I often feel that there’s tremendous preventable inefficiency in meetings, so on the heels of Fred Wilson’s “How To Get Your Emails Read” post, here’s some of my quick advice on how to run an efficient meeting. This is somewhat project management-oriented.
The very first and sometimes non-obvious question to ask is whether you really need to have a meeting. Meetings chew up a lot of time and you better be certain that you need to tie up all those productive resources for an hour. Just think about the salaries involved: a fully loaded software engineer conservatively costs a company $200-$250K in San Francisco (fully loaded is with all benefits, taxes, rent, etc. allocated). That’s a minimum hourly rate of around $100 and that doesn’t even include the opportunity cost of them doing something else during that time. Now imagine the cost of more senior staff. It gets expensive fast.
Step two is to ask yourself if you really need all the people you’re considering inviting. Sometimes you can get away with a more junior person who knows the subject matter just as well, yet sometimes you just need that one senior person and you can ask the others to continue being productive by not attending. I’m ok with managers making judgement calls to bring one of their staff members with them to meetings as a silent observer for the purposes of training, but if that doesn’t lead to the manager soon relying on that person to attend in his/her place, it’s a waste of time. The goal here also is to have fewer, but the right voices in place so that a consensus/decision is reached more quickly. Conversely, the question sometimes is whether you have the right people in place to make decisions. If you don’t, forget the junior people and don’t bother having the meeting. You will have wasted everyone’s time.