Meetings, meetings, meetings
Have you ever had one of those weeks where your calendar looks like a brick wall and you barely have time to catch your breath? If so, this article is for you.
Why am I writing this article
In the past few weeks I’ve felt like my calendar was shepherding me around like one of those well-paid San Francisco dog walkers. Sure, I was having fun sniffing around, meeting new people, sitting in various cleverly-named conference rooms, but I wasn’t in control. The calendar was.
If you agree time is our most precious asset, we all need to marshal it closely. So I researched “meetings” for two hours to understand 1) how to think about meetings, and 2) learn how to do more with less.
Jeff Bezos has some interesting opinions on meetings
While I’d seen the click-baity headlines about Jeff Bezos’ management style, I hadn’t actually dug in. Turns out he has some interesting ideas on meetings:
No powerpoint. Only “memos” are allowed, written in prose, to encourage employees to write out their ideas in full with clarity for others to read.
Group reading as a forcing function. Each meeting starts with 10-30min of silent reading. This is designed as a forcing function to pre-empt busy executives from bullshitting their way through a memo meeting they haven’t read. Questions and comments are encouraged. Shared gDocs are good for this.
According to this talk, Jeff Bezos said outlawing slideware was “probably the smartest thing we ever did.”
Ray Dalio also has some interesting ideas on meetings
While I’ve read Principles (and given it as a gift to several friends), somehow I glossed over Ray Dalio’s guidance on meetings structure. Here is what I took away from it:
One person owns the meeting. This “responsible party” is ultimately calling the meeting and responsible for the meetings agenda, invitees, content and decision.
Clear purpose + objective. Communicated beforehand and described at meeting start.
Fewer is better. If the objective is to make a high-quality decision, the best approach is to invite 5 or less people with the highest “believability” (domain expertise, track record) on the topic.
Intellectual honesty. Focus on the search for “what is true” and minimize the distracting influences of emotions and charisma. Give each person at least 2 minutes to complete their thought.
Transparency of outcome. Distribute the outcome of the meeting, e.g. a decision, next steps, ownership, to any relevant party via email or whatever your company uses to collaborate and document stuff.
For more on Dalio’s recommended meeting process, check out this checklist for a helpful walkthrough.
The 5 types of meetings
Still others argue that successful meetings are designed in advance with a clear “type" which this blog describes as:
feedforward (status reporting and new information presentations)
feedback (reacting and evaluating )
Denoting the meeting type in advance helps all attendees understand what’s expected of them.
I also found a few articles written by non-billionaires which offer interesting tidbits which I’ve bullet-pointed below. I intend to experiment with these in order to 1) improve the quality of meetings I run, and 2) reduce time spent (i.e. decline the invite) for meetings which don’t meet the basic criteria.
Craft the agenda in descending priority
Conduct the meeting with attendees standing up to shorten meeting length
Avoid Mondays/Fridays to improve attendee focus/mindset
Deliver concepts through story
Clear agenda shared in advance and during
Start/end on time (respect people’s time)
Leave 2 minutes at the end to align/agree/commit on action items
Leaders speak last
Acknowledge and validate each contributor
Ask for the opinion of the less outspoken attendees (I really like this one)