Can We Talk About Meetings?

Tips on getting a meeting with a propsect, but first can we talk about meetings

I vividly recall the day when Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes sent a company-wide memo letting his employees know that it was okay to leave any meeting that was no longer providing value, and this rule even applied to meetings with him. It was an interesting day.

This kind of policy change, while potentially challenging to old-school managers in love with ‘all hands on deck’ style of meeting, is likely music to the ears of most of us that have several daily or weekly meetings that, while informative, are not critical to their day-to-day job requirements.

Without a top-down mandate from your company CEO, missing a meeting, even if it is for good reason, can send a signal to your teammates that your time is more valuable than theirs. In egalitarian, flat organizations like startups this can definitely send the wrong message.

But, sometimes your time is more valuable, or precious than your workmates. Obviously, you can’t only prioritize your time above all others, otherwise, you will quickly find yourself isolated. However, if you’re working to deadline on a project, then an inconveniently timed inter-departmental meeting can play havoc with your ability to focus and deliver on objectives.

Meetings are a contributing factor to the stress level of your workforce.

Meetings are the bane of most employees, but the impact goes beyond simple disruption. They are a contributing factor to the stress level of your workforce. Meetings are sometimes necessary, but they are often a default response to dealing with a situation. With email and productivity tools like Slack, company intranets, Workplace by Facebook, and other communication channels, do you really need another meeting to deal with that small issue that has cropped up?

Think of that weekly hour-long departmental meeting we have all suffered through. The one where you feel your will to live slip away second-by-second. The one where the team gathers around a conference room table, some members joining remotely by teleconference, all suffering through a pointless meandering waste of time.

Meetings like this are a safety blanket for some managers (the team met to discuss blah blah blah, Check.), but they are a waste of everyone’s time. If you are tasked with running a meeting (because sometimes they are a necessary evil), set the bar by including an agenda with your meeting invite. It gives your team the opportunity to show up prepared and ready to contribute. If there’s no agenda, no structure, or no point, and you are simply meeting because you always meet every Tuesday—then you don’t need to meet!

If you must hold a meeting, then all attendees should show up and be ready to contribute through active participation.

bored faceThe corollary to my advice against the creation of unnecessary meetings is that if you must hold a meeting, then all attendees should show up and be ready to contribute through active participation. Is there anything more annoying than a colleague that shows up to a meeting, and doesn’t say a word, only to start complaining about everything discussed in the meeting the moment the meeting is over? It’s the equivalent of complaining about politics but then not exercising your franchise to vote. You don’t get a say if you don’t participate in the process.

Being accountable to your colleagues is critical in a startup. In fact, so much of the agile development model depends on simple stand-up meetings where each member reports on their progress and what they plan on completing each day.

 

Scrum meetings are an effective tool for reviewing tasks and challenges.

Developers and engineers that follow Scrum are familiar with the daily standup meeting. Scrum meetings are an effective tool for reviewing tasks and challenges. They encourage accountability, because a team member has only three things to report on:
1) What they did yesterday;
2) What they will do today;
3) Detail any roadblocks preventing code delivery.

When an engineer says “I will do this today,” they are making a commitment to the rest of the team that unless there’s an unexpected roadblock, the task they are working on will be delivered by the following day. That commitment and accountability is key. It’s the glue that keeps the team focused and delivering.

A related management methodology is the 1:1 meeting format. I’m a big fan of 1:1 meetings. If you’ve been involved with a startup, then odds are you’ll be familiar with this style of meeting. If not, it’s a simple meeting structure with a regular cadence that provides an opportunity for you to have a direct conversation with your direct reports on the tasks they are working on, the challenges or roadblocks they are encountering, or the goals they wish to work towards. For a good summary of the benefits of 1:1s check out Michael Wolfe’s post on Medium.

Good managers know how to stay out of the way of their high-functioning team members and instead focus their time on working with underperforming staff. For both contexts, weekly 1:1s are a great tool to check-in, while also providing opportunities for coaching. 1:1s also surface information quickly. You access information quickly and have a framework to act on something you’ve learned in a 1:1 with the rest of the team.

Given the significant baggage we all carry about meetings, imagine the challenge you will face as a sales rep when you casually request time out of a busy executive’s day to go over your sales pitch.

Given the significant baggage we all carry about meetings, imagine the challenge you will face as a sales rep when you casually request time out of a busy executive’s day to go over your sales pitch. You can imagine how your request triggers a stress-induced facial tick that results in a firm ‘no.’ Plan your prospect meetings carefully.

In my experience, reaching out to a prospective customer to schedule time for that critical first meeting is a delicate request that requires finesse. Typically, I’ll deliver this request via email—we’re all overworked so don’t try to surprise a prospect with a call out of the blue to corner them into taking a meeting. My email will outline the nature of the request, the time commitment required and the intended outcome. I always give the prospect an out, but the ‘out’ is more of a delay than a firm no.

My email might go something like this:

Hi [Prospect Name],

Thank you for your interest in [whatever it is they are interested in]. Do you have 20 minutes for a quick call this week to discuss your requirements, so I can determine if our product is the right fit? If this week doesn’t work I’m available at the following times next week: [Time A], [Time B], [Time C].

Thanks for your interest in [Company Name or Product] and I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]

That’s it. Nine times out of ten this kind of message lands the meeting, and it’s a meeting you won’t want to miss.

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