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How to Hold Successful Meetings at Work
Increasing workplace productivity & wellbeing, 6 funding rounds, optimise Time to Value in products, trust in remote workforces, opening a Greek office to scale, jobs and more
👋 Happy Friday! Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #33. I’m Alex, a product guy turned VC, and every two weeks I send out a newsletter with everything you need to know about the Greek startup industry.
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🎙️ How to increase workplace productivity and wellbeing by holding successful meetings with Caterina Kostoula, Executive Coach and Founder of The Leaderpath and best-selling author of Hold Successful Meetings
Just because you're at work doesn't mean you're getting work done. The average employee attends 62 meetings per month, with half of the meetings being a complete waste of time. There has to be a better way to navigate the meeting maze.
This week I’m really excited to have Caterina Kostoula, Executive Coach and Founder of The Leaderpath and best-selling author of Hold Successful Meetings, on Hunting Greek Unicorns to discuss holding successful meetings. Caterina has been working with tech companies and startups in the likes of Amazon, Expedia, Google and Workable to help them develop their leaders and strengthen their teams.
Billions are wasted per year with the average employee spending 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. You can easily understand the toll in the productivity and wellbeing that meetings have on the employees. So how can we change this? With Caterina we discussed:
what makes a good meeting at work
what’s the impact of bad meetings on the productivity and wellbeing of employees
how can teams make meetings more inclusive and increase psychological safety
what are the unique opportunities and challenges of remote meetings
Let’s get to it!
Meetings are one of the most often reported reasons for lower productivity in teams. What makes a good meeting at work? Are there any principles that a good meeting should follow?
A good meeting should advance the work, not interrupt it. A successful meeting is a great tool to bring people together to inspire each other, solve problems and make a difference. Unfortunately, most meetings achieve the opposite. Here are some principles good meetings follow:
Have a clear desired outcome and purpose.
Leverage the brainpower of all the participants. They tackle the topics that are of interest to all.
Have an environment of inclusion and psychological safety so that people can participate and contribute freely.
Have optimized processes (preparation, beginning, ending, etc.) to ensure success on the desired outcome.
Have the right attendees and no more.
You know when you have had a great meeting as you leave feeling energized.
What’s the impact of bad meetings on the productivity and wellbeing of employees? Do too many meetings have the same effect too?
The impact of bad meetings on the productivity and wellbeing of employees can be devastating.
Job Satisfaction. Studies show that bad meetings can make everyone feel less engaged and less happy with their jobs, even if they like their work, boss and colleagues.
Attrition. Bad meetings may lead to higher attrition in your team. In addition, if you hold bad meetings, your reputation and potentially your career prospects will suffer. Professor Steven Rogelberg, who has researched meetings extensively, argues: ‘There is perhaps no other work activity that is just so common, and yet so complained about.’ This means that the attendees of your meetings will not keep it to themselves if they are unhappy; they will complain about it.
Burnout. The more meetings we have during our day, the more tired we feel by the end of it. Back-to-back meetings are even more exhausting. Professor Gloria Mark, from the University of California, found that it takes us around twenty-three minutes to get back to a task after an interruption; we need this much time to successfully switch context and focus. Having back-to-back meetings makes us less effective and more tired.
When we have too many ineffective meetings, we accomplish less during the day, and we may feel an obligation to work in the evening. This lack of recharging time can eventually lead to burnout.
Loss of productivity. While they are in meetings, salespeople do not pitch to clients. Software engineers do not write code. Doctors don’t see patients. We need to make sure our meetings are worth the cost of our attendees’ time. It is not only the time people spend in meetings that has an opportunity cost. Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, argued that makers operate in half-day intervals.
If you are a programmer or a writer and you have only an hour until your next meeting, you probably won’t start working on your code or manuscript. This time is barely enough; it takes an hour to really get started. So, let’s say you are a coder and you have a meeting scheduled at 10.30 a.m. There’s not enough time to start working on a difficult coding problem before your meeting, and you probably won’t get started after the meeting as there is not enough time before lunch. When you are a maker, and you have a half-hour meeting in your morning, you do not just lose the productivity of this half-hour. You are likely to lose half a day’s productivity.
Bad meeting recovery syndrome. Psychologists have found that the effects of a bad meeting can linger for hours ‒ a phenomenon called ‘meeting recovery syndrome’. After a lousy meeting, it is common for people to browse the internet to recover, go for a coffee, or go and interrupt a colleague to tell them about the meeting.
