It’s midway through the week, you finally find yourself experiencing flow and you are convinced you might actually finish that project that you’ve been working on for weeks when the dreaded message pops up across your screen.
“Meeting in 10 minutes in the boardroom”
You look closer at the meeting reminder and start to feel the rage boil inside of you. It’s one hour long, and there’s no agenda.
You try to get back to your project and get the most out of the last 8 minutes before the meeting, but realize you’re completely distracted and now starting to brainstorm ways to bail, or at the very least… Fake your own death.
When you realize there’s nothing left to do, you make your way over to the meeting room, coffee in hand, and only slightly aware of the other somber coworkers following you like a scene out of the walking dead.
Well, I’m here to tell that you can stop the madness starting today, and make every growth meeting more effective by following 6 important lessons:
- Demand an Agenda
- Assign Roles
- Brainstorm Before the meeting
- Ignore the Loudest Person in the Room
- Understand Who Benefits / Who Has the Most to Lose
- End with Next Steps (And don’t meet until they’re done!)
Without further ado.. let’s get started.
LESSON 1: DEMAND AN AGENDA
Let me make this clear: You should never walk into a team meeting without an agenda, ever.
This seems obvious, yes, and in the perfect world no rational human being would ask a group of people into a room without stating the reason why, but well, we don’t live in a perfect world.
So I’m not asking here, I’m telling you, for the love of all that is productive, it’s time to dig deep, connect with your inner Targaryen and demand to know the reason you are going to give up 15 minutes, 30 minutes or worse an hour of your day.
If your email ask is getting ignored, the meeting organizer won’t meet your eye in the hallway or there seems to be secrecy around this meeting worthy of a sweeps week cliffhanger; you may need to put matters in your own hands and create a meeting framework for your own team.
One that consists of a 1) Problem 2) Consistent Agenda 3) A Goal for the meeting.
What’s Your Problem?
A meeting with a group of people shouldn’t be about uncovering a problem, debating whether something is a problem, or unpacking a problem — It should be about solving an existing problem.
If you’re in a growth marketing team this problem falls within one of the 6 buckets:
- THINK: No new ideas in the funnel
- ACQUIRE: Figuring out how to bring in more leads and potential customers into the funnel by targeting different audiences and showcasing different features of your product.
- CONVERT: Optimizing the customer journey to help move people from prospect to customer by getting them to take action.
- RETAIN: Keeping customers coming back for more and look for new ways to extend your customer’s lifecycle.
- ADVOCATE: Find new ways to connect your current customers to potential customers, and lower costs through referrals.
- CASH IN: Make more money.
What’s Your Agenda?
An agenda creates structure and sets expectations. Are we going to spend the meeting talking about Molly’s birthday and signing a card? No. The agenda keeps us from wasting time like this. (Sorry Molly… I’m sure you’re lovely.)
There are three kinds of meetings a growth team should be having consistently:
- Brainstorming New Ideas
- Problem Solving
- Weekly Growth Update
Meeting #1: Brainstorming New Ideas
This meeting is all about coming up with new ideas for a certain problem.
This is a “blue sky” meeting and requires that people solve for x.
What would the agenda look like for a Brainstorming idea?
Meeting #2: Problem Solving
Now that you’ve come up with your idea, you need to figure out what tests you need to set up, and what your hypothesis/expectations are.
You also need to understand what are the best/worst case scenarios if these tests run according to plan.
Now I know what you’re saying… What about our weekly growth meeting?
Meeting #3: Weekly Growth Update
Now, this has been spoken of ALLLL over the internet specifically from Sean Ellis.
The weekly growth update agenda is this:
This article is going to be less about your weekly growth updates, and more for the first two kinds of meetings which are more free-flowing and tend to stray the most in terms of effectiveness and productivity.
So how do you keep your meetings goal-oriented and structured?
Here are some Pro Tips:
- With every meeting invite received without an agenda, write back immediately and ask for one.
- If you are the one creating the meeting, don’t create surprise around it. Include the problem you’re trying to solve, a meeting structure that should be used regularly, and the objective (final outcome) of the meeting.
- If you’re not the one creating the meeting and see that it’s probably going to go off the rails, provide them an example of the structure you’d like to see for the meeting including the problem to solve, agenda, and goal.
Now before you go into any meeting, you need to understand the role of everyone in the room. This brings me to my next lesson…
LESSON 2: ASSIGNING ROLES
Sitting through a meeting without assigned roles tends to feel a bit like a hippy circle: no one is in charge, there’s a whole lot of talking and supporting but very little decisions made, and while it was fun while it lasted… everyone ends up walking away a little hazy and disoriented.
It’s probably best to employ a few roles within your meeting.
