Say no to dull meetings

Business strategist Matt Malouf explains how getting the rhythm and subject of your meetings right can turn tedious encounters into business turning points

Say no to dull meetings
The key to great management, whether your staff members are local or overseas, virtual or in your workplace, is regular communication and a good meeting rhythm. Think of meetings as the pulse of your business: If it’s not beating regularly and rhythmically, then inevitably you’ll get an unhealthy system.

In the 15 years I’ve spent working in or with growing companies, the companies that are consistently growing and achieving their goals are those that have established a routine and rhythm of having meetings. The faster they are growing, the more meetings they have. While this may sound counterintuitive or even crazy, I need to clarify that I’m not talking about having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. I’m talking about having short meetings that are run to time, with a specific structure and agenda.

Most meetings are poorly run, demotivating and, to be frank, a waste of everyone’s time. If run properly, your meetings will be inspiring and positive and enable the business to grow at a faster rate.

A big key to running successful meetings is to prepare for them properly. This is why daily, weekly and monthly reports are so important. The reports are designed to give you the information required to run a short and productive meeting. This way, the meeting can cut through the information-gathering stage that often takes up the majority of most meetings and get straight into constructive discussions and/or sharing.

A great meeting rhythm I have implemented with many companies is a daily meeting (sometimes referred to as a daily huddle), a weekly meeting and a monthly meeting.

Daily meeting or huddle – a must
In growing companies A daily meeting or huddle is a short meeting (five to 15 minutes) designed to support discussions around tactical issues and provide short updates. This is a great way to bring everyone together, keep everyone focused, and build a culture of camaraderie and teamwork.

While this may seem like overkill, this is a practice that many fast-growing companies around the world have implemented and are practicing on a daily basis. You may feel like you don’t have the time to conduct such a meeting or that you are having enough interactions already, so you don’t need another meeting. In my experience, when implemented well, the daily huddle will save you
time, reduce impromptu conversations and increase the efficiency of information-sharing.

I have worked with many organizations that have implemented this well, and the results are immediate. Your team will be more
aligned, and you will be able to control the internal energy while accelerating the growth of your company. Let me delve a little deeper
into the structure and limits that lead to a successful daily huddle.

It is recommended that you set the start of the daily huddle at an odd time, such as 10:10 a.m. or 12:12 p.m., to make it memorable. Starting at an odd time often leads to people being on time, believe it or not. As this is quite a short meeting, you don’t have very much time to waste. So it is important to the success of the huddle that you start and finish on time.
(Ideally, the meeting shouldn’t go for longer than 15 minutes.) In the beginning, I recommend getting someone to time the meeting and to end the meeting regardless of whether the agenda is finished or not.

In order to the keep the meeting short, it is best to conduct the daily huddle standing up. This keeps the energy high and will help you to avoid extending the conversation – people don’t want to have to stand for too long.

Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up and a leading pioneer of the daily huddle concept, says, “In general, the goal is to have more people in less meetings, not more meetings with less people.” It is for that reason that I recommend you involve the maximum number of staff members. The ideal number to keep the meeting short and allow a good exchange of information is 10 to 20 people. In larger companies, I would recommend you create a daily huddle in each department and another daily huddle with the heads of departments.

The last point to consider is the heart of the daily huddle: the questions. The agenda should be the same every day – only three
items long (allowing up to five minutes per item). An agenda that has worked with many of my clients revolves around the following
three questions:
  • Did you achieve your primary focus yesterday?
  • What is your primary focus today?
  • What obstacles will keep you from completing it?/Where are you stuck?
The meeting rhythm will depend on the role and the organizational culture. Depending on what other meetings are scheduled,
I usually have a daily meeting with my personal assistant. That daily meeting is critical to her role and her ability to support me in what I’m doing. Those meetings are prebooked one month in advance.

It’s a 15-minute meeting, and the conversation starts with, “How can I help?”, and then my assistant will give all the updates for the
day. The meeting shifts when she says, “Matt, how can I help you?”, and then I update her on what I need done. While hosting this meeting, we use Asana, our project management tool. We both have it open and make changes in real time so we can both see the capture of those tasks and make sure they get managed properly.

Weekly and monthly meetings
The second meeting type is the weekly meeting, which is a 50-minute meeting with a clear agenda that talks about the critical
progress updates within a business. It engages conversation to help people understand and gathers feedback from the team on what the business should keep doing, stop doing and start doing.

When it comes to one-on-one, team, weekly or any other meetings that follow an agenda, culturally it’s good to start with:
  • What are your wins for the week, and why do they matter?
  • What has been your biggest challenge, and why does it matter?
  • What have you learned in the past week, and how can you apply it?
This helps set a positive mood and tone for the meeting, providing a chance to celebrate individual victories as a team and praise individuals in front of the team. ‘Wins and positives for the week’ could be the first item on your meeting agenda. From there, move on to the remaining items. I always end my weekly meetings with these two questions:
  • As an organization, based on the past seven days, what should we stop doing?
  • As an organization, based on the past seven days, what should we start doing?
Monthly meetings follow a similar agenda to the weekly meetings, except you need to add a strategic layer to them. By this I mean you should check in with the company’s goals and solve any major challenges to enable you to continue moving forward.

Matt Malouf is a business strategist and the author of The Stop Doing List, which draws on Malouf’s work with big businesses and startups to help business owners free up time to build their businesses. The Stop Doing List is available in bookshops and online.