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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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Published on September 18, 2018

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

Have there been instances when you noted a drop in your team’s productivity or observed a behavioral change in someone who used to be an excellent performer?

Before you blame the team for not being motivated enough or worse still, choose to ignore these warning signs, look inwards and ask yourself if YOU are doing enough to keep your team motivated in the first place.

Motivating employees is extremely crucial. As the leader of the pack, it is your responsibility to ensure each and every member of your team feels valued, driven and motivated.

After all, you cannot expect a bunch of disengaged and demotivated people to deliver results and grow your business, can you?

Here are 17 surefire tactics for motivating your employees and building a productive team:

1. Show your appreciation

In the whole race to achieve external business goals, leaders often forget to value their most important assets — their employees.

The least you can do to boost performance and morale is to appreciate your employees, recognize their efforts and give them credit when it is due.

Whether it’s sending a personalized note, recognizing achievements publicly during team huddles or even rewarding top performers at the end of every month, you will be surprised to see how these small acts of appreciation can go a long way.

2. Communicate effectively

Effective communication can do wonders in motivating employees. Who is a strong communicator? Someone who knows what they are talking about and are able to convey their message accurately.

Communication is a lot more than just language and talking. Factors such as eye contact, active listening, hand gestures and postures also say a lot about a person’s communication skills.

3. Be open to dialogue

Gone are the days when leading through fear and putting on the tough, distant leader act would work.

New age leadership is all about instilling trust by being accessible and encouraging discussions. Your team needs to feel comfortable speaking to you and you need to set the tone for such a camaraderie.

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In spite of having a busy schedule, you can still show you care through simple, effective acts.

For instance, having an open door policy, showing genuine interest while interacting with your employees or even greeting your team members helps breaking barriers and projects you as an accessible leader.

4. Provide constructive criticism

Giving negative feedback is always tricky — you don’t want to hurt feelings nor do you want the feedback to be taken lightly.

So, what do you do? The idea is to offer criticism such that it inspires change and delivers results.

Firstly, take criticism behind closed doors because nothing breaks self esteem the way calling out employees in public does.

Have a one-on-one discussion with the concerned person and make your feedback very specific. Be clear about your expectations and offer guidance on how they can improve.

Most importantly, give them the chance to explain their side of the story too instead of jumping to conclusions.

5. Conduct one-on-ones

Yes, you conduct weekly meetings with the team but how well do you know them on a personal level?

While you may think this isn’t an important practice to follow, it is one of the best ways to engage with your employees and identify what drives them.

Conduct a one-one-one session every month and use it to understand how your employees are doing and if they are facing any roadblocks.

More than reviewing performances, consider this as a relationship building tool to ensure you are aligned with your team and are working towards a shared, common goal.

6. Build training programs

In this ever-changing business landscape, it is important to ensure your employees are updated with the latest, relevant skills that can help boost productivity and performance.

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From imparting technical and soft skills to offering mentoring programs – investing in training and development significantly helps in motivating employees and keeps the learning going.

While conducting training programs, remember to keep them engaging and interactive. They need to ultimately drive value and reinforce learnings.

7. Offer growth opportunities

Every employee envisions a different career path for themselves and demotivation strikes the day they feel they have reached stagnation. As a leader, you need to first be aligned with their goals and offer ample growth opportunities that constantly keeps them engaged and motivated.

Growth opportunities go beyond just financial growth. While money is a huge driving factor, what makes most people tick is making progress in the company and going up the career ladder.

Being faced with new challenges and responsibilities lets them push the envelope and broaden their knowledge and skills.

8. Reward them

Go beyond verbal recognition and reward employees for their notable work. You can start an incentive program and reward top performers. This ensures increased productivity and brings out the best in them.

If you don’t have enough budgets for that, you can also reward top performers with movie tickets, a paid vacation or something as simple as giving them the option to work from home.

Rewarding employees promotes healthy competition and motivates them while meeting business goals.

9. Encourage team outings

Employee motivation also stems from how connected the team is. Invest time in team building because a team that works collaboratively is likely to deliver better results.

From bowling nights to hosting team dinners – team outings are a great way to get to know each other and bond. Assign someone from your team to be in charge of organizing these monthly outings and make sure you join them too!

10. Involve them

Involve your employees in decision making because when they are involved, they feel more valued and part of a larger cause.

Seek your team’s opinion and encourage healthy debates within the team. This boosts employee morale and challenges them to work harder as they know they are in a position to make an impact and will be taken seriously.

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11. Set meaningful goals

In the beginning of the financial year, make sure you sit down with each employee to set meaningful and realistic goals. The goal-setting conversation is an extremely crucial one and needs to be a two-way street.

Whether your employee feels burdened or doesn’t feel inspired enough by the assigned goals – this is the time to come to a consensus and assign goals derived from business objectives that foster individual development while keeping in mind their strengths and weaknesses.

12. Empower them

You cannot expect employees to be motivated for long if you micro manage the team and do all the talking.

Trust your employees and empower them to take decisions. Mistakes will happen but that is the only way they will learn.

Be open to discussions, delegate effectively, set your expectations and give your team the freedom to do it their way.

13. Deal with conflict

A conducive work environment is one wherein there is open communication and trust, but every once in a while, you do encounter people in the team who indulge in office politics and spread negativity.

How much ever fulfilled an employee feels with their work, gossiping co-workers are bound to ruin it for them. Workplace gossip if not tackled hampers productivity and soils working relations.

As a responsible leader, you need to maintain a conducive work environment and act as a mediator in such cases. Don’t be the leader who is locked up in his/her cabin and is unaware of what is brewing within the team.

14. Implement a flexible work culture

Flexible work cultures are a growing trend and are here to stay.

Whether it is offering flexible working hours or allowing employees to work from home once in a month – a flexible work culture promotes work-life balance and aids in employee satisfaction.

It shows that the management is sensitive to employees’ schedules and is thereby highly appreciated.

15. Host engaging activities

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and we cannot agree more! So, why not devote one day of the week to employee engagement activities?

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From hosting baking competitions to introducing wellness programs in the office – let your team have some fun beyond work. This keeps the environment engaging, light-hearted and interesting, giving them all the more reason to look forward to coming to work.

16. Maintain a positive work space

Your employees spend more than half their day at work and in order to keep them energized and motivated, it is important to maintain a positive and inspiring work space.

Have a recreation center where employees can unwind after a hard day’s work, offer free snacks and beverages and invest in an open office design that promotes socializing and conversations.

These are simple yet effective ways to create a space your employees will love coming to.

17. Avoid discrimination

Any kind of discrimination, be it due to age, gender, religion or race hugely impacts employee motivation and performance.

In order to avoid such cases, you must lay down rules against discrimination and take strict action against accused employees. Lead by example and make sure no one in the team is a victim of bias and discrimination.

The bottom line

Don’t underestimate the power of motivating employees. Understand that the more engaged and motivated they are, the better their performance will be.

It is also a good idea to send out a survey and get feedback from your employees on the company culture, work environment and their motivation levels.

This will help you be more aligned with their expectations and further improve your efforts in building a stronger, engaged team.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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