How to Run Meetings That Don't Suck
The four types of meetings and how to make each one actually useful
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We’ve all sat in on meetings that drain our time and energy. It’s all too common to spend an entire day in these “syncs” only to have to do real work at night.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
An effective meeting can empower people to do better work for months.
So let’s talk about how to run great meetings overall and for each type below:
Ad hoc meetings
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5 steps to run a great meeting
It’s quite simple:
Here’s how I do it:
Start with why. Define the goal of the meeting (e.g., “make a decision on X”) and only invite people who can contribute. Clarify who the decision maker is.
Share a doc one day before. Write a clear and concise decision doc and ask people to read and discuss async in the doc before the meeting.
Discuss only open issues live. It’ll be clear which issues remain unresolved from the async discussion in the doc.
Screen share and take notes. This helps people feel heard and keeps discussions focused.
Recap and share notes right after. A few bullet points on next steps with a link to the doc will do it.
I try to follow the steps above for every meeting. Now, let’s dive into the four types of meetings and the #1 mistake that you should avoid for each one.
The goal of the 1-on-1 is to let two people build trust and empower each other.
The #1 mistake that people make is to use the 1-on-1 for status updates.
Instead, you should:
Talk about the awkward issues. Discuss topics that you would hesitate to bring up in a team setting. Examples include:
Expressing concerns about your project
Sharing constructive feedback
Talking about your career goals
Try not to cancel or move 1-on-1s. If you’re a manager, it’s easy to move or cancel your 1-on-1s for other “important” meetings. This is disrespectful to your direct reports. Even if you see them everyday, nothing beats a private half-hour conversation where they can be open about real issues.
Schedule 1-on-1s with the right people. Aim for weekly 1-on-1s with your manager and direct reports and monthly 1-on-1s with your extended team and other important stakeholders in the company.
1-on-1s have massive leverage - you can improve someone’s work for months with a single heart to heart conversation. Don’t skip them.
The goal of the team meeting is to provide a regular forum for decision-making.
The #1 mistake that people make is to not have an agenda for their team meeting.
Instead, you should:
Ask for topics ahead of time. Ask teammates to add topics to a doc a day before the meeting starts.
Discuss issues that affect the whole team. If two people start talking about a problem that only they care about, ask them to discuss it offline or give other people permission to leave.
Make decisions, not share updates. Like the 1-on-1, team meetings aren’t for status updates. Instead, use them to make decisions like what to build and how to resolve a blocker. Try to encourage quiet team members to speak up.
The agenda of the team meeting should be so clear that anyone on your team should be able to run it if you’re not there. Using this meeting to make decisions helps you avoid…
3. Ad hoc meetings
The goal of an ad hoc meeting is to make a decision that you couldn’t resolve async or in your team meeting. Ad hoc meetings should be the exception, not the norm:
The #1 mistake that people make is to default to ad hoc meetings to make decisions.
Instead, you should:
Schedule ad hoc meetings only as a last resort. Try to make the decision async or during your team meeting instead.
Prepare ahead of time. If you must have an ad hoc meeting, prep a decision doc with a recommendation that people can read ahead of time.
Invite only people who can contribute. Try to stick to 5 attendees or less - nothing’s worse than trying to make a decision with a dozen people.
If you’re spending more than 25% of your time in ad-hoc meetings, then something’s broken with your team’s ability to make decisions async or in regular meetings.
4. Product reviews
The goal of a product review is to get exec input on a decision or product direction.
The #1 mistake that people make is to pretend that everything’s great in the product review instead of discussing the real issues.
Instead, you should:
Share your material a day before the review. In the ideal scenario, execs will ask questions, leave feedback, and have a discussion with you async in the doc. This way, only issues that you couldn’t resolve async will need to be discussed live.
Have a discussion about the real risks. Giving a status update that everything’s sunshine and rainbows not only wastes everyone’s time but will also likely come back to bite you later. Celebrate milestones, but also bring up real risks and your plans to address them.
Have an opinion. It’s OK to present multiple options, but you should always have an opinion on which option to choose and why. Having a clear rationale while being open about what you don’t know usually leads to a good discussion.
One of the best product reviews I had was with Ken Lin, the CEO of Credit Karma. He opened the review by saying:
“Don’t think of me as the CEO, just think of me as another person on your team trying to solve this problem.”
That immediately disarmed the team from trying to impress Ken to a genuine exploration of how to solve the problem as co-workers.
Overall: Use writing to build context and discuss async before the meeting.
1-on-1s: Talk about the awkward issues - don’t cancel or move this too much.
Team meetings: Have an agenda and ask team members for topics ahead of time.
Ad hoc meetings: Nobody likes these - use them only as a last resort.
Product reviews: Have an informed opinion and discuss the real risks.
If you do all of the above, you may even start to (gasp) enjoy your meetings.
For more advice on meetings and making decisions, check out:
Meetings That Don’t Suck by Ken Norton
Product Reviews by Avichal Garg
Appreciate these insights Peter! 🙏
Super valuable. Recommending you to my subscribers 🤘🏼