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Choosing the Right Meeting Format: 5 Tips for Online vs. Offline Success

Choosing the Right Meeting Format: 5 Tips for Online vs. Offline Success

Since joining Huddles in 2021 and now running my own consulting firm, I’ve been a fly on the wall for countless company meetings.

Many entrepreneurs, executives, and business leaders complain to me that meetings are the most boring thing in their company. But even if we hate it, we still have to attend meetings.

  • It seems like meetings have been around since the beginning of time. Not only do we dread them, even the person leading the meeting is hoping for that damn meeting to end soon. Take a look at what everyone is doing during the meeting. Resting their chin on their hand. Crossing their legs. Yawning. Pretending to take notes.
  • Staring at their phone, counting down the minutes until the next break or the end of the day.

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Let’s avoid making meetings a chore and make them productive and engaging instead.

“Mary, what do you think?”

“Um… everything seems good. Let’s just do it and we will definitely succeed.”

“John, what do you think?”

“I don’t have much to say. I don’t have any other ideas.”

“Okay, let’s leave it at that for now.”

The answers were just nods and agreements, and the conversation was as boring as a dead fish. Leaving the meeting room, instead of feeling energized, there was a sense of relief like being released from prison.

Meetings are one of the core aspects of organizational management. Almost all important decisions are made during meetings.

However, when the smartest people in the company sit together, they act like a group of idiots, wasting two hours doing nothing.

Slowly, the indifference and lifelessness spread throughout the entire company. Because everyone’s energy and enthusiasm are exhausted after each routine meeting.

Endless meetings. No time to do things.

And then, more useless meetings.

This is truly a tragedy.

Organizational health expert, Jennifer Jennison, once said something very insightful: If you want to know a company’s corporate culture, and whether or not they have a future, just look at their 10-minute meetings.

Team = meetings. How the team conducts meetings is how the team will operate. During a conversation with him, I asked him, “What can we do?”

You have observed and participated in more meetings than I have. Please give us some advice so that we can avoid wasting our lives in useless meetings.

  • Professor Jennifer Jennison told me that whether a meeting is good or not depends on the state of each participant. We need to change our attitudes and approaches to attending meetings. How to change? He said, let’s start with this book. The name of the book is fittingly called “Death By Meeting”.

After reading it, I had only one feeling: it’s so spot on. Meetings can be interesting and efficient. Here are seven viewpoints and methods that I would like to share with you.

01-“Flowing account” is the culprit of boring meetings.

Question: Do you prefer watching movies or attending meetings?

What? Do I even need to answer that? Of course, I prefer watching movies. But have you ever thought about it? Movies and meetings are both about two hours long. In two hours, a movie can tell a life story. The main characters meet, get to know each other, fall in love, break up, become enemies, and then reconcile. Everything happens in two hours, and there is always a happy ending.

But in meetings, we can’t even finish talking about what happened last week, let alone solve any problems. Furthermore, movies have little to do with our reality. After watching a movie, you may not have any changes in your life. But a meeting is closely related to our work and life.

  • It determines how you allocate your time and energy, whether your child can afford to go to school, whether your parents can afford medical care, and ultimately, your livelihood. What could be more important than a meeting? Unlike movies, which are passive and cannot be interrupted, you have the opportunity to participate and speak up in meetings. Yet we never say, ‘Hey, have you considered that this meeting format might kill our business?’ So why do movies captivate us while meetings often bore us?
  • The answer is conflict and drama. Movies are engaging because they have conflict and drama, while meetings are boring because they are just a recitation of facts. Remember this: boredom stems from the absence of conflict and drama.

The conflict and turning points in movies attract people’s attention. Good stories always have good conflicts. Think about it, isn’t that true? But in meetings, people often try to maintain harmony and avoid speaking the truth or exposing problems. You’ll see some people remaining silent, others playing with their phones, and some tapping their feet. Some people sit far away with a look of disdain, obviously holding different opinions, yet remaining silent. After the meeting, you feel like you’ve been watching fools. In fact, most meetings involve different viewpoints, and once there is communication and confrontation, the meeting becomes interesting and effective. Unfortunately, most people focus more on playing it safe and avoiding conflict, hoping that everything will be fine for everyone. However, experienced managers know that if everyone is just looking out for themselves, without anyone advocating for the company’s business, it won’t be long before the company fails. This “playing it safe” approach may seem noble, but it’s actually the main cause of ruining meetings. So what can we do?

02-Encourage conflict and make meetings more interesting.

