How to Run Your Meetings Like Apple and Google

Careers have been built on poking fun at meetings. From commercials to comic strips it’s no secret that most of us would rather be, you know, working.But there’s good news: Rapid experimentation with meetings in the past decade by startups and Fortune 500 companies alike has produced a new set of rules to consider. Here are three that seem to be universal:
  1. All meetings must have a stated purpose or agenda. Without an agenda, meetings can easily turn into aimless social gatherings rather than productive working sessions.
  2. Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or Action ItemsWe love Action Items here, but we’re not the only ones. From Apple to the Toastmasters, the world’s most successful organizations demand that attendees leave meetings with actionable tasks.
  3. The meeting should have an end timeConstraints breed creativity. By not placing an endtime, we encourage rambling, off-topic and useless conversation.

 

Of course, there’s no need to stop there. Truly productive companies always continue tweaking to suit their specific culture. Here are a few highlights:

Apple

During the Steve Jobs era, Apple constantly worked to stay true to its startup roots while becoming the largest company in the world.
  • Every project component or task has a “DRI.” According to Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Apple breeds accountability at meetings by having a Directly Responsible Individual whose name appears next to all of the agenda items they are responsible for. With every task tagged, there’s rarely any confusion about who should be getting what done.
  • Be prepared to challenge and be challenged. There are dozens of tales about Jobs’ ability to aggresively question his employees, sometimes moving them to tears. While you probably don’t need the waterworks at your office, everyone should be willing to defend their ideas and work from honest criticism. If a person has no ideas to defend, they shouldn’t be at the meeting.

 

 

Catalyst

Catalyst, a group of young Christian leaders in the South, places an emphasis on keeping meetings positive and loose. Some examples:

  • The answer is always “yes, and…” and never “no, but…” Keep things positive and ideas flowing by not shouting down initial proposals.
  • Take a break every 30 minutes. If your meeting must last longer than a half hour, make sure attendees can get up, walk out of the room and put their brain on pause.
  • Think and dream with out limitations. Those come later.

 

 

Google

In a recent issue of “Think With Google,” Google VP of Business Operations Kristen Gil described how the company spent 2011 getting back to its original values as a startup, which included reconsidering how the company approached meetings. Some takeaways:

  • All meetings should have a clear decision maker. Gil credits this approach to helping the Google+ team ship over 100 new features in the 90 days after launch.
  • No more than ten people at a meeting. “Attending meetings isn’t a badge of honor,” she writes.
  • Decisions should never wait for a meeting. Otherwise, the velocity of the company is slowed to its meeting schedule. If a meeting needs to happen for something to get done, hold the meeting as soon as possible.
  • Kill ideas, and meetings. After Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as Google CEO, the company quickly killed its Buzz, Code Search, and Desktop products so it could focus more resources on less efforts. Focus has to permeate every aspect of a company, including meetings.


37Signals

If it were up to 37 Signals, there would be no meetings at all and discussion would be limited to IM and email. In the company’s best-selling book Rework, they urge creatives to remember that “every minute you avoid spending in a meeting is a minute you can get real work done instead.” In fact, the firm even created National Boycott a Meeting Day in 2011. But if you absolutely must meet, they have three rules:

  • Keep it short. No, shorter than that. And use a timer to enforce the time limit.
  • Have an agenda.
  • Invite as few people as possible.

Reily
This New Orleans-based food and beverage company was profiled in the book Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert Sutton. The company utilizes “stand up” meetings made popular for the Agile method of software development.
  • Schedule the meetings for the same time. Keeping employees in a rhythm allows them to not have their work unexpectedly disrupted.
  • The stand up is to communicate, not solve. If your team has a regularly planned stand up meeting, “lack of communication” is no longer an excuse for problems. Just be sure to protect the stand up meeting time by deferring larger discussions to private meetings.

(BTW: If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of the stand up meeting, Jason Yip wrote an entire manual.)

