How many times have you said (or, depending on your place in the pecking order, thought), “Let’s end this meeting so we can get to work!”
You may be thinking about meetings wrong. Meetings aren’t a distraction from our jobs. For the vast majority of us working in knowledge fields, meetings ARE our jobs. And even when they’re not, even when we’re programmers or ditch-diggers or whatever, meetings are a vital part of the day.
It’s often been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know when you get there. What’s more, even when you do know where you are going, if you don’t check your bearings on a regular basis, after a while you’ll probably find yourself far off course. Business is just the same: if you don’t have a goal, you won’t know when you’ve achieved it. And if you don’t check your location against your planned progress on a regular basis, you’ll find yourself far afield, off course, and confused.
The best way to check your bearings is to have a meeting.
There are boring ways to hold meetings and there are exciting ways. We highly recommend Death By Meeting by Pat Lencioni; it teaches how make sure nobody is falling asleep in your meetings.
But that’s another article. Today we’ll focus on the meeting rhythm (first presented to us by Verne Harnish with Gazelles). A meeting rhythm is established by a series of meetings that, together, cover strategy and tactics so you can run your project or organization far more smoothly.
The first type of meeting is the Daily Huddle. This is a 5- to 8‑minute stand-up meeting (in our case, a 5- to 17-minute conference call—calls almost always take a bit longer than in-person meetings) that takes place every day at the same time. The one I’m in occurs at 8:43. I like “odd” times because it’s paradoxically harder to forget about them. Every day, I meet with the other five people in TCG who make up our executive management team. We always have the same agenda: Each person announces the major items they’ll be working on that day and any blockers to their progress. We’ve tried more than 20 other agendae over the years, but this one seems to be the most effective. It gives everyone an idea of what the others will be doing, provides an opportunity to discuss problems (whether solvable or just a valuable opportunity to vent), and most importantly gives everyone one time per day when they can be sure that they’ll get to talk to their coworkers.
It took us months to get used to this and more months to decide it was the best for the company, but now that we’ve been doing it for more than 10 years, we wouldn’t give it up. I advocate that we have daily huddles in all our projects, as well; with the deadlines we always have, it’s vital for everyone to make sure they’re on the same page and nobody is inadvertently working against the team. It’s not always possible given schedules, team makeup, or client demands for everyone on a team to attend each and every meeting, but that’s what we aim for.
The Daily Huddle is the most tactical of the meetings we have. We also have Weekly Meetings, which last an hour and allow us to go down into tactical challenges we’re having. Our Monthly Meetings are longer still, lasting 2–4 hours; at them we discuss our most thorny tactical problems as well as a small amount of strategy. All these tactical meetings means when it’s time for us to think strategically, there’s less down-in-the-weeds discussion and more long-term decision making. Our Quarterly Strategic Planning Meetings last a whole day, our Half-Yearly Strategic Planning Meetings two days, and our Annual Strategic Planning Meetings a full three days. Little of the time is spent in deciding where to hold our picnic or whom we should hire to clean the office; issues like those are decided in our weekly meetings. We don’t spend a lot of time on employee-related problems; those are resolved in our monthly meetings. And we certainly don’t talk about the day-to-day gripes, which are resolved (or at least discussed) in the dailies. Our strategic meetings are devoted to strategy, and that’s a major advantage for us: we created a strategy seven years ago and stuck to it, tweaking where necessary. That strategy has grown TCG 12-fold, from $1m in revenue to around $12m this year.