focus on the purpose of the meeting.

A ‘weekly staff meeting’ is not a purpose – it’s a meeting category.

A purpose is, for example, to decide which marketing channels to invest in the next quarter.

Try a ‘one purpose per meeting’ approach, inviting only those who have a connection to that purpose or work area. These super-focused meetings have a much better chance of a productive outcome.

Keep meetings on topic with a ‘No Rehash’ rule. If someone drifts back to a topic that has been discussed, another employee may signal a warning by raising a ‘No Rehash’ sign. It’s a visual reminder, but more importantly it empowers everyone in the company to call out counterproductive rehashing whenever they see it. No one needs to justify invoking the rule, and the meeting can proceed with earlier decisions intact, saving time and keeping things on track.

If these approaches feel like a poor fit for your team, keep meetings focused by emailing agendas in advance and following a standard meeting format each time.

It’s a whole team thing!

Resist the temptation for the meeting to start with the boss making announcements. Yes, that’s the convention and what we think a good leader should do.

Instead, use this time to build connections. When running your weekly staff meeting, encourage each of your teammates to share one positive and one negative story from the previous week. It doesn’t even have to be about work. The point is to let your team talk first and share. This creates a more inclusive meeting environment for everyone, and you’ll have a group of more engaged attendees.

Who’s leading?

Every meeting needs a pre-determined leader to keep things running along. But why not rotate departments? With this approach, each department has the opportunity to lead the meeting really delve into their unique goals, challenges, and how they fit into the business as a whole. It also allows the presenting department to gather insights from others that could improve the workflows of all areas of the company.

Eliminate the ‘Unhealthy Peace’

According to Priya Parker, the author of The Art of Gathering, “Unhealthy peace can be as threatening to (the) human connection as unhealthy conflict. And most of our gatherings suffer from unhealthy peace, not unhealthy conflict”.

In other words, at meetings, your team are more concerned with pleasing you and saying what they think you want to hear than solving problems.

Though most founders commendably try to have ‘open-door policies’, not every team member will take advantage of them. But savvy meeting organisers make sure to involve every attendee because they know the best ideas often come from unexpected places.

That’s why successful companies have a passionate meeting culture. You want people attending meetings to feel able to share their ideas and be critical. After all, the reason we hold meetings is because issues exist that single individuals can’t solve on their own. Collective effort and input is required to reach the solution.

So how do you break an unhealthy peace in your company’s meeting culture?

First, create a safe space. Then actively encourage each attendee to take sides on an issue. They now have to defend their stand and attack the other side. Beyond basic ideation, team members are pushed to defend their statements, strategies, and opinions.

This exercise can be done more than once on multiple topics and before long you’ll benefit from healthy conflicts within your start-up’s meeting culture.

A change of scene

If you’re holding meetings right now, you are your team are probably virtually linking from your respective living rooms/kitchens/spare rooms.

Before too long though, it’ll be the company conference room again. And let’s face it, these spaces can sap energy and creativity.

So, why not hold meeting in unexpected places? New environments can generate fresh ideas that your employees might not have otherwise had.

But if you’re not meeting in the conference room, where should you meet?

Parks and coffee shops are great options. But if you’re hesitant to leave the office, consider meeting in a less frequented room like the kitchen.

If you’re growing your start-up in a coworking space, you have a slight advantage, as coworking facilities generally have a variety of diversely styled rooms for the choosing.

No Tech!

Consider enforcing a ‘no technology’ policy during meetings. The benefits of this are twofold: Improved health and better cognition.

Chances are most of your team are locked to a screen for more than 95 percent of the workday already. By making your meetings a mandatory ‘power-off zone’, your team will come to see them as a relaxing reprieve that allows for free thought, without distraction.

End your meeting with meaning

Just as the start of a meeting is crucial, so is how it ends.

And while giving everyone a to-do list sounds like a good idea, it only serves the meeting host, not the team.

Instead, hold a ‘last-call’ before you end the meeting, giving everyone a chance to contribute before you adjourn. And instead of reading off a to-do list, remind each participant of the purpose of the meeting. State clearly the one thing you want them to remember. When your team understands the purpose and their impact, they figure out the details and the steps without a list.

Final thoughts

Now that you have a range of ideas to facilitate more productive start-up meetings, call everyone together for a quick meeting to tell them how you are going to improve your meetings (just kidding!).

While there’s no silver bullet for making all meetings successful, implementing any one of these suggestions will yield improvements.

So, don’t accept bad meetings as a cost of doing business. Use these ideas to turn all your meetings into opportunities to improve your bottom line and build a stronger winning culture.

Special thanks to Greenborough Management who created this blog for the Northern Max Accelerator, delivered for AD:VENTURE and Bradford Council.