This helps you maintain that level of support and happiness… with a touch more purpose.
The four most important roles in a meeting are as follows:
- Leader / Facilitator
- Note Taker
I will try to personify these roles with reference to the characters in Community.
If you haven’t watched the show, I’m sorry but this will be no use to you whatsoever. (But, seriously you should REALLY watch the show!)
The Leader / Facilitator
The leader or facilitator of the meeting’s prime purpose is to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly, the agenda is followed, and ensures that everyone has a chance to participate.
They help to answer any questions that come up, facilitate any voting that needs to take place, and help in summarizing any main points that come up during the meeting.
Lastly, and possibly the most important, they are the decision maker. They confirm which path the team will go on, whose responsibility it is, what’s next and when you will meet again.
So what doesn’t the leader do?
- Take over discussions by talking over people, interrupting or just never letting other speak in general. (This isn’t a monologue, you could have sent an email for that.)
- Make decisions without hearing all sides or ignoring any major concerns.
- Try to do too much. A good facilitator can’t also take notes, or keep time. Assign roles to others to ensure that we create a space where everyone has to be SDAS, even you!
A notetaker’s goal is to ensure that there is a written record of the meeting and that these notes are sent to the group immediately after the meeting is complete.
A note taker must ensure that they keep a record of the following:
- The main problem, objective and metrics affected
- Decisions made within the meeting,
- Any ideas/concerns that were addressed (and those that may have been left unresolved for next discussion)
- Roles & Responsibilities
- Next Steps
Things to keep in mind about the note taker:
- You should give this to someone who is organized and detail oriented – man or woman. (This isn’t just a woman’s job – so ensure that the buck is passed around)
- Give your notetaker permission to speak up and alert the team when they don’t understand something or action items/responsibilities don’t seem clear enough.
- They have a voice too. Just because they are writing stuff down, doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. Remember to engage them.
Just so we are on the same page here, meetings are a GIGANTIC waste of money, so before we look at the role of the timekeeper, let me just take a moment to explain why it is so essential that you have one.
The Harvard Business Review reported that executives spend more than two days every week entirely on meetings involving three or more coworkers.
If you had a meeting where you brought together 1 executive, 2 senior managers, 3 specialists, and a coordinator you might be spending anywhere from $3-5 a minute. (tool: http://www.expensivemeeting.com/)
And if the meeting is productive then maybe $180-300/hour is worth it, but think about all the meetings that have been derailed because of things like late starts, small talk, an awful presentation that goes on about nothing, or worse, a topic that isn’t even relevant to some of the people in the room.
This is why you need a timekeeper: a person who has been appointed to ensure that the meeting starts and ends on time, and doesn’t get sidetracked in between.
It sounds simple enough, right?
Err.. not quite.
Your timekeeper is like a member of the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones. They need to be strong-willed, believe to the core that their job is valuable, and not be someone who can get distracted easily themselves.
If the Timekeepers had an oath, it would probably be something like:
“Meeting gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end even a second after the time allotted. I shall allow no side conversations, no idle chit-chat, and no digressions. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory.”
Things to Keep in Mind:
- The Timekeeper should be appointed to someone who could handle it. If Artie, the SEO, crumbles at the thought of having to interrupt people to keep the meeting going, this is not a “Man-up Artie” situation, just find a new timekeeper.
- Don’t Disrespect the Timekeeper. The Timekeeper is there for a purpose, so even if you’re the facilitator, don’t ignore the them when they tell you to wrap it up. (It defeats the point, and diminishes this very important role.)
How quickly we forget the actual people who have to BE at the meetings in question.
To be a good participant is to actually participate, but not all comments are created equal.
There are ultimately a few rules that each participant must accept when they walk into their next meeting. Be on time, ask questions, keep an open mind, and stay curious are some of them.
Beyond this though, are a few rules that need to be implemented immediately to ensure that the discussion runs smoothly and all people in the meeting are being respected.
Here are the 5 commandments of being a good participant:
- Thou shall not be late.
- Thou shall not stare at laptops & cell phones (Look alive people!)
- Thou shall not dominate the conversation
- Thou shall not interrupt or regurgitate information already said in a meeting (for those that have never heard of mansplaining… Start here)
- Thou shall not come unprepared
So now that you have the goal, agenda, objective, and roles assigned it’s time to get ready for your meeting. One of the best ways is to ensure that your meeting goers are prepared before the meeting begins.
LESSON 3: BRAINSTORM BEFORE THE MEETING
One of the biggest time wasters of any meeting are asking people to come into a room and then brainstorm ideas while in it.
Creativity can come to you in many ways.