Create conflict. Dig for conflict. In a meeting that lasts for two hours, the most critical part is the beginning. At the beginning of the meeting, create conflict. Give a reason why everyone must attend the meeting. Let’s think about movies. If the first 10 minutes of a movie don’t grab your attention, you’re not going to watch it. You’ll turn it off immediately and leave. Even if you’re forced to sit through it, you’ll be uncomfortable and uneasy the whole time. The same goes for meetings. In the first 10 minutes of the meeting, make sure everyone knows that we’re not here to play around. We’re here for real. Otherwise, from the first second, everyone will be dozing off and sitting there like zombies. The opening that turns everyone into zombies is usually like this:

“Today, we’re going to discuss budget issues. Please turn to page 5 of the document, which is our budget report. There are three budget items that we need to review and discuss. Let’s hear everyone’s opinions.” Then, everyone will roll their eyes and look at the document for half an hour. After half an hour, they will pretend to ponder for a moment and slowly say two words, “It’s good.” And then, there’s nothing else.But a compelling opening that makes everyone willing to participate in the meeting, a dramatic opening, could be like this:

Everyone, I know the next two hours may be boring. We have 100 things we would rather be doing, and this meeting isn’t one of them. But since we’re here, we need to know a few things. Our competitors want us to make mistakes, they want us to hire more mediocre people, and they want us to stop investing in advertising. However, our employees are waiting for our decisions. Our choices will have a profound impact on everyone’s livelihoods. I don’t want to sit here in a few months, regretting and spouting useless nonsense like “if only we had been more diligent during the budget review.” So let’s have a productive meeting. That way, we can get back to work with the time we have left.

Trust me, everyone will perk up if we dig into conflicts and encourage them during the meeting.

  • Avoiding conflicts will only leave problems unresolved and people frustrated. Moreover, if conflicts don’t surface on the table, they’ll emerge in the break room or behind closed doors.

This is what we call office politics – not saying things to someone’s face but talking behind their back.

Huddles can gather around everyone’s opinions, to show if they support or not. This is a good way to avoid conflicts.

However, if different viewpoints are raised during the meeting, there will be clashes. When viewpoints clash, ideas grow. When people have something to say, managers should allow and affirm it. Will people hold grudges against each other because of this? As Professor Jennifer Jennison once told me, “Don’t worry, everyone here is an adult.”

When we have passionate, unreserved, and even slightly explosive discussions, our relationships may actually improve because our voices are heard.

  • Sometimes, we don’t crave for our ideas to be adopted, we just hope that our ideas are heard.

We used to be hesitant to speak up, but in meetings that encourage conflict, we now dare to speak up. However, having conflict only makes the meeting more interesting and profound. Is that enough to make the meeting successful? No.

03-The mishmash of topics is the culprit for the inefficiency of meetings.

Boring meetings are just one problem.

  • Another problem is the low efficiency of meetings.

Take a look at the meetings in your own company, they usually only have one type of meeting, called the weekly meeting.

  • A group of people sit together for two or three hours, aimlessly discussing everything. From strategy to tactics, from administration to culture, it covers everything and takes everything in.

Sometimes, we don’t even know what we’re talking about.

Then, we sit there with a blank expression on our face while our minds are going crazy. Finally, the meeting turns into formalism, bureaucracy, and sycophancy.

Alright, let’s get into more detail and see how these damn meetings are run.

Every Monday morning at 9-11 am, we have a weekly meeting.

The agenda usually has 5 items. The agenda is sent to everyone to see if anyone has anything to add. Of course, in 99.99% of cases, nothing is added.

The meeting starts at 9:20, because someone is always late.

The first agenda item usually takes an hour. Because everyone knows that they need to find something to talk about. They also think that if they can get through the first hour, the rest will be easier.

The second agenda item usually takes 30 minutes. Efficiency seems to improve at this point because fewer people are speaking.

Then comes the most deadly part, the remaining 30 minutes, during which we have to finish the remaining 3 agenda items.

Moreover, someone always goes off-topic, talking about our culture, strategy, or economy.

The meeting ends at 11:30. Well, every meeting can’t end on time. 11:30 is already very polite.

In the end, you will find that the whole day is wasted. The next meeting will be late. The planned work cannot be completed. Our own agenda items are not discussed, and decisions are made hastily in the last 10 minutes.

  • This is a mishmash of meetings.

Everything that people want to discuss is thrown into one meeting, like a tasteless stew. We think that we can cover everything in one meeting, regardless of importance or urgency, but in reality, it just doesn’t work.

So, what can we do to make meetings more efficient?

We need to categorize them.

