Want to get a quick read on your company culture? Just look at your meetings. It’s all there: interpersonal relationships, power dynamics, team camaraderie. For many organizations, meetings are a reflection of the company’s broader processes and health. It’s no surprise, then, that the most effective teams have transformed meetings into a force for alignment, engagement, and efficiency.
At Hugo, we’ve seen this firsthand. After all, our company’s mission is to connect the way we work to the way we meet. And the more we work to change our meetings, the more we notice a positive effect in other aspects of how we work.
We hear the same thing from our partners and customers: better meetings can transform team culture. We call these “10X Meetings.”
The benefits of 10X Meetings
All good meetings have an objective. But viewing meetings only this way misses the bigger picture. You have a far greater opportunity on your hands. Just think: a meeting is the number one place for live, real-time interpersonal communication at work, a primary channel for debate and discussion.
10X Meetings strive to be the time and place where culture is demonstrated and set. They acknowledge that a meeting’s objective must be met, but it’s also an opportunity to strengthen team alignment, influence team culture, and demonstrate strong leadership. We call them 10X because of the disproportionate impact a meeting like this can have. Having the team together (physical or online) and focused on one objective provides the ultimate forum.
In other words, the benefits of 10X Meetings continue well past the end of the calendar event. And that’s because the culture has effectively been nurtured and practiced and agreed upon in the meeting room.
And the data agrees. In our recent research on the State of Gender Equity in Tech, we observed the role that meetings play in influencing organizational equity. For the organizations that performed best, more than half of respondents cited meetings as the place where they felt best heard. And these outcomes were achieved with gender equity. For those organizations that didn’t fare well with respect to gender equity, 25 percent cited meetings as the place where their voices were marginalized.
Changes at the Ford Motor Company over the past ten years tell a similar story. When Alan Mulally stepped down as CEO of Ford in 2014, he was asked how he managed “a cultural change that took the car and truck maker from the brink of bankruptcy to the forefront of growth in the U.S. auto industry.”
His answer? Using meetings to improve company culture.
To follow up on this phenomenon, we decided to ask leaders from some of the world’s best-known businesses for their thoughts. We combined what we discovered with our own experience and came up with three best practices for 10X Meetings.
1. The 4-hour meeting week
At Hugo, we have a rule that team members can spend no more than ten percent of their working week in internal meetings. Sound crazy? Ask anyone on our team how we’re able to maintain our tempo and win with efficiency and they’ll tell you one thing: it’s our 4-hour meeting week.
The 4-hour meeting week has transformed our culture by redefining the meaning of meetings. That is, a meeting is the place for idea generation, discussion, debate, and decision-making. It’s where insight gets turned into action.
It’s not the place to share information and updates. (Especially when we have world-class collaboration and communication software at our fingertips.)
Putting a cap on the ability to mindlessly send another calendar event leads to switching back to other means of communicating. Now you must tap someone on the shoulder, ask a colleague to go for a walk for feedback on an idea, or start a quick video chat. But no frivolous meetings!
Interacting with your teammates in non-scheduled ways actually increases everyday interpersonal communication. In other words, in a subtle but powerful way, it influences cultural bonding. More information is shared. And asynchronous communication is a less disruptive solution to everything that doesn’t actually need real-time attention.
Better still, elevating the value of meetings leads to better preparation. With meetings now reserved for ideas, discussion, and decisions, and the volume of meetings reduced, it’s more likely that everyone will be better prepared with agendas circulated, read, and attendees ready to add value.
Who wouldn’t want more time back? More time means you’re back to getting real work done, like talking to customers or focusing on your projects.
It’s easy to get started. As a team, measure your current internal meeting spend and collectively agree to halve it. You won’t look back.
2. The idea meritocracy
The facet of 10X Meetings that we love most is the idea meritocracy. Simply put, an idea meritocracy is an environment in which the best idea wins – no matter where it came from. It’s an ideal culture that every leader should strive for, and best implemented in meetings.
In his book Principles, Ray Dalio outlines how to turn your organization into an idea meritocracy. Dalio says meaningful work and meaningful relationships are cultural precursors to operating as an idea meritocracy. Dalio suggests you operate with radical straightforwardness, a combination of truthfulness and transparency where you deal with issues openly.
At Hugo, we call this absolute honesty.
In daily practice, we’ve found there are two other requirements to being an idea meritocracy. One is thoughtful disagreements. When you have thoughtful disagreements, it means there are reasonable back-and-forths in which people evolve their thinking to come up with better decisions than they could have come up with individually. It’s also important to have disagreement protocols to help people get past disagreements.
One example of disagreement protocols is to use a weighted vote, where the person ultimately responsible for the work or decision gets 3x the weight, and those affected by the decision have 2x, and all others have 1x. Another is to involve an external arbitrator. This could be someone from another team who comes in when there is disagreement on the best decision, listens to the data, and makes a final decision.
Our experience shows that disagreement in meetings is often not thoughtful disagreement. That disagreement is rarely resolved effectively, and is typically decided by the most senior person in the room. This creates unproductive meetings, but even more important, a culture of conflict and poor decision making.
3. The glue that holds it all together
Simple, consistent meeting practices have the most influence on organizational culture. These fundamental elements include:
Share around an agenda before the meeting so everyone walks in aligned and prepared. Even more important, make it collaborative to add, edit, and comment. This way all attendees can weigh in on the talking points and make sure their perspectives are covered, plus share information that might not need to take up valuable meeting time.
Turning decisions into action
If decisions are the output of your 10X Meetings, don’t forget to take note of the decisions, how they were made, and why. This is super helpful for future times when you and your team need to refer back to decisions and reasons, and ensure progress is moving forward. We turn our decisions into tickets, tasks, and issues in our apps, but you can also note decisions in colored Post-it Notes, for example.
Transparency following the meeting
Your meetings shouldn’t just be valuable to the attendees in the room. If they’re the epicenter of discussion, debate, and decision-making, make meetings available to everyone in the business. Share meeting notes widely through a tool like Confluence so the rest of the organization is on the same page.
From 1X to 10X
Making the shift towards 10X Meetings is mainly about shifting the potential of meetings. Meetings are opportunities; they’re an untapped force for defining culture, alignment, and the way your team works together.
If you’re interested in learning more about 10X Meetings and other secrets from innovative, fast-moving teams, you can download a free copy of our latest book, 10X Culture.
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