Best practices for productive meetings at your startup
Ever had one of those days where you do nothing but hop into one meeting after another? Even worse is the 30-minute break between meetings which seems like enough time to squeeze in some work — but is an illusion.
Meetings are necessary, as they can speed up collaboration and build team rapport — especially in a remote work setting where giving people different ways to communicate is better for diversity.
But there are severe drawbacks when meeting culture takes over. Not only do meetings disrupt flow, but they also allow unprepared attendees to "think on your time" instead of arriving prepared to share concrete ideas. The numbers support this, too:
Poorly organized meetings cost U.S. businesses $399 billion a year. (Doodle State of Meetings Report, 2019)
Let me share with you how PostHog does meetings. We’re constantly improving our process and would love to hear how your team tackles meetings.
Meeting-free days allow more deep work to get done. At PostHog, we've mandated Tuesdays and Thursdays as meeting-free days, which has had a significant impact on our team’s productivity. Mondays are reserved for company updates and Wednesdays for team updates. Every 2nd Friday, we do a retrospective planning session with life stories in between. We also use meetings for SuperDays, one-to-one coffee breaks (one every two weeks), or optional group socials (once per week).
"Meeting-free Tuesdays & Thursdays have increased the number of high-value tasks I get done than I did previously. If I were starting another company, I'd do exactly what we're doing here." — Charles Cook, Head of Business Ops @ PostHog
Our meeting-free days create a natural cadence for the week, with everyone knowing they will alternate between ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ days with plenty of time in between to get good work done. In practice, while Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are meeting days, only a few people will use up that time for important work, such as James, Yakko, and Paolo speaking to clients; or Eltje, our People Ops & Talent Manager, speaking to candidates.
"I think PostHog’s meeting policy is a good setup and that we have the right balance with an extra day towards meetings." — Kunal Pathak, Growth Engineer @ PostHog
At PostHog, we do an average of 30 minutes for internal meetings and slightly longer for interviews so that candidates have fewer meetings overall. By design, shorter meetings force you to align your thoughts before you get on the call, ensuring that you make the most of your allocated time.
For anything longer than a 30-minute call, write your points down in advance so that the other attendees can respond in detail. Not only does this asynchronous approach improve everyone's workflow, but it also leaves a paper trail that all parties can reference as needed. At PostHog, we have a culture of writing things down — but this is because we prefer GitHub and Slack for communications, both of which lend themselves better to the written word. We also maintain an extensive, publicly accessible company handbook as part of our open-source DNA.
A lot of our discussions take place on GitHub to account for the team’s different time zones. This allows for more carefully thought out — rather than quickly spoken — ideas.
You've probably been in meetings where you wondered why you’re there. Due to our rapid growth — a team of 20 in a year — we unintentionally landed up in this area. This is one of the reasons James introduced Small Teams, to help everyone focus and feel like a small team again.
If your meetings are turning into a crowd of listeners, set some hard rules on the number of attendees and if you want to dig deeper, think about who is accountable for the work being discussed and only invite them. Time spent 'showing face' could be better spent on more productive tasks.
Regularly ask your team if their meeting process is working and whether they need support with their workload. While meetings might be the primary way managers get work done, Makers need more time and space to focus on their work and are not as productive in meetings.
It's essential to strike the right balance between moments of team communication vs. optimizing for individual productivity. At PostHog, a lot of feedback went into changing our work model to move to Small Teams with more focused meetings, and you can view the rest of our company policies in our handbook.
Building a positive and productive meeting culture must be modeled from the top. While many companies have different policies around meetings, things on the ground might be different. For example, a company could declare Tuesdays as meeting-free days and still have a manager set up a meeting during that protected time because their calendars are full. This erodes trust in the system and fosters resentment.
Part of our magic here at PostHog is that we practice what we preach. James and Tim, PostHog’s co-founders, publicly model a low internal meeting culture. This sets the tone for the rest of the company and leads to high trust in management. It also assures everyone that they’ll always have plenty of non-meeting time to get work done.
Your company’s needs may be different, but there are key foundations you can build your meeting policy on. Firstly, respect people’s time. If you can shorten meetings either through scheduling or by ending them early, do so. We have a hard stop on meetings!
Secondly, optimize for productivity, not presence. Instead of having people come to the meeting to discuss line items on the agenda, have them mull over those items beforehand to arrive prepared. At PostHog, we present our key metrics every Monday to the company, with goals front and center and no vanity metrics celebrated.
Thirdly, it starts from the top. Your company’s leadership has to set and stick to the rules around meetings at all times. This builds trust and ensures accountability. Lastly, feel free to iterate your meeting policy. Play around with different approaches to meetings to see what works, and poll your team regularly for feedback. It goes a long way toward building a more inclusive culture.