Technically Media meeting style: effective, productive and professional from home

Larry Summers, former Harvard president and National Economic Council director, asleep in an April 2009 meeting. Courtesy of IvyGate

During presentations, we at Technically Media have talked about our failures. We do a lot of speaking (me too), so we’ve also touched on the power of working in threes.

But I think we haven’t touched on what I think is our most innovative reason for sticking together for more than two years: our meeting style. And the power of drag of meetings are important to us.

OK, yah, it sounds pretty boring, and, well, maybe it is, but if you ask about our success (whatever it is) I think it has quite a bit to do with the meetings we’ve almost always held, from the very beginning.

It’s largely a style I’ve advocated for years that has now been further evolved, practiced and cemented into our culture with a lot of follow through from two colleagues who really buy into it and have crafted it on their own. So much do I prefer our meetings over others I often find myself getting into, that I often find myself bringing the style elsewhere.

You can see advice from Google and a startup.

Below, I share a typical agenda from a Technically Philly meeting, some unwritten rules we’ve adopted for these meetings and the phrases you’d be sure to hear at each of our meetings.

THINGS TO WRITE DOWN

  1. The setting — Sometimes we just want to feel writerly, but I find the weather, the location and the mood helps me to recall that meeting more easily. When you have weekly meetings, it helps to be able to know just what meeting you mean.
  2. Homework — Everyone gets a list of definable, deadline-driven tasks they’re meant to complete. Everything is actionable: not “complete that project,” but “complete these specific steps toward finishing that project.”
  3. Take Aways — This is a list of what we learn as a group, including compliments, criticisms, pledges, promises and interesting realizations. It helps to track that learning and is easier to internalize these missives after seeing them a second time.
  4. Future meetings, major appointments — Anything we should be looking toward or working toward.

OUTLINE

  1. Fantasy — Usually, even before we start, as we settle down, we touch on an exciting topic that we have in our mind for the future, it keeps us dreaming. So ‘what are you dreaming about lately?’ leads to a few minutes of discussing the biggest business goals yet.
  2. Welcome — We want to know where everyone’s head is coming into the meeting. It’s not time for details now, just a quick notice from each meeting participant on what they’re focused on otherwise. Then, we can set those items aside and focus on this meeting.
  3. Review Take Aways — Read through the list of the take aways from your previous meeting. That second go-through a week or two or three later really helps to reduce brain loss and interruption.
  4. Review Homework — That’s right. We rattle off each item from our individual homework lists from the previous meeting and are expected to show measurable results, if not completion. Followup is listed in the next homework list.
  5. Simple Agenda — This accounts for major discussions of events and topics since your last meeting. It’s the obvious stuff, with someone recording homework and take aways during the conversation.
  6. Individual Agendas — This is when we bring up individual concerns or conversations. We come with solutions, but talk out what we need to do.
  7. Upcoming Tasks and Events — Give a rundown of what’s on the calendar or to-do list coming up soon. Schedule your next meeting and have everyone commit — using Google Calendar lets us get it confirmed immediately.
  8. What are you excited about? — This isn’t something we’ve always done, but end your meeting powerfully and positively. Have everyone offer something they’re looking forward to. It serves as another reminder of what is upcoming and allows folks to leave excited.

ADVICE

  • For every meeting you have, you should  have an agenda. For staff meetings and for meeting with a colleague or business partner or even a source. Make sure you get everything done and keep it moving.
  • Record the meeting notes in an e-mail and send out immediately afterward. Often, I’d let it sit in my inbox a few days and then return to it, better able to review it critically. This allows everyone to have a written transcript of the notes soon after — using Gmail allows us to easily search for archived notes. (For future employees, it’s important to get outside documentation)
  • Do have a regular meeting schedule. Is it every other Wednesday or the first Sunday of every month? Whatever it is, keep it regular to avoid recurring conflicts.
  • Always send out meeting notes. For our staff meetings and increasingly for outside meetings. This is how you old people accountable and make action.
  • Put a time limit — Say 15 minutes or half hour or two hours, whatever is a tight, actionable, efficient meeting and then try to hold to that time. Remember, if you have three staff members in a two hour meeting, it isn’t a two hour meeting but a six hour meeting.

MEETING RULES

  • Someone takes notes. The person who is taking careful notes of action and steps forward is also often the person who is responsible for keeping the meeting moving forward, on time and on agenda.
  • Reduce distractions. Not in front of a Phillies playoff game, which was tough when we were meeting at night, but now we try to keep all distractions away.
  • Limit your excuses. We all have a lot to do, so we try to hold each other accountable by going through all the agenda and homework and needing answers if something isn’t done.
  • Have food. We’ve fallen from this, but whenever everyone is fed and happy, meetings seem to go better.
  • Make a time limit. These meetings can drag on, so keep them tight. We once had four or five hour meetings every other week or so when we weren’t seeing each other often in the beginning. Now we’re trying to tighten down to two hours, an hour each for Technically Media and Technically Philly.

OUR MOST USED PHRASES

  • Come with solutions, not questions. If you bring up an agenda item and want to talk it out, that’s fine, but to keep things tight, you should come with some suggested solution.
  • There’s no judging in brainstorming. Let everyone share and don’t criticize.
  • What are the actionable steps? Keep those rambling conversations tight, and when you’re losing focus, bring it back by talking about what can actually be done.
  • What is the deadline? Be deadline driven. When you want something done, deadline and prioritize it from the start.
  • Who is responsible? Every project needs a single individual ultimately responsible. If not? It won’t get done.
  • Who has done something similar? Keep relationships and similar work together, by letting people keep projects like ‘clients.’
  • Let’s partner. Avoid redundancy and leverage partnerships to do better, stronger, more successul work.
  • Get it done. Doesn’t have to be perfect, just get it done.
  • Always Be Closing. Keep thinking about that next step.
  • NEXT — Keep the meeting moving by pushing forward conversations on the side and less constructive. We’re always on top of each other to limit these.

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