  • We need to differentiate meetings based on their purpose, format, and time to address different issues.
  • For example, we can have a daily check-in meeting, a weekly strategy meeting, a monthly review meeting, and a quarterly summary meeting.

Let’s discuss each of these meetings in detail and keep the language simple and native.

04-Daily check-in meeting: Here are the three things I need to do today

  • The daily check-in meeting is a quick 10-minute gathering in the morning where everyone shares the top three things they need to accomplish that day.

Generally, being able to efficiently accomplish three tasks a day is impressive enough.

“I have three tasks for today: first, second, and third.” It takes less than a minute to share these tasks, and when everyone has shared, the meeting is done in 10 minutes.

The purpose of the daily check-in meeting is to let everyone know what their top priorities for the day are and to synchronize information. This helps to avoid constantly sending messages and emails back and forth, which can slow down progress.

  • It also helps to organize your thoughts and synchronize work information, reminding everyone to start working.

That’s all there is to the daily check-in meeting.

  • Stand up, take 10 minutes, and you’re done.

But what if there are other things that need to be discussed besides daily tasks?

Those can be addressed in the weekly strategy meeting.

05-Weekly Strategy Meeting: 52 Opportunities for Course Correction

  • As the name suggests, the Weekly Strategy Meeting is a weekly forum for discussing strategic and tactical issues. The meeting should be kept to a manageable 45-90 minutes.

This is what our weekly meetings should look like.

A week is a cycle for reviewing and course correcting.

  • Focusing on our goals, we should focus on the collective. We have 52 opportunities a year to course correct, to give feedback, and to improve.

Here’s how you can run a Weekly Strategy Meeting:

  1. Report on Key Focus Areas

Each person reports on their 2-3 key focus areas for the week.

What was the plan? Was it completed? To what extent? What were the reasons? How can we maintain or improve progress?

Keep it simple, direct, and quick. Everyone should be able to complete their review in 10 minutes or less.

  1. Discuss Strategy

After each person reports, the meeting agenda often emerges naturally.

Some team members may be ahead of schedule, while others may be falling behind.

At this point, the team can focus on discussing tactical and strategic issues.

For example, should we increase advertising spend this week to boost sales?

Should we bring an engineer along to visit a client who values technology?

Should we accelerate our hiring process since there is a high demand for talent due to business growth?

These are all issues that can be discussed during the Weekly Strategy Meeting.

Many tactical issues can be resolved during this meeting, and then put into action for validation.

  • The Strategy Meeting is focused on solving specific problems.

It brings frontline feedback and voices into the boardroom.

I know some people might ask, “But what about the more important strategic issues? We need to choose the right direction!”

That’s where the “strategy parking lot” comes in. We put those issues on hold and discuss them at the monthly strategy meeting.

  • Let me tell you why we can’t discuss strategic issues at the regular meetings.

It’s because people don’t have enough time to prepare, analyze, and discuss such complex topics.

Even if they did have enough time, it’s almost impossible to switch from discussing tactical issues to strategic ones in terms of their mental state.

It’s like asking the president to discuss the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, pension reform, and national defense issues all in the same meeting. It’s just not feasible and quite absurd.

We’ve done too many absurd things like this before.

We always talk about what to do next quarter, how to handle strategy, and discuss these things every week, but we end up not being able to get the most important work done.

So, let’s put strategic issues on hold and discuss them at the monthly strategy meeting.

06-The monthly strategy meeting: In-depth discussion of important strategies

The strategy meeting is for discussing tactics, while the strategy meeting is for discussing strategies. Huddles includes different free types of meeting templates.

  • At the strategy meeting, each department can delve into one or two specific issues.

The meeting needs a moderator, and the principle is that whoever calls the meeting is the moderator and whoever’s territory it is takes charge.

  • Each issue can be given more time, with a preset time of 2 hours.

The number of participants should be controlled between 3-12 people.

so that everyone can fully express their opinions, immerse themselves in deep thinking, and engage in unrestricted discussions.

The strategy meeting is a more important review and reflection that takes place once a month.

Some directional issues are discussed at this meeting.

In fact, excellent organizations always keep themselves thinking. Otherwise, the breadth and depth of the organization will be limited, and in the end, it will continue to consume itself within a relatively low-level thinking radius.

The strategy meeting allows us to stand at a higher level and use a more comprehensive perspective to examine our business.

It is very beneficial to focus on reviewing and discussing strategies every month.

Of course, preparation is needed before the strategic meeting.

Remember, strategy issues may only be temporary problems, but strategic issues may be life or death issues.

