July 10, 2015

The Rules of Effective Meetings by Google and Tesla Motors

Are you used to the fact that meetings are a waste of time? This is not the case. Discussing issues together can be productive. Read the article and learn how to conduct meetings quickly according to clear rules and always achieving your aims.

When Larry Page, the CEO of Google, became the head of the company, he immediately sent an email to all staff entitled “How to conduct meetings effectively”. Basically, the main idea of the email was: "You probably do not need to have a meeting”.

Larry believes that important decisions should not wait until the meeting. But if it is absolutely necessary to bring employees together in order to make a decision, you should do so immediately.

Of course, when it comes to really important issues (such as the launch of a new product, transitioning to new technology etc.) then you cannot do without a meeting. The main thing to remember is that a meeting is also a work project that needs a plan, regulations, a project team and clear objectives. So, let’s go through the main points.

1. Set a Goal for the Meeting and Specify the Meeting Agenda

One of the main problems of any meeting is having an unclear aim. If you cannot envisage a clear picture of what you want to achieve during the meeting, then consider whether you need one at all.

Your statement of purpose should contain a specific action. For example, not things like “discuss the launch of a new product” but instead “make a decision about choosing a supplier of components for the new product”. If the task is large, break it into several sub-points, guided by the same logic.

Arrange the items on the agenda according to their degree of priority / urgency. In this way, you can be sure that the most important decisions are made, even if you are not able to discuss all of the issues.

Delineate your tasks into the following order:

  1. Urgent and important tasks
  2. Tasks which require a creative approach
  3. Non-urgent important tasks
  4. All remaining questions

2. Work out the Best Composition of Participants

Look at the provisional list of participants and ask yourself whether you need all those people sitting in on the meeting. Maybe, if you want to find out your staff’s opinion from on something you can put it in a short email or make a phone call?

Invite only those colleagues whose competence is fundamentally necessary to the meeting, in order to achieve the meeting’s objectives.

3. Distribute an Informative Invitation

The invitation should not only note the start time, but also the duration of the meeting. Alongside the invitation, send the meeting agenda and preparatory material for it.

Anything that you will need for decision-making such as data, tables or reports should be sent at least 24 hours before the meeting. Give colleagues time to prepare and save yourself from having to stop and study the document during the meeting itself.

Elon Musk, head of Tesla Motors, is known for his harsh treatment of employees who come in unprepared. It is not surprising that his meetings are quick and efficient.

4. Begin and End the Meeting Strictly at the Appointed Time

Even if some of your colleagues are late, that is not a reason to waste the time remaining. This practice gradually teaches discipline and punctuality to employees.

5. Let the Most Important Participants in the Project Speak at the Beginning

If an unforeseen situation some people may have to leave the meeting, the remaining participants will be able to consider their opinion.

6. Discourage All Attempts to Discuss Irrelevant Issues

Some questions which may be very important but are not on the meeting agenda will have to wait until the end of the meeting. Persistently and consistently return the discussion to the task at hand.

7. Try to Give the Floor to Each Participant of the Meeting

Some people are willing to speak in public for hours while others may quietly remain silent, but every participant’s opinion is important (if the list of participants was originally compiled correctly). Do not forget to moderate the discussion, interrupt protracted monologues and give quieter people the floor.

8. Be Sceptical and Ask Questions

Marissa Mayer, the head of Yahoo, argues against each speaker at the meeting.

“How can you justify your suggestion? What are you basing your data on? What research did you conduct?” Safe in the knowledge that these questions will inevitably come up, colleagues carefully work out their stance and don’t just say the first thing that comes to mind.

9. You Decide

If the discussion has somehow been sidetracked and delayed, and the allotted time runs out, then summarize all the essential statements in a few arguments and make a decision. In the end, this is the main purpose of the meeting.

10. State the Criteria for Decision Making Ahead of Time

Making decisions may not suit everyone. Employees who voice an unpopular view may find that you listen only to your “favorites”.

In order not to seem biased, use another method from Marissa Mayer: “Use numbers, not politics”. Before the meeting, Marissa pulls out a set of valuations that participants will have to consider before making a decision. This lends more weight to the decision and objectivity as a result.

11. Summarize the Meeting and Set Tasks

At the end of the meeting or immediately afterwards, resume the meeting:

  • Summarize the main conclusions from the meeting
  • Distribute tasks and assign responsibility
  • Designate specific deadlines
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