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15 Secrets To Running Meetings Like The World’s Top Innovative Companies

15 Secrets To Running Meetings Like The World’s Top Innovative Companies

Meetings can be a source of creativity and motivation – a time when team collaboration and leadership combine and create the space for achieving organisational goals. Maybe in an ideal world. Unfortunately, more often, meetings are just an unproductive and inefficient waste of time.

There’s a secret to running meetings that energise rather than demoralise. Here are 15 things the world’s top innovative companies do to keep meetings productive:

1. Apple – Small groups of smart people

A meeting is not a party, so “the more the merrier” does not apply. Steve Jobs was notorious for insisting that meetings should be small groups of smart people – and he wouldn’t hesitate to let someone know if they weren’t needed. Experts suggest there should be no more than 10 people at a meeting – so pick your invitees wisely.

2. TED – Keep it short

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a meeting watching the clock tick by. Meetings should not drag on for hours – or even half an hour. Research shows that our attention span is between 10 – 18 minutes, so the most innovative organisations know that meetings should be short. TED has proven that a lot can happen in 18 minutes:

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In a 15-minute TED talk, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg inspired millions of women to “lean in.” Steve Jobs gave one of the most popular commencement addresses of our time at Stanford University and he did it in 15 minutes. It took Dr. Martin Luther King a bit longer to share his dream of racial equality—he did it in 17 minutes.

3. Google – Appoint a decision maker

The secret to Google’s success is not acting like a large multi-billion dollar company – it’s acting “like a hungry startup”, according to CEO Larry Page. A problem with big companies is the increased red tape and bureaucracy that comes from having so many separate departments (corporate, operations, sales etc). This leads to increased meetings and slower decisions. So, Google has adopted a “buck stops here” approach to streamline decision making in meetings.

As Larry says: “There are no companies that make good slow decisions”.

4. 3M – Allow free time

Meetings need agendas and purpose – but innovation and creativity also need room to breathe. 3M created the 15% Program to allow its employees (paid) time out of their working day to generate ideas and pursue creative endeavours – that started in 1948! Over 50 years has proven that the best-selling products and services come out of allowing this free time and space. Google has followed suit and upped the ante with 20% free time, which famously led to the creation of Gmail and Google Earth. So, whether it’s before/during/after a meeting, allow free time for creative thoughts to flow. 

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5. Virgin – Location, location, location

A boardroom and powerpoint is enough to put anyone to sleep. Richard Branson suggests innovative ideas will come from innovative spaces. He says that the novelty of holding a meeting in a park or cafe will inject a breath of fresh air into any group meeting and likely generate new ideas and ways of thinking. If you don’t have a private island or yacht to discuss this month’s P&L, try getting outside or using a different space in the office, like the kitchen.

6. Facebook – Think on your feet

Experts say that for every hour that we sit, we reduce our life expectancy by 22 minutes. Considering we spend approximately 40 – 80 hours per week sitting at our desks, it’s no wonder the top innovative tech companies are refusing to meet sitting down. A recent study also found “that when people stand during meetings they appeared more excited by their work, acted less territorial about their ideas, and interacted better as a team”. Plus, standing also reportedly cuts meeting times by 25%. Facebook’s engineering manager (Mark Tonkelowitz) reportedly holds 15-minute stand-up meetings at 12pm daily – no chairs and an impending lunchtime keep updates short and sweet. For one-on-one meetings, Nilofer Merchant asked TED audiences to consider the benefits of a walking meeting. Let’s start thinking on our feet!

7. Microsoft – Share air time

Meetings are not a lecture – input is usually required from all attendees (particularly if you’ve adhered to #1 and got the guest list right!). The best innovators know how to keep meetings on track and ensure that each person is afforded air time. A team at Microsoft uses “Ralph” – the rubber chicken – to toss around the group to the speaker of the moment. It sounds a bit like an ice-breaker at summer camp, but it can help keep the balance of speaking/listening in meetings.

8. Facebook – Have an agenda

This is really a big one and arguably pretty obvious. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, insists an agenda is crucial for meetings and always has a spiral notebook with her to ensure that each item is ticked off. Ideally, the agenda should be circulated in advance and have some flexibility – it doesn’t need to be a detailed list but should reflect the purpose and objectives of the meeting. This leads to my next point…

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9. American Express – Know your purpose

All meetings should have a clearly defined purpose or problem to solve. Christopher Frank, the VP for American Express, says you should be able to articulate that purpose or problem in 5 words or less. He told Forbes, this gives “a good idea of the information you need, the people you should talk to and will ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.” It’s not always easy! As Dr Seuss says, sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.

10. Upfront Ventures – Leave the laptops

Mark Suster – a successful entrepreneur, angel investor and venture capitalist – says laptops have no place in meeting rooms. Everyone should be fully engaged and attentive in a productive meeting and laptops rarely facilitate this. What about note taking? Well, research shows that conceptual recall is much better after taking handwritten notes than on a laptop anyway. If it’s going to be a long meeting (but see #2 above), schedule a 15 minute email break.

11. Barack Obama – Switch off

A recent study found that 79% of people aged between 18 – 44 have their smartphones on them 22 hours per day. Although this mobile technology has many advantages, it’s mostly an unnecessary distraction in meetings, so keep it a phone-free space! Very few things are that urgent or important. Even Barack Obama gets it – apparently the bi-monthly cabinet meetings at the White House are a cell phone free affair! There is a basket on entry for all attendees to deposit their phones. If it’s good enough for the President of the USA…

12. Apple – Have a DRI

It’s no surprise that Apple is on this list twice. Apparently, the key to achieving meeting action items at Apple is appointing a “Directly Responsible Individual”. This creates a culture of accountability, which keeps things moving forward and ensures meetings are always productive. Steve Jobs encouraged (read: insisted) on senior staff taking full ownership and responsibility of issues and action items. There’s nothing like the shame of public accountability to motivate staff to follow through.

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13. Amazon – Get rid of PowerPoint

We all love a good pie chart or line graph, but CEO and founder of Amazon (Jeff Bezos) has banned PowerPoint in his meetings. Nobody enjoys death by a thousand slides. Jeff argues that PowerPoint is easy for presenters but difficult for the audience. Unless you are a PowerPoint pro, stick to bullet points.

14. Yahoo – Use data

The CEO of the $35 billion internet portal is (unsurprisingly) a firm believer in the power of facts and figures in meetings. She considers data to be an equalizer. It also prevents the meeting from succumbing to office politics and opinion-induced debates. Don’t interpret “data” too conservatively though – a balance of qualitative and quantitative information is usually the most well-received.

15. Nike – Doodle away

A 2009 study at the University of Plymouth found that doodlers can retain 29% more information than non-doodlers in meetings and lectures. It’s no surprise then that Nike CEO, Mark Parker, is often found with a moleskine notebook and pen in hand during meetings – he says it helps the brainstorming process. The $15.9 billion empire was probably built on a foundation of designs sketched in meetings on a Tuesday afternoon.

Now you’ve got all the tools to create motivating and productive meetings in your workplace. You’ll be having 15 minute standing team updates in the park, throwing around a tennis ball, in no time. Still, remember – no meeting is better than a bad meeting.

Featured photo credit: Hybrid Tech Car via hybridtechcar.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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