Love them or hate them, meetings play a crucial role in startup life. At a practical level, meetings are one of the main settings for problem solving, decision making and brainstorming. At a cultural level, meetings are a key tool for shaping norms for how people work together.
Running successful meetings is especially challenging for scaling startups. But startups that work hard on this transition vastly increase their chances of success.
Creating an effective meeting culture starts with choosing what meetings to run. By mastering a few key formats, startups can create a strong weekly rhythm while setting the tone for how all meetings will be run.
Standups are brief, standing meetings usually held in the morning. In the traditional standup, each team member answers three questions: 1) What did I do yesterday? 2) What will l do today? and 3) What’s blocking me? When run well, standups can be a powerful tool for building transparency, trust and professionalism.
If your startup has a tech or product team, they’ll most likely run a standup. For lots more on the topic, try this great deck.
Here are three keys for running successful standups. Hold standups at the same time every day. No exceptions.
- Appoint a strong meeting leader to keep things on track (and under 10 minutes!)
- Shame people who don’t raise their blockers at standup.
The work week is a deep social construct. Even in early stage startups where people grind on weekends, Monday still means something. Weekly kickoffs are an ideal way to leverage this natural rhythm.
Most importantly, it’s a chance to set expectations.
Kickoff answers the question: what do we want to achieve this week? It’s also an ideal place to celebrate wins, clarify strategy, provide funding updates, and introduce new team members. As your startup grows, Kickoff is a place to feature other leaders and team members.
Here are three keys for running successful kickoffs:
- Take the time to prep properly. A tight agenda and clear messaging are essential to setting the proper tone.
- Throw in some jokes or a fun weekly feature. It’s Monday morning, after all.
- If you can afford it, spring for bagels or pastries. A little free food goes a long way to starting the week off right.
Startups that scale establish managerial relationships. One-on-ones are the essential tool for making those relationships work. The concept is simple. Meet with your direct reports on a regular basis, ideally once a week, to check in on work goals, satisfaction levels, and personal life as appropriate. For lots more on the topic, try this piece by Ben Horowitz .
Here are three keys for running successful one on ones:
- Mix in walking meetings. It’s a nice change of pace and healthier.
- Create a running agenda that both sides can add to in advance of the meeting.
- Use at least 1 meeting each quarter for a more formal checkin.
Startups are learning organizations. Debriefs are an ideal tool for harvesting that learning. Again, the basic concept is simple: after completing an important piece of work, bring people together to discuss what happened. Many debriefs are arranged around a failure or mistake, but general debriefs can be run at the end of any project.
One debrief approach worth mastering is ‘5 Whys,’ a technique that originated at Toyota and popularized for startups by Eric Ries. In the ‘5 Whys’ format, you begin with the most obvious manifestation of a problem and then create a chain of “whys” back to a deeper cause. When run correctly, ‘5 Whys’ can help turn surface level issues into deeper insights about process, culture and personnel.
Here are three keys for running successful debriefs:
- Use a white board to make sure everyone’s contributions are visible.
- Take good notes and circulate them. Real learning needs to be codified.
- Share your insights with other teams so they can benefit.
Startups are full of makers. Demos are a time for makers to share what they’ve made.
For the business, demos facilitate communication and information flow. For individuals, demos are a chance to build their profile in the company while becoming better presenters. Most importantly, demos help create an environment that celebrates the joy of good work done well.
Demos should be a mix of business and pleasure. The content should be serious but the mood should be light. If you are OK with drinking in the office, alcohol is recommended, and Thursday or Friday EOD is a good time to hold them. Attendance at demos should be highly encouraged, but it should also be OK to miss them if you are closing a contract or pushing a patch.
Here are three keys for running successful demos:
- Stay consistent. Demos work best if people know they will happen regularly.
- Try to get non-technical makers involved. What are marketing or operations working on that they can share?
- Curate the agenda and remember that most people need a bit of prodding to present.
Thanks to Daniel Souweine and Lucas Pellan for commenting on drafts of the post.