4 Ways To Make Meetings Suck Less

Forget boring board rooms. Progressive companies are blurring the lines between personal and professional to boost productivity, save time, and reduce groans.

It's 5 p.m. on Friday, and none of my co-workers have left. No one is watching the clock hoping to kick off their weekend. Instead, my team members are prepping the big projector, getting comfy on the couch, and preparing for the weekly office show-and-tell. Most of us are excited to show off the projects we put together, give each other feedback, and peruse a few weird YouTube videos together. And we do this every Friday.

Meetings have gotten a bad reputation. 37signals declared it National Boycott A Meeting Day last January, with almost 2,000 people tweeting their support. Nowadays, a startup advertises few to no meetings to attract top engineering recruits. Some have even gone to the extreme like Craigslist did in 2009—eliminating meetings altogether.

But most understand meetings will never disappear entirely from our companies. Getting together to share ideas, even serendipitously, is fundamental to fostering innovation and establishing a collaborative company culture. We need to meet with each other. That's why many startups are experimenting with new meetings that maintain efficiency and team morale. When it comes to meetings, here are some ways our company—and many other companies—are getting innovative:

Stay hungry (metaphorically speaking)

Food can fundamentally change the feeling of any meeting. That's why startups everywhere are keeping their employees happy and in many ways, disguising the all-too-boring meeting in a much beloved lunch. New companies are sprouting up just to fill this need, like ZeroCater and Cater2Me. From unique Korean meals to grass-fed burgers, employees get a chance to both spend time with each other and review critical parts of business with a nice catered lunch.

That's what happens at Storenvy. Over lunch, we don't have the feared agenda. We just talk, eat, and the biggest issues of running our company bubble up naturally.

Just stand up

Ah, the daily stand-up. You've probably heard of it. It's a meeting where all members of the team check in and they're required to stand up. According to strategy consultant Jason Yip, "We stand up to keep the meeting short." Efficiency is the sexy cousin of meetings. The reason meetings get such a bad reputation—and are typically hated by your most productive staff—is they waste so much time. So, stand-ups maximize check-in time and allow everyone to quickly resume working.

At our company, we hold daily stand-ups with the entire team and we make sure to check in on obstacles. Within just a few days of starting my job, I heard my favorite question, "What do you need to be amazing?" That's the question that implicitly floats around our stand-up, and after everyone gets their answers we get back to being amazing.

Think decompression, not agendas

So I have one for you that's very real and is taking down great employees left and right: burnout. It's possible. It happens to the smartest and brightest of us. How do you slow down or eliminate "burnout" within your company? Make sure everyone is having a little fun and being a little silly. This works really well for great companies like Zappos or Google, and newer companies like LaunchRock, Mailchimp, and Uber.

But it can also work for smaller teams. Our Friday show-and-tells create a pleasant—and productive—end of the week. Getting together casually like this takes the edge off of a typically intense work week, and gives us a chance to demonstrate our work.

Leave it to the software

Meetings do not need to be—and many times, should not be—in person. There are so many cool collaborative tools out there now that can help move things forward without wasting time (or travel costs). I've recently become a huge fan of collaborating within a Basecamp Project and Google Docs to get all of the ideas out before an in-person or virtual meeting. I've found it's easiest for our team to think of creative solutions before getting all of us in a room. (Skype, Google+ hangouts and other video-chat apps can stand in for the physical room if your team is remote.)

There are plenty of companies across the world, from startups to major enterprises, that are starting to retool their meetings, too. If I were to make one recommendation for all leaders pushing for a high-output, more productive culture, I'd recommend rethinking the way you meet.

Arielle Patrice Scott is the Marketing Director of Storenvy, an online store builder and marketplace for independent stores online. Arielle blogs about marketing, startup culture and e-commerce on her blog, TheArielle.com. Prior to Storenvy, Arielle was the founder of GenJuice, a content recommendation service.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ solutions to help end youth unemployment.

[Image: Flickr user Mayra]

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3 Comments

  • Ari Fitz

    Hi Susan, I read about their innovation with the stand-up. Personally, I see it's a great way to sniff out blockers or the different roadblocks a team member has. I'd love to hear what led to the introduction of the "daily line-up" at Ritz-Carlton.

  • Susan LaMotte

    Great points. I used to work for Ritz-Carlton--they invented the concept of the stand-up (what they call daily line-up. What's great about it is that they use it as a way to share common info at all locations and customize info at each individual locations. Meetings seem to traditionally be about work and solving problems when sometimes they can be really effective (when done the right way) at communication.