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  • Writer's pictureJeff Sironi (Staff Contributor)

Starling's Guide to Better Meetings is Here

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Whether you're dealing with too many meetings, poorly run meetings, or both, Starling's Guide to Better Meetings can help.

Photo of a desk with a coffee mug and a laptop screen showing an online meeting

“The best meeting is a canceled meeting.” This was a common refrain of mine throughout the pandemic years. My calendar was out of control. According to a Google widget, I was spending more than 20 hours per week in meetings. Many weeks, I hit 30 hours. Compounding the issue was the fact that many of the meetings I attended (including the ones I facilitated) were poorly run. I frequently ended the day exhausted while also feeling like I hadn’t really gotten anything done. Sound familiar? This narrative is not unique to me; it mirrors the prevalent meeting culture in many workplaces.



Unsurprisingly, I burned out from that job. My calendar wasn't the only reason, but it was definitely one of the most significant. The overemphasis on meetings is a widespread issue that forces many of us to do the work that we’re actually paid to do in the evenings and on weekends. It’s unhealthy and unsustainable.


To be sure, meetings have their place. Well-run meetings can be great tools for collaboration, relationship-building, problem-solving, and brainstorming. But our business culture has taken this to an extreme – now, it’s common for any interaction amongst colleagues to quickly move to, “Let’s jump on a Zoom / into a conference room.” The notion of spending extensive hours in meetings has somehow become a badge of honor, a supposed testament to our significance in the workspace.


There’s a real cost to all of this, both financial and psychological, including increased stress and burnout, slowed decision-making, ineffective communication, less innovation, and on and on. Oh, and if you are the type of person who cares only for the bottom line and sees meetings as effective means to that end (and of course, you aren’t this type of person if you are reading this but trust us, plenty of executives fit this mold), bad meetings and excessive meetings are two of the top three obstacles to productivity according to Microsoft.


There has to be a better approach to meetings, right? At Starling, we certainly think so. We’re committed to helping develop a new generation of leaders who will create happier and healthier workplaces. And we can’t achieve this vision without addressing the meeting culture challenge.


In September, we pulled the Starling community together to create a comprehensive resource to provide managers in the middle with the training and guidance needed to improve their relationship with meetings. Over the course of the month, we worked together as a community (yes, sometimes in meetings!) to create Starling’s Guide to Better Meetings, which is now available for download.


Change, especially at an organizational level, is often a slow and tedious process. The thought of challenging company leadership can be daunting, and frankly, it's usually outside our job descriptions. So, what can we do? Throw up our arms and jump into the next meeting? That’s not really the Starling way. Instead, we propose working on controlling what we can control, leading from where we are, and making a difference – even if just incrementally. Just consider the fact that new managers schedule 29% more meetings than more experienced folks. Why? Well, on the whole, companies are pretty lousy at training their managers and providing them with the support and guidance they need. That’s where Starling comes in.


Our guide provides a high-level overview of best practices when it comes to meetings, a step-by-step approach to help managers in the middle understand how meetings affect productivity for them and for their team, and potential solutions to productivity challenges.


At Starling, we believe that we have more agency than we think. Our guide is designed to be actionable and simple to implement for managers in a variety of spaces. Your company might not ever get around to fixing your broken meeting culture, but there are steps you can take that we believe will make a difference.


Sound intriguing? Let’s jump into a quick overview of what’s in Starling’s Guide to Better Meetings.


What Meetings Should (and Shouldn’t) Be Used For?

We believe that meetings are best used in scenarios that would benefit from discussion and engagement. For example, use meetings for:

  • Problem-solving

  • Decision-making

  • Strategic implementation and planning

  • Journey mapping or roadmap creation

  • Creative ideation and brainstorming

What you should NOT use meetings for is the one-way delivery of information such as simple status updates. Try Slack for that sort of thing.


Of course, productivity is only part of what we can get out of meetings. Meetings can also be used to build relationships, trust, and a sense of belonging among colleagues. Leverage meetings for:

  • Social gatherings

  • Team retreats

  • One-on-ones

  • Small group rendezvous among direct peers

Just be mindful that these types of meetings tend to clutter calendars quickly, so be thoughtful about how often you schedule them.


Too Many Meetings, Bad Meetings, Or Both?

When the topic of meetings comes up, many of us instinctively roll our eyes and say something to the effect of, “Meetings are the WORST.” But what exactly are we reacting to? Do we have too many meetings on our calendar? Are the meetings we attend a good use of our time? As facilitators, are our meetings a good use of other people’s time?


In our guide, we encourage you to start with a hypothesis about your relationship with meetings to start this process. From there, gather data. We include a variety of data points you might collect, including the perspective of other people, to help validate your hypothesis.


From Hypothesizing to Solutioning

With your data collected, you will have a better understanding of the problem in front of you (hopefully). From here, you have a variety of solutions to consider.


If the problem you’re facing is meeting overload, you have three simple options:

  • Cut – get rid of them

  • Condense – shorten them

  • Consign – delegate them

If your challenge is poorly run meetings, it’s time to evaluate meeting prep and facilitation.


But what if your data collection suggests that you actually have the right amount of well-run meetings – you just don’t like them? Well, in that case, it’s time for some deeper introspection.


All three of these problems can be remedied. We encourage you to experiment with different options depending on your specific situation.


Conclusion

Particularly coming out of the global pandemic, meetings have gotten a bad rap. The good news is that we can do better. Starling’s Guide to Better Meetings is designed to help managers in the middle build a better relationship with meetings for them and for their teams. Our guide has actionable strategies and tips, but we’ve also included some fun detours into things like cognitive biases to be on the lookout for because, well, that’s our vibe.


If you’d like a free copy of our report, just click this link!


And, if you like this sort of collaborative problem-solving approach to making work less terrible, consider joining Starling!


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