Episode: Have the Right Meetings

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re talking about every leader’s least favorite subject: meetings. We’re going to show you how you can turn that around. I promise we’re going to show you how the right meetings can energize your team to do their most productive work.

Megan: That’s right. But that’s not most people’s experience. Mostly it feels like there are way too many meetings, they’re a waste of your time because you don’t really need to be there, or it just sucks the life out of your team when they feel like they could be doing more productive work. It just doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s contributing to what you’re really trying to do. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Michael: It doesn’t. We have an answer, or a series of answers, and we’ve developed a meeting rhythm and cadence that really works. We’ve tested it on ourselves. We use it, and we don’t hate meetings anymore. We have Larry, who’s our senior writer, the writer on the podcast, and he’s here to guide us through the content. Hey, Larry.

Larry: Hey, guys. Well, Michael, you actually have written a book on meetings called No Fail Meetings. Some of the stats that are in that book are kind of amazing. Middle managers spend like 35 percent of their time in meetings, and in upper management that can be 50 percent of their time or more in meetings.

Megan: It’s probably more for me. I’m probably 60 to 65 percent, easy.

Michael: When I was in the corporate world, I would say it was probably 80 percent of my time.

Larry: Twenty-five million business meetings a day in American businesses. That’s a lot of meetings. I thought I was in a lot of meetings.

Megan: That’s a lot of bad coffee.

Larry: Yeah. The cost, as you’ve pointed out elsewhere, is like $37 billion a year for unproductive time spent in meetings. Meetings can be good and important. We’re going to talk about that, but I think we all have our bad meeting story. What’s the worst meeting you’ve ever been in?

Megan: I don’t know that I have a specific story of a particular one, but the worst kinds of meetings I’ve ever been in are consensus decision-making meetings, like committee meetings where no one wants to be the decision-maker. It feels like you’re wasting your time, because you’re giving your input, but then someone else has a contrary point of view, and there’s no reconciliation, so you just keep going around and around, and at the end of the meeting you just schedule another meeting.

Michael: Yeah, I would agree. Those kinds of meetings typically happen in companies and in organizations because there’s a leader who isn’t clear about what he wants, so he punts to a committee. Or maybe he doesn’t want to take responsibility for the outcome, so he thinks if he can spread the joy, so to speak, then he doesn’t have to be responsible. I hate all those. They usually start with no clear purpose, very little preparation, no clear outcome. You don’t know when the meeting is over because nobody has stated what the meeting objective is. That, to me, is meeting hell.

Larry: As you’ve pointed out, Michael, meeting culture is broken, but used rightly the lowly meeting can actually supercharge your team’s productivity.

Michael: It’s true.

Larry: We’re going to show you how to structure meetings that will do exactly that. Here at Michael Hyatt & Company, we have meetings structured at three levels, and I’d like for you to walk us through them and show them how this rhythm and structure works. Level one is one-on-one meetings. What is this level about?

Megan: This is generally about meeting with your direct reports on a regular basis so you’re able to stay connected with them, help them remove road blocks, and understand what kind of progress they’re making. In our case, that happens either weekly or biweekly in that one-on-one context with direct reports. It also happens in an annual review meeting in a one-on-one with your direct reports.

The kinds of questions we’re asking or that are on the agenda in those meetings are “What kind of progress are you making on your quarterly goals?” Each one of our department heads, for example, are working on two to three quarterly goals per quarter with their teams, so they’re reporting on the progress of those goals. I’m also going to ask them if they have any other updates for me. This is just their opportunity to keep me looped in on what’s happening.

I’m going to ask them if they have any decisions they need me to make or if there’s anything that’s standing in the way of their progress, because very often, I’m the bottleneck. They either need a “yes” or a “no” from me or they need some kind of direction to continue making progress, and that’s the opportunity. Those are happening for me with most of my direct reports every other week for 45 minutes.

Larry: I had a boss once who had meetings scheduled of that type, kind of project updates and that kind of thing, weekly, and he canceled them probably two weeks out of three. It seems like some managers, some leaders, just don’t see this as important. Sure, we know we ought to meet some, but go do your work and you’ll be fine. What’s wrong with that?

Michael: Well, what’s wrong with it is that you need to try to consolidate all of the questions, all of the approvals into one block of time. This is a key to not interrupting each other all through the week. Every time you need an answer from your boss, every time you need to discuss something or need their input, you’re interrupting them. They can’t get their work done. You’re not very organized and getting your own work done.

By consolidating them into a weekly meeting with a standardized agenda, you can begin to populate that. Obviously, if something urgent comes up, you always have the option of going to that person outside of that meeting. It just creates more order inside of the organization and makes sure there’s visibility and reportability on a regular basis so that you don’t lose sight of the objectives.

