Meetings get a bad rap. They’re time-consuming, labor-intensive, and they can easily get off-topic.
But it’s difficult to run a business without getting the team together, at least once in a while. If you want to improve your meetings in 2017, take some advice from Seattle-area tech execs.
We asked 13 leaders in the Pacific Northwest how they run their meetings, as part of our regular Working Geek feature. Continue reading for their tips and strategies for more efficient and effective collaboration. To see each exec’s full Working Geek profile, click on his or her name.
Elissa Fink, CMO of Tableau: “Start with a laugh or some reminder that we’re all just people working together trying to make something happen. Then get right to it. At the end, summarize and confirm next actions and the person responsible.”
Peter Hamilton, CEO of Tune: “Something I’m working hard to do is ask good questions in meetings. It is my job to help teams think through problems and own them. Great questions can open that up. I try not to “run” as many meetings as I once did, and if I do, it should be strategic. I have two amazing general managers and so many leaders across the organization that I trust to collaborate, establish action items, move the needle, and measure results. When I am running a meeting I ask what we’re planning to get done in the meeting, drive toward that goal, and do everything I can to finish the meeting early. If you meet with me, you’ll also notice that I use Google’s calendar feature to keep meetings brief and have some time between by making 30-minute meetings only 25 minutes. We can probably accomplish the same tasks and make sure we get to the next thing in time and ready to be productive.”
Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experience Officer at Microsoft: “I think it is important to bring in people with different viewpoints so you get fresh ideas. I tend to start working meetings with the problem statement that we need to discuss and ensure everyone has a chance to share their thoughts and approach to address the issue. I also leave time for the conversation to go on a tangent. These are often the conversations that lead to big breakthroughs because everyone is contributing from a different angle.”
Aman Bhutani, President of Brand Expedia Group: “With patience. Patience is about getting a group to make themselves more efficient over time versus having a single set of rules for running meetings.”
Adrienne Gemperle, VP of Partner Resources at Starbucks: “The notion of effective meetings seems to be elusive…I do my best to make sure the purpose is clear. The reasons to meet are geared toward discussion, collaboration, alignment and because those in the room are needed to positively impact the outcome. I try to avoid status reporting and big presentation decks.”
Tim Porter, Managing Director of Madrona Venture Group: “Try to focus on the important and not just the urgent. Be intentional about managing your calendar. From a work perspective, I try to prioritize portfolio companies first, entrepreneurs/prospective investments second, everything else third — with the overarching mindset that Madrona exists to provide great returns to our limited partners (investors). I also try to leave some time to read, think about trends and how I can be more strategic and proactive, and not just react to the flow. This last part is the hardest. Our strategy is to meet and invest in the best entrepreneurs attacking the biggest markets in the Pacific NW and I’m on 10 boards. There are fortunately a ton of interesting things happening in our region these days. So there is a lot of flow.”
Michelle Broderick, CMO of Simple: Like it’s my job. Meetings get a bad reputation because few people see it as a way to practice the craft of leadership. When you put time into creating an agenda, defining a clear purpose, and committing to outcomes you can get an amazing amount of work done in a meeting. If you add on a sense of ritual, and an opportunity for the group to practice some form of gratitude, it becomes a gathering that the whole team looks forward to.
Scott Porad, CTO of Rover: “First, keep it short — I schedule meetings for 25 or 45 minutes. Usually, you can get done in 20 or 45 minutes the same amount of stuff you can get done in 30 or 60 minutes. Second, I try to be clear at the start about the purpose of the meeting. Third, I have repeatable agendas for recurring meetings — following the same pattern each time presents opportunities for optimization. Fourth, I take notes — I’m terribly forgetful, so I write stuff down.”
Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz: “We have a rolling agenda for our team meeting in a Google doc that we send out ahead of time to collect topics for discussion and record who is responsible for bringing the discussion. There are some recurring topics for high-visibility initiatives. During the meeting, we capture notes, decisions, and action items right in the agenda doc. The document becomes a running history of our team activities. Occasionally I’ll look through it for trends or things that we’ve ‘dropped’ and should revisit.”
Justin Beals, VP of technology at Koru: “I love short meetings! I tend to only schedule 30 minutes for any one discussion to keep the team focused. I like our meetings to have a specific and immediate solution. If it can’t be reached in 30 minutes then we break out research tasks. We tend to finish discussions very quickly. I’m much happier spending 15 minutes discussing a single specific issue than wasting an hour with formal meetings. While this is my preference it doesn’t work for over 50 percent of the meetings I attend where longer collaborative sessions are required.
Brianna Wettlaufer, CEO and Co-founder of Stocksy: “Collaboration is really important to me, as well as well-crafted strong opinions. I would never want to be in a meeting where everyone wasn’t willing to share his or her opinion in a totally blunt and honest way. Candy-coating just wastes everyone’s time and tends to be ambiguous. Our meetings typically focus on brainmeld through whiteboarding, challenging understandings (just to be sure) and building on top of them — laced with wit, banter and a lot of laughs.”
Gary Cowan, COO of Peach: Four key guiding principles: One, be clear as to the purpose of the meeting and what you are trying to achieve; two, make sure to only invite those that are necessary for the meeting and ensure that their focus is on the meeting, not their phones, laptops etc; three, be aware of the dynamics of the meeting and ensure that less assertive attendees are encouraged and given room to participate while more assertive members don’t just dominate by virtue of their personalities; four, if it’s a meeting that is intended to drive action (as opposed to say, informational), make sure to specify and reiterate next steps then follow up by sending these out in writing so there is no confusion about expectations.
Jared Nieuwenhuis, Marketing Director of Her Interactive: “I make the objective of the meeting clear, I only invite those that are critical to the objective and I stick to the agenda. I start the meeting on time and end it on time. I respect people’s time and never want to waste it. Lastly, I follow-up with an email within 24 hours that confirms action items, deadlines, tasks, etc. I want to make sure everyone is on the same page after the meeting.”