How we work
Communicating via Slack is our bread and butter, but sometimes a synchronous meeting is needed. Throughout the years we have built some best practices that help us make our meetings as effective as possible.
For our meetings, we use SoapBox, an app that gives us all the tools we need to run effective meetings: it manages the agenda, the notes and any todos that arise from the meeting. Everyone in the company has an account - if you don't have one already, ping @mettiu to get invited! While SoapBox is best used for recurring meetings, it also works well for one-offs.
Organization of the meeting
- Don't be afraid to say no. We are all afraid of missing out on important things. However, if you are invited to a meeting but you think that there is no reason for you to be there, don't be afraid to ask what contribution you could make or what benefit you could get from it. If nobody can answer you, your presence is probably not required.
Moreover, if you are the organizer of the meeting:
- Establish an agenda and objectives. Ensure that the agenda and the objectives of the meeting are clear and everyone is familiar with them. If you are unable to set the agenda or the objectives, ask yourself if a meeting is needed and if it would be productive.
- Choose the participants carefully. Do not invite people who cannot contribute or benefit from the meeting. Everyone's time is precious and must be used wisely.
- Create a shared document. Create a Google document where all participants can take notes. If you are organizing a recurrent meeting, create a separate section for each meeting.
Before the meeting
- Be on time. Nobody likes wasting time. Ensure that you have 5-10 minutes before each meeting to get organized. When the time comes, just enter the meeting without waiting for someone to nudge you.
- Come prepared. Since each meeting must have an agenda and objectives, it should be easy to use the ten minutes of preparation time to think what you want to say. This practice helps you structure your thoughts and saves all participants' time.
Additionally, if you are the organizer:
- Send the agenda. Review the agenda one more time, make sure every point on it has a title and a description that covers what the point is about and how to reach a conclusion, and share the agenda with everyone so they have time to read it.
During the meeting
- Use a headset. There is nothing worse than speaking without anyone understanding what you are saying. Get a good headset and use it for the meetings. DO NOT use a laptop microphone: even if it seems to work well, in reality it does not.
- Start your camera (if needed). If others have their camera on, use yours too. Non-verbal communication is important and seeing the face of the person you are talking to helps build trust.
- Take notes. Taking notes at a meeting is an excellent way to stay focused and allows those who did not participate to know what was said and decided. If you cannot take notes, make sure that someone is.
- Don't veer off topic. It might be tempting to propose an unrelated idea right when it comes to you, but be respectful of everyone's time and make sure any unrelated points are added to the bottom of the current meeting's agenda or to another meeting's agenda.
Additionally, if you are the organizer:
- Run the conversation. The meeting should run linearly, from one point to the next one. If new ideas for discussion arise, add them to the agenda and keep talking about the matter at hand.
- Moderate off-topic discussion. When you sense that the meeting is going off-topic, it's your responsibility to remind everyone what the current point on the agenda is, and it's in everyone's interest that the meeting stays on track and all the points are addressed in the allotted time.
As the organizer, it is your responsibility to ensure that people follow-up and execute on any decisions taken during the meeting, and your strategy for doing this will be different depending on what kind of decision you have taken.
At Nebulab, we consider decisions taken during a meeting to be one of three possible types:
- Short-term actionables: these are quick tasks that a specific person commits to execute right away. Example: Jane will reply to the new sales lead. If the task is very quick, it can be executed during the meeting. Otherwise, you should create a todo in the meeting management tool and assigned to the right person. You should keep the corresponding item in the agenda open until the task is executed.
- Long-term actionables: these are tasks that are too complex to be executed immediately or are lacking important information which is needed for execution. They may be assigned to one or multiple persons. Example: Dave and Mary will write the marketing content for the upcoming conference. You should create a todo/issue in whatever project management tool (e.g. Trello, Jira) the team is using for that project and assign it to the right person(s). You should summarize and close the corresponding item in the agenda, to avoid having lingering agenda items.
- Strategic decisions: these are high-level decisions that either involve multiple tasks (i.e. projects) or describe a behavior/trait the company/team wants to adopt. They are almost always a team-concerted effort. Example: The leadership team has decided to increase the conference budget to 15 days/year per team member. These decisions should be written down in whatever document is being used to track the relevant policy (e.g. company playbook, sales team handbook). You should summarize and close the corresponding item in the agenda.
This framework allows us to maintain our bias for action while also ensuring we never execute on tasks without the necessary context. It also ensures that we only execute on decisions that have been properly documented and explained: if a decision was taken but not written down anywhere, it effectively does not exist and shouldn't be executed.
After the meeting
- Think about the meeting. Take five minutes to reorganize the notes and reflect on what has been discussed. If you have anything to add, send a message to the participants.
In addition, if you are the organizer:
- Record the actionable elements. Write down all actionable elements that emerged during the discussion and who is in charge of each initiative, so that participants know what they are expected to do. (This also applies to initiatives for which you are responsible.)
- Share a summary. Share the summary from the meeting with other participants, so that everyone can complete their notes.
Additionally, if you are the organizer and the meeting is recurring:
- Work on the agenda of the next meeting. At this point you likely have a good idea of subjects to discuss and share at the next meeting. This is a good time to write them down.