Megan: It’s easy to do, by the way, especially the more direct reports you have.

Michael: It’s true, and I think it’s easy as a manager, if you’re not careful, to abdicate, to just not check back in on those projects and expect them to be getting done, and then get surprised when they’re not getting done simply because you, as a leader, aren’t raising them up to a level of visibility where you can both feel accountable to them.

Larry: You said something there I want to follow up on: a standardized agenda. You have the same agenda for every meeting with your direct reports.

Megan: Yes. In fact, I actually have my direct reports prepare their answers to those questions in advance. They’re thinking through what they’re updating me on in advance rather than having it be all over the place, which can be really inefficient and cause meetings to run too long. I want them to prepare for those meetings so that it’s really efficient.

Michael: Think of it as a blueprint. That’s really what you want: a blueprint. It’s going to be different for everybody, and it’s probably going to be different for a lot of different positions, depending on what they’re doing and at what level they’re doing it, but to have a blueprint so nobody is surprised. “This is what we’re going to cover. Prepare beforehand,” like Megan said. “Write out these answers and get here.”

Another thing we use in those meetings, typically… I don’t know how you’re using them, but it’s what we call our recommendation briefing form, which is basically the proposal, so that somebody doesn’t show up needing an answer from me but they haven’t done the hard work and the hard thinking before they get there, and they’re kind of putting that on me. That monkey gets put on my back.

So what we want to do through that form is get them to think through what it is they want to do, why it is important to the organization, what the cost is, and what the benefit is. So they’ve done that hard thinking, and they can present it very quickly. It’s only a couple of pages long. They can present that very quickly and get an answer they need very quickly.

Megan: One of the things that happened to me close to a year ago, maybe eight months ago, is I realized I was having some significant decision fatigue. I have seven direct reports, and I basically make decisions for a living. It’s like my whole job. The problem with that is it’s exhausting. There’s so much mental gymnastics happening.

What would happen in these one-on-one meetings sometimes is that how I could help, you know, that part of the agenda would become a brainstorming session for decision-making, and I found that exhausting. I don’t really want to be involved in the decision-making process beyond what I can uniquely contribute, which is usually some initial vision-casting at the beginning and then giving final approval with the context of what the investment is going to be if it’s a financial decision.

So I kind of set up a new protocol where I’m not going to make decisions or discuss decisions unless someone makes a formal recommendation to me, because the truth is the people who report to me are the experts in their particular areas. They know more about the decision they want to make than I do. What I can do that only I can do is say yes or no. Certainly, we go through it and talk about it, but it’s much more efficient.

Very often, in advance of these meetings, someone will have submitted to me, because my rule is it has to be given to me 24 hours in advance or one business day ahead of time before the meeting. I will review these in advance, so I’ll know exactly what decisions we’re going to make in that meeting, and if they haven’t given me sufficient information, it goes back to them and they’re going to have to get more information.

Larry: We’ll have a link to the recommendation briefing form in the show notes and also a document called the Effective Meeting Blueprint, which gets back, Michael, to the agenda concept we’ve been talking about.

Michael: Could I say one more advantage of having you submit that 24 hours in advance? One of the things I like about the recommendation briefing form is that it follows deductive logic. Here’s what I mean by that. I’m the kind of thinker who… Tell me what you want. Give me the conclusion, and then give me the data that supports the conclusion. I don’t like inductive reasoning. In other words, don’t take me on a ride where I don’t know what the destination is.

Megan: Oh my gosh. That makes me crazy. That’s where the fatigue comes in on the decision-making: going on all of those rides.

Michael: Just go ahead and tell me what you want. I’ll suspend judgment. I’ll give you a chance to build your case and make your case, but I want to know where this ride is going. That form makes sure that happens.

Larry: Do you find that your direct reports enjoy these meetings or find them like “I have to meet with the boss”? Or can you tell?

Megan: I think they enjoy them. Maybe you should interview them.

Michael: Well, you have one-on-one meetings with me. How do you feel about them?

Megan: I love it. Ours are a little more informal, if we’re honest. I would say the primary purpose of our one-on-one meetings is really connection and mentorship. That’s what is the outcome we’re after in that meeting. It’s a little different than my direct reports, which are much more focused on execution. That’s just kind of the different natures of our roles. But I think my direct reports like their meeting with me. It’s their opportunity for undivided attention to really focus on their area of the business. I think they’re great.