 

 

Technically Media

Not exactly Apple or Google, but at my previous company, Technically Media, we worked hard to make meetings as useful as possible. We met only once a week to update one another on progress, propose new ideas and hammer out any problems. We kept to an extremely strict time table and meeting structure as detailed by my fellow co-founder Christopher Wink on his personal blog. Some key observations:
  • There is no judging in brainstorming. Focus on capturing ideas before filtering and critiquing them.
  • Bring solutions, not problems. Solutioning in the middle of a meeting wastes precious communication time. If you can’t bring proposed solutions to the table, save it for next time or bring it up in private conversations.
  • Review “homework” from the last meeting. Not only does it remind participants what happened last week, it holds attendees accountable.
What’s Your Approach?How does your organization run its meetings?
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Sean Blanda

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I love Ed's writings and heart. I am frustrated by these articles, however. Much of the missiological basis of the Church Growth Movement are not mentioned, and the origination of the formulas are not substantiated. Also, the Movement via Wagner, started mentioning the importance of health over 3o years ago. I wish these articles were better researched and less sweeping in their generalizations. Things like E1, E2, E3 evangelism, group multiplication, relational networks, faith, health, and the care to measure the right things are largely missing here. Perhaps Ed has earned the right to generalize, but I still was disappointed. But keep researching Ed! Ed and Thom have continued on in the spirit of the movement by doing quality research, and for that I am deeply grateful.
 
— Gary Westra
 
This discussion will continue, for sure. I am tasked with the online worship ministry do our church at FBC Trussville and it is proving to be an important piece of the overall ministry. As in most things In life and technology, balance is in order. Many of our older adults prefer the "live" service online rather than a week or even day-later DVD or downloaded service. They tell me it is important for them to be a part while the service occurs. This is key because if a person simply wanted the message or music or to see the pastor because they "like" him, then it would not need to be live. There is a sense with our people that they need to experience the worship with their church family in real time. Theologically, folks will have issues. This is a disruptive technology for church. But I would hope that before we toss it all away we would approach it with wisdom and humility. Personally, I would like to see the Church grow through small, cost-effective ways like this and not just brick-and-mortar.
 
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It seems this was written awhile ago but I would like to respond. Mr. Surratt makes great points. Points that should be taken seriously by all churches. I just do not think these points are the main reason people are not coming back to churches. Who knows the exact reason why anyone does not come back unless they tell you, but I can say with certainty the reasons I do not return are usually the same. 1. Love, tolerance, and acceptance. (unbelievers, baby Christians) Church members seem to want their guests or potential members to behave a certain way. They want them to conform to the system that is already in place. In some ways this is understandable. In other ways, it is isolating to the guest. They want to feel loved and accepted the way they are. They want to be told everything is ok no matter their past. They want to be given time to work out their immediate more pressing issues without having to worry about what to wear and how to talk (church speak). 2. Love, tolerance, and acceptance (believers, unchurched) Many times, these people are looking for what fits their already preconceived ideas of what "good churches" are. These preconceived notions are difficult to overcome and some of them were addressed in Mr. Surratt's article. But I can tell you that a truly loving, a truly tolerant, and a truly accepting church can overcome most of these things. You may never be able to overcome a taste in music, or a theological difference, but most everything else can be healed with Love. 3. People can see the business aspect of the church. I see it almost immediately when I walk into certain churches for the first time. I think people understand that a church has many aspects of itself that are business oriented. I just believe they dont want to experience these aspects when they visit. How many churches are so focused on growth, in numbers of bodies, that they forget the growth of the heart? The American church is now fully Americanized. Its a show and a numbers game. People come to church, especially new comers, CRAVING to fill a void in their life. If you are offering the same thing they can get in the real world, how are you any different? There are plenty of other reasons people do not return and many may not be avoidable. However, the church as a whole needs to reevaluate the arena in which they are playing. The simplicity of the Gospel is good enough to fulfill the hearts of the unbelievers and restore the prodigal's to a relationship with Christ. Love thy neighbor as thyself and love thy God with all your heart.
 
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