How do you decide when a meeting is worth having or if it could be avoided?
I have developed the 4D Meeting Framework™ to answer that question. A meeting is worth having when it is pursuing a 4D outcome on an important topic. What are the 4D outcomes, you say? I am glad you asked. The 4Ds are four key outcomes you can pursue in your meeting and are also steps in any problem-solving process. They all conveniently start with a D:
Define a goal or a problem
Decide the way forward
Do! Execute, plan and inspire for action
You can pursue only one 4D outcome in your meeting or if you want to pursue more than one, do it in distinct sections to avoid chaos. This way you align the participants to work towards the same outcome at the same time and you also separate divergent and convergent thinking.
Not so good reasons to have a meeting are:
Information transfer and status updates. Unless the update is expected to have an emotional effect, it can be better done asynchronously.
Convenience for the leader. Many meetings happen because they save time for the leader. She does not have to write long emails to update her employees, nor she has to check-in individually to learn what is happening in the organization. These meetings improve the productivity of the leader, but have an overall negative impact on the productivity of the whole team.
Networking. If team cohesion is your goal, a social activity will have a better impact on the team’s relationships than a meeting, especially if it is a boring status update meeting.
How can teams make meetings more inclusive and increase psychological safety for members? What are the long-term team benefits for doing so?
I first learned about the concept of psychological safety while I was working at Google. Their people analytics department wanted to figure out what makes a great team. They studied 180 successful and unsuccessful teams over several years. Initially, they could not crack the code. They could not put their finger on what was the common thread across successful teams. Tenure, seniority, extraversion or individual performance did not matter. Consensus decision making, workload, or being located at the same office did not matter either.
It was only when they stumbled on Professor Amy Edmondson’s research on psychological safety that they figured it out. Psychological safety was the most important attribute that separated effective teams from the ineffective. It made by far the biggest difference in team performance compared to any other attribute they studied.
What does this mean for your meetings? You can have the perfect agenda and a very competent team, but unless there is psychological safety in the group, your meetings will not be successful. It is that important.
Psychological safety is the ability to take interpersonal risk in a group. Here are few ways that you can foster psychological safety as a leader:
Verbally reward people for speaking up - even when you don’t agree or it delays decision-making.
Model honesty and vulnerability yourself.
Create a structure for speaking up in your meetings - no endless slides please, leave time for questions and discussion.
Measure your current psychological safety. Simply ask your team to rate the psychological safety in your meetings from 1 to 10.
While psychological safety is your ability to share the hard stuff in the meeting, including mistakes, dissenting views and unbaked ideas, inclusion is about having an equal chance to participate and be heard.
When MIT researchers studied the collective intelligence of groups, they found no correlation with the intelligence of the individuals in the group. But the collective intelligence, and therefore their ability to perform, was influenced by how equally the members participated in the discussion, and by the proportion of women in the group.
Here are a few ways to increase the inclusion in your meetings:
Invite people to contribute. Simple but often overlooked strategy to create inclusion.
Signal when inclusion norms are broken. We can all unconsciously behave in a non-inclusive way in a meeting. Find an easy mechanism for people to let you now. Some companies use safe words, raise flags or red post-its, ring bells and more. Be creative!
Amplify opinions from groups that tend to be ignored. You can simply repeat the contribution of minority groups and give them the credit.
Interrupt interruptions. Interruptions are not equally distributed. Women and minorities are interrupted a lot more.
Use breakouts to make your meetings introvert-friendly
With the rise of remote work, do the same principles exist when it comes to holding successful meetings?
All the above principles apply to virtual meetings. Purpose, People and Process are your pillars for a successful meeting whether it is in-person or virtual.
Remote meetings have their own unique opportunities and unique challenges. They can be equally effective as in-person meetings if you take care of the tech and the process appropriately. Here are some tips:
Shorter focused meetings and frequent breaks as virtual meetings are more tiring than in-person ones.
Facilitate relationship-building as you are missing the informal bunter that happens in the room before the meeting starts and after it finishes.
Be clear on ground rules. Camera on or off? Mute or no mute? How do you use the chat?
Provide more structure and ways to participate. Given the sound delays, turn-taking is more difficult in virtual meetings, and interruptions are more frequent. You might need to have a lot more structure than you would in an in-person meeting to make sure everyone is heard.