Larry: So, the first level of meetings are one-on-one meetings, and those are generally weekly or biweekly. This is a time to touch base on your team’s work, get status updates on projects, and for them to recommend actions to you. Level two are work group meetings. What’s this work group meeting concept?

Michael: These could be departmental meetings. They could be cross-functional meetings. They could be standing committees that have work that’s ongoing. They could be a temporary taskforce. It’s usually a small group of people. By the way, it’s really important who gets on these meetings, because you don’t want anybody who’s not making a contribution.

You may have one person there, like one of our assistants, who’s taking notes and tracking action items and that kind of thing, but I feel like if somebody is going to sit in that meeting and not make a contribution, it’s a waste of their time and a waste of the organization’s resources. But you have to have this if you believe in collaboration. You have to have opportunities to collaborate, to cooperate, to be able to focus your work and communicate about your work. So that’s kind of the rationale for them.

Larry: Give me a rundown on the specific work group meetings you participate in.

Megan: The first one is an executive team meeting, which we have twice a month. One of those meetings is our monthly financial review, and the other is intended to be an opportunity for us to discuss important aspects of the business that are working on the business, not in the business, so, perhaps something in the future we’re considering, an opportunity or a challenge we’re facing.

Michael: I just want to say about the executive team… These are the people who report directly to you or to me, but these are the functional heads, like the head of marketing, head of finance, head of product, and so forth.

Megan: Exactly. Those are happening twice a month. Then we also have our leadership team, which includes the executive team but also our directors, many of whom report to the executives. That group of people is together twice a month also. Then the directors on their own meet twice a month. They’re really talking about execution, things at a tactical level that would not necessarily be relevant to the executive team. A lot of cross-functional collaboration happens at that meeting, and it’s really important for them.

Michael: It also is designed to defeat the silo effect, so we don’t have departments going off on their own without communication with other departments that need to know or will be affected.

Megan: Right. Then we have some cross-functional teams. For example, our content and marketing teams regularly meet together. We have what’s called a principals’ workbench, which is the two of us with either Larry or Mandi, who’s another of our senior content creators, who does our live event content. In those meetings we’re talking about content you guys are creating for us that you need our input on. Those happen either once a week or twice a month, depending on what the content demands are. In these meetings, part of the purpose is collaborative, part of the purpose is connection. I would say the collaboration is the biggest component of this.

Larry: Who drives the agenda for these meetings, and is it the same agenda each time such as it was with the one-on-one meetings?

Michael: Some of them are. Like departmental meetings could be the same basic agenda every time. The executive team, certainly, when we’re getting together for the financial review, that follows a pretty set format. I would say the other meeting, the one where the executives are getting together and it’s more about connection and just catching up, tends to be pretty freewheeling or we might have certain projects we want to consider and have an opportunity to deliberate over a more extended period of time than we can typically get in the business.

So, whatever serves the outcome we’re trying to create, but that’s the key thing. We have a single meeting organizer who’s responsible for the agenda and for identifying the outcome of the meeting, so we don’t come into a meeting without an agenda, without a clearly defined outcome we’re after, because we want to know when the meeting is over.

Larry: So in one-on-one meetings, the meeting organizer is the leader.

Megan: Actually, no. In my one-on-one meetings, my direct reports prepare the agenda and bring it. It’s their meeting with me. I’m there to help them in whatever way they need, according to the preset agenda we have, but they’re populating the agenda. I’m not bringing that to the table. I’m not leading the meeting. I’m really there to serve them. They’re very disciplined, so they’re good at leading meetings, and we’re done on time and all those kinds of thing. I think that’s an important distinction.

In the executive and leadership team meetings, I’m generally leading those meetings, other than the financial review, which our CFO would lead, and then whoever is the owner of the project or content, the person who is the biggest stakeholder, would be the leader of the meetings that are cross-functional.

Larry: What’s the biggest mistake we can make in this second level of meetings, the work group or team level meetings?

Michael: Not having a clear outcome. What’s the work product of that group? What is it you’re there to decide or to communicate or collaborate on? Having that outcome in mind is crucial.

Megan: Having too many people or too few people. You really need to have all of the key stakeholders, but not more than that and not less than that.

Michael: And it’s worth reevaluating on a regular basis.

Megan: Who those people are.

Larry: Level one in an effective meeting rhythm and structure is one-on-one meetings, which are typically held with direct reports every week or two weeks. Level two is work group meetings, which are team or cross-functional meetings, which may be held once or twice a month or as needed. That brings us to level three, which is entire team meetings. I think by entire team you mean everybody, the whole company.

