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Dec 11

Meetings That Drive Startups

Meetings drive business! Ineffective meetings can stall or even retard business. So if meetings are so important why do so few people not know how to manage them effectively?

Startups will have thousands of meetings while they’re building their business. Meetings to get team consensus, make team decisions, brainstorm and hatch new ideas, communicate concepts, solve problems, address emergencies, etc. So the sooner the startup learns how to have effective meetings, the quicker their company will move forward and thus the quicker it will grow.

Most people don’t like meetings; they often feel they are a waste of time. Unfortunately many are, but that’s not necessarily because of the subject matter, it’s often due to the way the meeting is conducted. Meetings should follow an agenda, with a conclusion for each agenda item. When conclusions are achieved people tend to be more positive about meetings.

In this posting we’re offering a basic formula for conducting effective and successful business meetings.

 

Meeting setup:

  1. Send out invitations / requests far in advance, at least a week if possible. This is the best way to get as many people attending as possible.
  2. If the meeting is urgent, e.g., you need a meeting within 24hrs, PHONE the required participants, don't email.
  3. In the invitation include the purpose of the meeting, e.g., “To brainstorm the new time machine widget”, “Define and discuss options for raising the Titanic”, “Kick-off meeting for next tradeshow”, “Planning for IBM takeover”, etc.
  4. Try to include an agenda. This helps people prepare; with data and mentally.
  5. If you don't have an idea for an agenda, make the first item in the agenda “Housing cleaning” and the second "Define agenda." (more on house cleaning later)
  6. Make sure the duration of the meeting is defined. 

 

Confirm meeting:

A day before the meeting send a reminder confirmation. CRM software usually does this automatically. Most calendars offer a reminder, so use this function if it’s available.

 

Conducting meetings:

  1. Always try to be a couple of minutes early if possible and try really hard not to be late.
  2. When you turn up to a meeting be awake, engaged and try to carry a smile, this will help set an example and a positive tone.
  3. Try to acknowledge everyone when you arrive at the meeting and exchange business cards if the meeting is with people outside of the startup.
  4. It’s always a good idea to share an interesting story or quick CLEAN joke to settle down any nerves.
  5. If things get heated always remain calm and propose a 5 minutes recess.

 

Meeting structure:

Effective meetings follow a structure and thus keep the meeting on point and moving forward. This is the structure we use at KENOVA. 

  1. If participants are not familiar with each other, introduce each one or ask them to quickly introduce themselves, e.g., “Hi, I’m John Smith, I work in accounting.” It’s always best if you start things off.
  2. Start with house cleaning issues, e.g., if the meeting is a standing meeting confirm the date and time of the next meeting and that everyone can attend.
  3. Quickly review the agenda, prioritize the items and ask if anyone wishes to add to it.
  4. Conduct the meeting by following the agenda.
  5. Make sure someone takes notes. We recommend taking bulleted notes with topic and conclusion, as opposed to traditional minutes / essay style.
  6. Make sure each agenda receives a conclusion. If the conversation goes off topic, make sure the discussion returns to the item for a final conclusion.
  7. If there is no actual conclusion, determine if the item should be readdressed in a follow up meeting
  8. If new topics arise, add them to the agenda.
  9. Make sure the meeting finishes on time.
  10. If one or more items of the agenda were not addressed:
    1. Propose a followup meeting.
    2. Unless one or more are time sensitive, in which case ask the attendees if they would want to extend the current meeting to address them.
  11. If a follow up meeting is necessary, be sure to schedule it before the end of the meeting while all attendees are present. This is the most reliable and efficient way to arrange the next meeting.
  12. Also, confirm the purpose of the follow up meeting and objectives.
  13. Finally, share the meeting notes with all the attendees. We use Syncromatic, but any sharing tool will work.

 

For further details, we’ve included the following document from the HR department at Vanderbilt University.
 