Your team should be given space and time to brainstorm new ideas before the meeting. Be clear you want them to take some time during that week whether in or out of the office to come up with interesting new ways to solve a problem.
Another great tool to help your brainstorming sessions run smoothly is Flowjo’s Growth Hacking Box. The “THINK” cards in this box gives you 20 ways to brainstorm new ideas with your team.
Beyond this, here are some Pro Tips to help you:
- Brainstorm. Ask people to brainstorm at least 3 new ideas a week or so before the meeting.
- Reminders. Don’t forget to send reminders to ensure that this is a priority.
- Be Anonymous. Ask them to anonymously enter these ideas in a Trello board, google doc or even a jar with ideas.
- Present Ideas to all. Write all ideas on the board, or somewhere easy to read so that people can look at them at the beginning of the meeting or a half an hour before.
- Vote. During the meeting, the leader should list all the brainstorming ideas and ask the group to vote on a few. (This can be anonymous or show of hands).
- Create an Idea Vault. The top few ideas can be discussed, and others are put aside for later. Only then should the creator of the idea be named.
LESSON 4: IGNORE THE LOUDEST PERSON IN THE ROOM
Okay, okay, okay NO ONE should be ignored, but it’s time to take notice of the people in your meeting room who are speaking, listening, being interrupted or being shut down.
As a member of a meeting (or the person running it), you should make sure that everyone is being included because if you’re not hearing their perspective, why are they even there!? (see lesson #2 to reiterate what a huge waste of money that is.)
Research shows that groups often have a hard time deciphering between the most confident person in the room (aka: the loudest) vs. the smartest (Littlepage & Mueller, 1997).
As a manager, one of the biggest let downs I ever experienced was to have a meeting and watch my thoughtful more introverted team members stay quiet during a meeting only to have them come up to me afterwards with a great idea.
No matter how many times I told them to speak up during the meeting, it wasn’t until one of them answered back with “why? You only listen to X anyway” when I realized what was really going on in the meeting.
This is why the previous brainstorming example works so well.
Since the ideas are provided before it allows everyone to contribute and be seen as equals in the meeting. (This also stops someone who walks into the meeting thinking they can improvise to be shut down easily.)
While this is a great tactic, there are also ways that you can ensure the loudest, most confident person in the room doesn’t get too much air-time.
Here are some Pro Tips:
- The Facilitator’s job is to ensure that everyone has a voice in the room, especially the person who would benefit / lose the most from a project (see next lesson)
- Every participant should be on guard to ensure that no one gets interrupted, or an idea doesn’t get re-explained and posed as their own. (If you see this happening, you can quickly say “Person 2 that sounds a lot like what Person 1 said, is that what you meant Person 1?”
- Don’t wait until the last few minutes to ask the quiet person in the room their thoughts. They may point out something major that you won’t have time to unpack. Ensure that they are included throughout the process. (Note: Don’t pick them first either, they might not have had enough time to process at that point, and you won’t get the best out of them.)
LESSON 5: KNOW WHO BENEFITS & WHO HAS THE MOST TO LOSE
One of the biggest ways a meeting can go off the rails is if a new action plan isn’t properly vetted by those who will benefit the most from a project’s success and the person who has the most to lose if the project doesn’t go well.
This activity is very important to ensure that people are being true to the team about their intentions. Sometimes the person coming up with the project is being led by ego, rather than results. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but must be uncovered as a team in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.
Here is an example of how being transparent about a project’s intentions and using this time to show vulnerability can actually bring the team closer together.
Julie, a Product Marketing Manager has decided that she wants the whole marketing team to stop what they are doing and create white papers, case studies and a dedicated section of the website to a new product feature.
This would wipe out most of the resources of the marketing team for the next month.
Frank, the team’s PPC lead is nervous.
Whitepapers and case studies are great, but he isn’t sure that this product feature will speak to the needs of those visiting the site through paid channels.
For the other team members ( a content writer, designer, web developer, and social media community manager), this project doesn’t affect anything they currently have going on so while they have opinions about what they would rather do, their opinions don’t affect the main goal of the meeting: To create an acquisition campaign that increases highly qualified leads into the system at least 25% that will lead to an extra $200,000 in revenue at the end of the next quarter (six months from now).
Feeling the tension, Sandy, the leader of the team, asks the Product Manager and PPC Team to each divulge how they would benefit from this plan, and what they would have to lose if it fails.
Julie goes first.
She explains that this product feature is what the development team has been working on for the past year. It’s a major differentiator from the competition and based on customer surveys, is exactly the reason why many of our customers have left us in the past. She thinks by being upfront that we have added this product feature, we would not only gain new leads but she believes that the customers will stay longer.
Frank steps in.