Megan: That’s right. We do this in three different ways. First of all, we have a monthly all-team meeting. This is when we have lunch together. We play games together when the meeting is done. The meeting itself is about reporting on our progress toward our annual goals and our financial results for the prior month. Those are the two things, as well as usually some announcements.

Michael: Let me say, that’s really important to keep everybody engaged. I’ve been in organizations where top management didn’t feel like they could share the results or the progress, and it was always a mystery. When you’re in an organization like that, you feel very disconnected from the company. You don’t feel like you’re in it together. You feel like management is withholding information, that they’re not being transparent. I think it causes you to detach and be less engaged.

In companies where they do practice open-book management, where you do have access to the financial performance of the company and the goals and all the rest… The people who are on your team can be part of the solution. For example, if you’re not hitting your targets, if you’re not meeting your goals, well, the people can roll up their sleeves and all pitch in. Also you want people to be able to celebrate when you’re hitting your goals. You don’t want to waste that either. So regardless of the situation, that’s important for the team.

Megan: The next all-team meeting we have is a quarterly team training and goal setting meeting. On that day, what we do is we have some kind of a training that happens for about half a day. We’re actually going to be extending this a little bit longer and making this a day-and-a-half meeting going forward, as our teams have grown.

Michael: Talk about some of the kinds of trainings we‘ve done.

Megan: It could be something very practical. For example, at our most recent event we walked people through some training in our tech tools that we’re using company-wide. We made some changes in simplification there, which we talked about in a recent episode, and we walked people through that.

Then it could also be something that’s around personal development. Like we’ve brought in our friend Ian Cron on a number of occasions to talk about the Enneagram and how to think about your own personality type in the context of your work. We’ve done that with the Kolbe Corporation and Amy Bruske who’s their president. We have done a training around the book The Loyalist Team, so, kind of like team development.

We’re really looking at that as a professional development time that we can invest in our team and develop their capabilities. Then the second half of the day is devoted to quarterly goal setting. Each department will break up into little mini-groups after we’ve reviewed our annual goals. We have seven to ten annual goals for the year, and then we’re focusing by department on two to three goals per quarter that relate to those annual goals.

The content team, for example, will spend about an hour working through their goals and coming up with their areas of focus for the next quarter that they’re going to rally around. By the time everybody leaves, they know exactly what they’re going to be working on for the next quarter to drive the company goals forward.

Michael: This is particularly important in a company like ours, where while we do have a centralized office, we don’t require anybody to work there full time. Our people love the connection they get from these meetings. Now we do have the office now, which is a coworking space so people can come in and connect, but for you, for example, Larry, you live remotely. You don’t live in Tennessee with most of us, so for you to be able to come in to a quarterly training, I suspect, is probably important for you to feel connected. You’re here for our podcasts, but it gives you an opportunity to feel more connected to the larger team and keep in mind the bigger vision.

Larry: It absolutely does. I think that same value would apply in a company that was maybe a little bit larger but everybody was on-site. You still don’t get together with people cross-departmentally or see the whole scope of the personnel or the team. So it is absolutely a treasured time for all of us to come together and have something poured into us, the training, and then a little bit of rallying around the goal and, frankly, some accountability for last quarter’s goals.

Michael: I would say there’s also some celebration. I think we do too little celebration in most companies, and I think that’s another thing. People want to know they’re winning and they’re playing with a winning team, and they need to be reminded of that. So we’re very intentional about that, particularly when we move to this last form, this annual retreat. Why don’t you share about that?

Megan: This is probably my favorite all-team meeting we do. This happens at the beginning of the year on an annual basis. We go away on a retreat together for five days as we’ve done in the last couple of years and, I think, actually in the previous couple before that. One of those days we do an annual team meeting. I said in another episode that during these retreats we’ve invited the spouses to come, and they’re actually invited to our all-team meeting. So not only are all of our team members there, but their spouses are invited to join us too.

Michael: Why is that important?

Megan: That’s important because when you think about it, your spouse is spending more time at their job than they are their waking hours with you any other time. So for you to understand what they’re working on, why it matters, how it fits in to the larger context of your shared life together and your goals is huge. We think the spouses of our team members are a huge asset in helping to encourage and motivate and support the team members who are on our team, so we want to include them. It really matters to us.

In that meeting, we talk about our vision. We review our vision for our company. We review our mission, and we talk about our annual goals. We also give awards that are awards related to our core values. One person receives an award that is in the name of our core value that they really embody and are kind of the poster child for the coming year for that, and that’s a lot of fun.

Michael: It is a lot of fun.

Larry: I have just one suggestion for that award.

Megan: Oh, tell us.

Larry: Can we make a rule that you can’t win twice in a row? Because otherwise, Neal is going to win infectious enthusiasm every year.

