Most people hate meetings.
Why? They typically tend to be boring, inefficient and ineffective.
We hate to see a meeting on our calendar, but yet we long for solutions, healthy discussions and debate. Why can’t we get those outcomes out of all our meetings? A lot of times, the answer comes down to a lack of clear communication.
When we consult with digital studios, meeting ineffectiveness is often a leading issue that emerges. The ineffectiveness of regularly scheduled meetings requires more time for additional phone calls, emails, and even more specially scheduled meetings. And let’s face it, any time wasted in a digital studio equals wasted money.
Patrick Lencioni’s “Death By Meeting” is our favorite resource for how to improve meetings in any organization. We use much of his approach in this post, and we agree with most of his meeting philosophy.
1) Understand why your meetings are bad
Have you ever left a meeting thinking it could have been a lot better? All of us have. But what would make it better? Let’s first consider the telltale signs of less-than-optimal meetings.
- Meetings lack drama: Every great story or movie introduces tension early on that engages the audience and makes them want to stay involved until the tension is resolved. Your projects and agency have tensions — so bring them up in your meetings. Don’t be afraid to tackle the issues head on that are causing tension. Set the stage by stating at the beginning of a meeting what tension needs to be resolved.
- Meetings lack context and purpose: OK, now you have drama and tension, but participants need to understand the meeting’s larger context and purpose. Is this a tactical meeting that deals with how you are going to complete a client project on time and on budget? Is this an operational meeting convened to solve how you are going to improve your quality assurance process or review your sales and marketing decks? Or is this a strategic meeting called to identify how you can position yourself to acquire more ideal clients in the long run?
Every meeting has a specific purpose: being tactical, operational or strategic. Don’t cheat and try to have multiple purposes for a given meeting, because that leads to ineffective, jumbled-up meetings. State the purpose of the meeting upfront, then conduct the meeting within that context.
2) Ensure the following rules are followed:
- Meeting start and end times must be adhered to.
- Every meeting should have an agenda; meetings without agendas are nightmares.
- The context for the meeting is set at the beginning, along with objective(s) that need to be reached by the end.
- Everyone participates and speaks. The leader will check in at the end of the meeting with those that were reluctant to speak to ensure nothing is left unsaid.
- Have a consensus at the end of the meeting to make certain you’ve reached your objectives.
- One person must run the meeting to ensure all of the above is followed.
3) Schedule the right mix of meetings throughout the year
For digital studios, we recommend the following mix of meetings:
DAILY TACTICAL / 10 minutes / client-project focused
Schedule these meetings at the same time each day, but limit them to approximately 10 minutes (depending on the size of your team) and have remote staff participate over Google Hangout. The focus should be on each staff member’s current projects, including schedule, setbacks, issues that need to be solved, and of course, what is causing tension or stress. Keep it short and moving. This isn’t a time for derailment or meaningless conversation.
WEEKLY OPERATIONAL / 45–90 minutes / discuss progress on client projects and resolve ongoing operational issues
The size of the agency will dictate who should participate in these meetings. For agencies with less than 12 employees, consider having everyone participate. Studios with more than 12 people will find it better to have only the owner(s) and staff members with leadership roles participate. These weekly operational meetings should cover two broad areas of focus.
- Review the status of each client project and make sure the right resources are being allocated
- Identify ongoing operational issues that cause inefficiencies in client projects; discuss other organizational functions such as new business development, hiring, on-boarding and employee development
We recommend creating the agenda after each team member states what is most pressing for them that week. The meeting leader can decide the order of agenda items after hearing everyone’s initial areas of suggested focus or concern. If strategic issues are brought up, table those issues for discussion at the monthly strategic meeting.
MONTHLY STRATEGIC / 2 hours / review long-term strategic issues
For some agencies, it is warranted to pull together some or all of the team that participates in the weekly operational meeting for a minimum of two hours per month to tackle strategic issues. Owners should keep a running list of topics during the month and present them to be discussed at these monthly strategic meetings. An alternative approach some of our clients prefer is to use Navigate the Journey’s monthly check-in calls in lieu of a monthly strategic meeting with their team. Our monthly check-in calls are in the context of a larger strategic planning engagement, which has already identified the key strategic issues to be tackled over the course of a year.
The bottom line: owners need to ensure at least they, and ideally a few of their key staff, are participating in some kind of monthly strategic thinking and dialogue to ensure their agency is looking at the strategic issues impacting their business.
ANNUAL STRATEGIC OFF-SITE REVIEW / 2 days / review and update long-term strategic plan
Although author Patrick Lencioni recommends quarterly off-site reviews, we find that frequency is not realistic for many digital studios. Our recommendation is to schedule a yearly retreat for your entire studio and to use two days of that time for dedicated strategic planning. Using an outside facilitator for your annual strategic planning process will allow your team to identify the kinds of issues that need to be resolved during the rest of the year. The StratOp process we facilitate helps digital studios increase their meeting efficiency throughout the year. That is because the StratOp process identifies strategic initiatives that require cross-functional teams in order to achieve their objectives and deliverables.
No matter how digital our world becomes, meetings are not going away!
Digital agencies are continually evolving and innovating digital solutions for a rapidly changing world. But ironically, even digital agencies need the right kind and rhythm of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face (including virtual) meetings to constructively talk through issues that need to be resolved.
Don’t eliminate your agency’s meetings — instead make your meetings better, in order to make your company better!
About The Author
Tom Barrett is a sought after strategic planning facilitator and coach to companies, teams and leaders. He is also the Co-Founder of Navigate The Journey, LLC a strategic planning and leadership development company that specializes in focusing and growing digital studios, consultancies, and agencies.