He says that he had plans to create landing pages that would be speaking to the top of funnel needs of his customers. He makes it clear that no one feature is going to get visitors to sign up for a free trial, it’s all about creating landing pages around topics/intent and being able to a/b test those pages to optimize them to a better conversion rate.
Normally these answers would be enough, but Sandy looks over at her notetaker who quickly shakes his head.
She goes back to Julie and quickly asks “but WHO benefits?”
Julie, a bit embarrassed looks down and says, “I really need this. I was the one who pushed this feature to begin with and if it gets buried I don’t think I’ll ever be given a big project like this again.”
She looks over at Frank and says, “but you have to understand. I DID get this from real data. This feature, for those comparing our product to others, will be the differentiator.”
Sandy looks at Frank and asks him, “How much do you have to lose if this goes wrong?”
Frank thinks about it for a moment and says, “Well, technically I still have other pages I can optimize right now, and if this feature is everything Julie says it is, then I might be able to create a landing page for top of funnel users around this topic with an offer for the whitepaper Julie wants to make.
I can also update the middle/bottom of funnel landing pages we currently have with new information about the feature. So worst case scenario, people aren’t looking for that topic and the number of conversions & cost/conversion won’t change at all.”
Julie looks relieved, but Frank quickly adds to Sandy, “If this happens though, and my numbers don’t change I need to know that resources will be allocated to top of funnel keywords once the project is over and the team will be able to create a set of 10-12 landing pages for me.”
Sandy agrees and they move on to the action plan.
While Julie will be ultimately responsible for the outcome of this project, Frank will be a member of the approval process along with Sandy to ensure that his concerns are met throughout the process.
So what tips can we take from this lesson?
- It is the facilitator’s job to ensure that those who benefit/lose from a project are identified. The meeting cannot end without this since it could mean tension, and unnecessary drama in the future.
- Recognize, support and promote vulnerability during this time. It was hard for Julie in the scenario to admit that she had so much riding on it. The facilitator should be actively promoting this transparency. It will bring the team closer.
- Don’t get caught up in what others in the meeting might be saying. If they aren’t directly affected by the outcome, this is not the time for their opinions. However, they do need to hear how it plays out since the outcome may affect their future work.
LESSON 6: END WITH NEXT STEPS & DON’T MEET UNTIL THEY’RE DONE.
If a meeting is an hour long, the final ten minutes should be spent planning what the next step is and who is responsible for it. (Thanks, timekeeper!)
Every meeting should end with the following information:
- Did we meet the meeting’s objective?
- What was the next step?
- Who is responsible for it?
- By When?
Once the meeting is complete, these next steps should be added to the meeting notes which will be sent immediately after the meeting via the notetaker.
The facilitator will also send a meeting notice for the next meeting based on the deadlines provided.
But here’s the catch… and I don’t think it is going to be reeeeally difficult.
Don’t meet again until next steps are complete.
While we love to keep people updated, and love to get together as a group, getting together for a meeting when the project hasn’t been completed is insanely unproductive. When this happens, people tend to get together and try to fill the time up with other things (or worse, you work together to do the work of the person who dropped the ball). This is nonsense behavior.
This is nonsense behavior.
The person responsible for getting things done shouldn’t come to the meeting until they are prepared to answer the following:
- What was completed?
- What were the results?
- Challenges & learnings
- What’s next? (resources needed)
If they haven’t completed their work, they should write an email to all involved and explained why this hasn’t been accomplished. This ensures that they are responsible for their own actions and that the team’s time won’t be wasted.
If you, or the manager, receives a few of these in a row, then it’s time to have a conversation about your coworker’s priorities and how they are managing their time.
If you’re sitting through boring growth meetings it’s as much your fault as is the people running the show.
Whether you’re a facilitator, timekeeper, note taker or participant you should feel empowered to ensure that the meeting stays on point, has an objective, and you walk away feeling like this was a good use of $180-300 of your company’s money.
If not, speak up because more likely than not, most people in the meeting feel the same way.
And since you, my little grasshopper, are the results-focused growth hacker I know you are, I can expect that you, armed with this article, will never let another boring growth meeting go by without a way to turn it around. Good luck!
About the Author:
Over the past 12 years, Tiffany DaSilva has worked in all facets of online marketing including SEO, PPC, analytics, social media and conversion rate optimization. In the past, she’s worked at startups like Geosign, Achievers and Shopify. For the last year, she’s worked with 35+ startups as a growth marketing consultant, teaches SEO/SEM at McMaster University, and is the creator and founder of flowjo.co. Tiffany can also be seen speaking around the world about Growth Marketing at 500startups Weapons of Mass Distribution, PPC Hero London & Stockholm’s Conversion Jam.
To learn more, visit tiffanydasilva.com.