Michael: I know. It’s hard to compete.

Megan: Neal is our copywriter, and he is just sort of like joy concentrate.

Larry: He is a happy guy.

Megan: Yeah, he could win every year. That’s true.

Michael: That’s probably one of my favorite meetings. I love the extended time to connect. The meeting is great because we do get to cast vision and make sure the spouses are enrolled in that vision and all that. They ask some tough questions, and I love that too. What I really like is the unstructured time that we’re together when we’re just on that property we go to and we’re able to have the fireside chats and meals together and a lot of unstructured time together, which is excellent.

Megan: What’s fun about that is that every year we’ve done it I have left feeling profoundly grateful for the people we’re entrusted with. There’s nothing like spending time together, particularly unstructured time, to make you appreciate and value the people you get to work with every day. I hope everybody on our team feels like that about each other, but I know certainly, from my vantage point, it’s humbling to see the people God has entrusted us with and we get to steward.

Michael: I feel the same way. I really have grown to think of these people as my friends. I hope I’m not deceived in that or being too overly familiar, but I just feel like these people are my friends. They’re people I love hanging with.

Megan: That’s right.

Larry: I think for some companies the annual employee meeting is probably everybody goes to the cafeteria for one hour on a Friday and hears whether or not they’re going to get a bonus. Can you give me a couple of best practices for structuring these meetings? Obviously, that kind of goal accountability and reporting on the company is part of it, but can you give me some best practices for making this more of a connection time and more of a time when the team feels validated and valued?

Michael: I don’t think this has to be expensive. I think it has to be more than a one-hour meeting in the cafeteria. I’ve been in previous contexts where we’ve gone to a state park and the accommodations were very inexpensive. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the place we go to now, but just the time together was still amazing. It all depends what people’s expectations are. This is an investment. If you’re a business, this is a business investment when you think about it. I don’t know of a better investment you can make than making your team feel connected so that they’re engaged, and it makes all the difference in how they work through the rest of the year.

Megan: As we’re thinking about planning this… We produce events as part of our business. That’s one of the things that is central to what we offer. We think about this just like we would think about a commercial event. For this week that we’re gone, we think about our team members as our clients. What kind of experience do we want to create for them? What is the transformation we’re trying to create, and then how can we intentionally set the stage for that?

For example, we want them to be inspired, so the content needs to be futuristic and inspiring. We want them to feel connected to each other, so we provide dinner table conversation starters for them. We want it to be fun, so we inject little surprise moments of fun. We want them to feel valued, so we have an awards ceremony and gifts in their room when they get there. All of that starts with vision. So I think the most important place to start is what it is you’re trying to create, and then kind of back into the agenda or the programming from there.

Michael: Wouldn’t you say that ultimately what we’re trying to create, just like we are for our customers, is wow?

Megan: Yeah.

Michael: The way you create wow is not as complicated as you think. You have to understand what people’s expectations are, and then you have to intentionally engineer something that exceeds those expectations. So if the average person thinks coming to an annual meeting is going to be boring or mildly interesting, then how can we make it really interesting and how can we make it not boring so that we exceed their expectations and they go, “Wow! That was an amazing experience”?

Larry: Meeting culture may be broken, but there is a way to do meetings right, and used properly, the meeting can supercharge your team’s productivity if you structure it at these three levels: one-on-one meetings, work group meetings, and entire team meetings. You guys have given us some fantastic insight into how to go about structuring those types of meetings. Any final thoughts you want to share with the listeners today?

Megan: It all starts with intention and clarity about the outcomes you’re trying to create in any of these types of meetings. If you start with that and then engineer the agendas or the programming to that end, as I said before, a lot is possible. If you’re passive about it and just kind of go along with what has always been done, then you’re not going to be satisfied with the outcome. So much can happen in great meetings if you’re just open to it.

Michael: I would say, too, that you have to be deliberate as a leader about how you talk about meetings, because if you hate meetings, if you think meetings suck, and if you communicate that constantly, then that’s going to be people’s reality. I think you can begin to shift the reality in your thinking and then, particularly, in your vocabulary about it, because meetings don’t have to be a time suck. They don’t have to be a waste of time. They can be one of the most productive things you do, and if they’re not, guess whose fault it is. It’s your fault, as a leader, because everything rises and falls on your leadership.

Larry: Guys, thank you. We appreciate these insights.

Megan: Thanks, Larry.

Michael: Thanks, Larry, and thank you guys for joining us for Lead to Win. Join us next time when we’re going to talk about delegation, but get this: even if you don’t have a staff. Until then, lead to win.