Share the facilitation responsibilities. Given the increased complexity of facilitation, from admitting people from a waiting room to monitoring the chat, it is usually a good idea to get other people to help you with the facilitation of a virtual meeting.
Bad meetings make us feel lonely and powerless. Thankfully, good meetings have the opposite effect, they fill us with a sense of strength and belonging. Let’s stop settling for bad meetings. Let’s bring people together to achieve a worthy common purpose. That’s how we improve the world.
If you want to learn more about holding successful meetings and increasing productivity and wellbeing at work, you can reach out to Caterina on Twitter or get her free Leadership Toolkit here. Also, for the readers of Hunting Greek Unicorns, there’s a £100 discount on the Hold Successful Meetings Online course, simply type unicorns at the checkout to deep dive on what makes a good meeting at work and what are the different checkboxes a good meeting should tick.
🦄 Startup Jobs
👉 The Greek startup industry is heating up! If you’re still watching from the sidelines, start your job search here. A list with 876 handpicked opportunities waiting for you to apply. Company data is also available.
Schoox raised an investment from one of the largest private equity firms globally, Vista Equity Partners, a fund with more than $75b in assets under management.
FlexCar announced a €50m round, backed by the investors of Glovo and Cabify, and a plan to grow its team to over 300 employees by the end of 2022.
Nodes & Links raised a $11m Series A to deliver millions in cost savings on infrastructure projects. The team is building a scheduling platform for large-scale infrastructure projects.
Thymia, a startup developing video games to monitor depression based on neuropsychology, facial expressions and speech, raised a $1.1m pre-seed round.
Cyclopt, a spin-off company of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in the area of software quality as-a-service, raised funding from TECS Capital Fund.
Mindset Health, a digital hypnotherapy startup has secured $5m in funding. Its pilot product Nerva focuses on irritable bowel syndrome, and launched into the market in mid-2019.
Applications are open for the 24-week incubation program of Orange Grove until the 12th of September.
Endeavor Greece launched the third batch of its ScaleUp Program with the following teams: Advantis, Anodyne, Arrikto, Better Origin, Billfront, Causaly, Classter, DCI, Green Panda, Instacar, Manual, Numan, Prosperty, Sync, TileDB, Vimachem, and Voda.ai.
The winners of MITEF Greece Startup Competition 2021 were announced: Apeikon, Magos, Agro-U, Thruwind, Marefind.
Grape was one of the winners of an online hackathon with 13,000 participants and 350 teams submitting projects spanning DeFi, NFTs, Web3 and beyond, which had to incorporate Solana blockchain into their project.
Meta Materials, founded by George Palikaras and Themos Kallos, was listed on the NASDAQ exchange (NASDAQ:MMAT).
🤓 Interesting Reads
Great product teams become obsessed with helping users realise the value of their product early on in the customer journey and without friction. There's a chasm between users reaching a landing page and realising value from a product, yet they manage to cross it and in short time. A deep dive I wrote on how to cross this chasm by optimising Time to Value.
Trust: one of the elements that make or break a team. An often-reported reason for employee dissatisfaction vs. high-flying teams. And in a remote work world, it's taking even more of a centre stage. A post by Sanne Goslinga, Director of Talent at Marathon Venture Capital.
Tom Smith, founder & CEO of GWI, a UK market research startup, highlighting how opening their office in Athens three years ago (now a team of 30+) helped the company to scale. A powerful message for startups thinking about building a team in Greece.
George Stefanis, Software Developer previously with Transferwise and Disney, on what is a senior developer and a guide for aspiring developers and hiring managers here.
Some more details on the application process and eligibility requirements relevant to the tax incentives for attracting foreign professionals to Greece by EY.
An interview with Yannis Alivizatos, COO at Skroutz, on Skroutz Plus and the growth of the company.
Panos Moutafis, co-founder & CEO of Zenus, on edge computing and how to protect customer data here.
Konstantinos Karvounakis, Investment Associate at Metavallon VC, wrote a post discussing the different pricing models in the B2B world.
An interesting podcast with Demetri Kofinas, host of the Hidden Forces podcast, discussing crypto ethics, the casino-fication of markets, financial nihilism, thoughts on the current financial environment and much more.
Panos Siozos, CEO & co-founder of LearnWorlds, on building and monetising online courses and the effect of COVID-19 on the educational landscape, here.
Thanks for reading and see you in two weeks,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