We strive for daily execution and efficiency to have more time and energy each month to determine our direction.

  • If a monthly strategic meeting is not enough, or if there is a particularly urgent strategic issue, we can also hold a “special strategic meeting” or organize a dedicated “special topic meeting”.

Therefore, such meetings should also have clear minutes. The minutes can record these three things:

1.Today’s agenda:

What issues did we discuss today?

2.Ideas and decisions:

After the discussion, some of the results were ideas, while others were decisions.

It is important to clarify whether the outcome is an idea for further discussion or a decision that requires mutual respect, commitment, and execution.

3.Communication at all levels:

It is important to remember that meetings are not just for the boss.

They are for the employees who are waiting for your opinions and decisions.

If a meeting ends without a conclusion, it is just a group of people. Therefore, the conclusions of the meeting should be communicated to subordinates and frontline staff. Strategy meetings are for discussing strategy.

We will also have quarterly summary meetings.

07-Quarterly Offsite Review Meeting: Thinking Long-Term for Future Development

We all understand the concept of a quarterly review meeting.

But why should we go offsite for it?

  • This offsite is not just a boring team-building exercise where we eat a meal together or catch someone jumping off a tree.

It’s about refreshing our minds.

  • We need to step away from the day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month hustle and bustle to review our company’s operations from a more holistic and long-term perspective.

During each quarterly offsite review meeting, we should focus on three things:

1. Strategic Review

Let’s review our previous strategic decisions and assess how they have performed.

We need to look at the industry landscape and our competitors to determine the best course of action for the future.

Every quarter, we need to broaden our horizons and open our minds to new possibilities.

2. Team Review

This refers to our own team’s performance.

How have we performed individually and as a team?

Do we trust each other, engage in effective conflict, make commitments, take responsibility, and focus on results?

We need to be a strong and cohesive team to go further.

The offsite setting often provides more opportunities for open and honest communication.

3. Individual Review

Let’s review the outstanding individuals in our team.

This is essentially a talent inventory every quarter. Who are the high performers? Who needs more encouragement? Who requires additional training? We need to have a clear understanding of our team members’ strengths and weaknesses.

As Steve Jobs once said, “I used to think that recruiting top talent was the key to success. Now I think that being able to manage 50 average talents is the key to success.”

  • The quarterly offsite review meeting allows us to re-evaluate our competitive landscape, morale, team status, outstanding employees, and other factors that have a long-term impact on our success. Let’s make sure we review these things every quarter.

08-Final words: Let’s have fewer damn meetings!

As a leadership coach, I once shared a song called “The Meeting Song” by Benjamin Benjaminsen, which perfectly captures the frustration of endless meetings. Let’s make a commitment to streamline our meetings and focus on what’s truly important.

Meeting after meeting, how can we get anything done? We used to be somewhat productive, but now we’re just meeting all day long.

We have meetings for small matters, and meetings for big ones too. Some meetings are for coordination, while others are just for show.

There are meetings for monthly work, and meetings for mid-month chats. We have meetings before the week starts, and meetings on weekends for reports.

We have meetings for recognition, and meetings for motivation. There are meetings for representatives, and meetings at the worksite.

We have meetings in the morning for special topics, and meetings in the afternoon for communication. We even have meetings at night for learning, and meetings on the phone in the wee hours.

We have meetings to celebrate success, and meetings to reflect on failure. There are meetings to kick off projects, and meetings to wrap them up.

We have meetings for holiday gatherings, and meetings for festive chats. We even have meetings before work, and meetings after work, just to talk.

Big meetings lead to small meetings, and who doesn’t feel foolish?

This is the sad reality for most organizations.

However, we can make meetings more interesting and efficient.

Meetings are boring because they lack conflict and are just a list of tasks. At the beginning of a meeting, we should emphasize its importance and attract participants. During the meeting, we should encourage and explore conflicts.

Meetings are inefficient because they lack structure and are like a hodgepodge. Meetings can be categorized by daily check-ins, weekly strategy meetings, monthly strategy meetings, and quarterly summary meetings.

You can adjust the specific usage according to the needs of your organization and the importance, urgency, and complexity of the problem.

This way, we can have more time to do more important things and leave behind those who continue to waste time and complain about meetings.

For them, meetings are still a damn thing.

Thanks to the sharing of Jennifer Jennison.

Let’s say goodbye to those damn meetings.

I hope we can all have fewer damn meetings.

Author: Fiona Berton

Founder of Huddles, Meeting Effectiveness Expert

Deeply accompanying the organizational evolution of agile transformation in enterprises.

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