How to Conduct an Effective Meeting

 PURPOSE
• Identify the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting.
• Determine if the meeting is necessary or if the issues can be addressed outside of a meeting.
• Should only use meetings for brainstorming, delivering information or gathering information.

PEOPLE
• Identify and invite only the necessary and appropriate people for the meeting.
• Make sure all attendees can contribute.
• Communicate the meeting’s purpose and desired outcomes to all attendees.
• Schedule guests who don’t need to be at the entire meeting, which can be an incentive to stay within the meeting’s time limits.

PREPARATION
• Organize meeting venue.
• Provide the agenda and any other supporting documentation (e.g. reports, handouts and spreadsheets) to the attendees at least 24 hours prior to the meeting time.
• Ensure the comfort, quietness and set-up of the space before the meeting.
• Provide water or other refreshments when possible.

AGENDA
• Include items to be discussed, and then for each item specify the person leading the discussion, the desired outcome, and the estimated time.
• Provide meeting evaluation time and documentation (if applicable).
• Limit number of items to a reasonable amount for the meeting’s timeframe
• Be realistic about the timeframe for each item.
• Schedule breaks periodically for longer meetings.

MEETING LEADER
• Designate a meeting leader who understands meeting principles, is familiar with the agenda and is a skilled facilitator.
• Rotate facilitators for regularly scheduled meetings.
• Open meeting with setting or reviewing ground rules and reviewing the agenda, making changes when appropriate.
• Clarify roles within the group.
• Maintain focus and keep meeting moving at comfortable pace.
• Cover one item at a time.
• Summarize discussion and recommendations at the end of each logical section.
• Make a note of any follow-up actions that can be resolved outside of the meeting and move on to next point.
• Manage discussion and encourage participation, even explicitly inviting everyone to participate.
• Use parking lot list for issues or questions that need to be dealt with outside of the meeting and review at end of meeting.
• Review issues discussed at the meeting and identify each actions step with those responsible for the step and the timeframe.
• Solicit agenda items for the next meeting.
• Review time and place for next meeting, if applicable.
• Lead evaluation discussion or collect written evaluations.
• Thank the attendees.

TIME
• Designate a timekeeper who will work with the meeting leader to keep the pace.
• Start and end on time, regardless of late attendees.
• Periodically check the time estimates for each item to see how close they were to the time actually spent.
• Allow flexibility in the schedule when the need arises.

GROUND RULES
• Request that all pagers and cell phones be turned to silent or vibrate.
• Establish a policy disallowing electronic communications during the meeting.
• Start and stop on time.
• Request that any pages or messages be returned outside of the meeting space.
• Determine that each participant’s opinion should be respected.
• Encourage participation and openness.
• Ask questions for clarity.
• Don’t interrupt.
• Be careful about tangents – stay focused.
• Invite and give meaningful feedback.
• Honor commitments.
• Be present.
• Talk about difficult topics within the team at the table.
• Give each other the benefit of the doubt.

MINUTES
• Designate a note-taker.
• Make detailed minutes when the record is important and simple lists of decisions made and actions to be taken (with responsible person identified) when the exact record is not as important.
• Capture key points for each item, highlight anything that will be deferred until a future meeting.
• Include timeframes for action steps.
• Include parking lot issues with follow up information.

EVALUATION
• Have each attendee evaluate the meeting, using a round-robin, written, or open discussion approach.
• Ask questions such as “what can we do better next time?” and “what parts of the meeting worked well?”

FOLLOW UP
• Return readable or typed minutes to attendees within 24 hours if possible (same day is even better).
• Be consistent with meeting habits.

Compiled by the HR Organizational Effectiveness Team

 

"This article may not be reproduced in whole or part without including the name of the author (James Naylor) and an acknowledgement of the fact the article was originally published in Shoestring Advice for Technology Startups (http://www.KENOVATech.com/blog). Any other use of this material is unauthorized and is a violation of law."

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