3 Principles for Designing a Meeting Architecture that Works

One of the most common challenges that leaders face is designing a meeting architecture. A meeting architecture is the overall cadence of who meets when and why. Many arise by accident rather than through intention. However, leaders who explicitly design them are better able to stay connected to their team, drive forward high priority work, and be visible within the organization - without getting stuck in meetings from dawn until dark.

Sadly, there's no one-size-fits-all perfect solution. The best meeting architecture reflects the values and culture of an organization, the nature of the work to be done and the maturity of the team. There are, however, some guiding principles that we use at Stop Meeting Like This to advise clients on the best design for their situation.

Guiding Principle 1: Beware the lure of the 1:1s

Reviews on the value of 1:1 meetings are mixed. While some notable leaders such as Intel's
espouse their benefits, many other leaders give them mixed reviews. What is undoubtedly true is that a regular cadence of 1:1s can pack your calendar and if they aren't well-managed, create very little value for the organization. We suggest these alternatives:
  1. Hold weekly office hours where your team is encouraged to drop by with a question, an update, or just to chat. Be in your office with an open door during that time so that you convey availability. Send a recurring calendar invitation to your team so they remember to take advantage of the time. If your team isn't co-located, log in to a collaboration platform such as WebEx so that they can drop into your virtual room.
  2. Use the situational leadership framework to segment your team members. Schedule 1:1s only with the team members that need more guidance or coaching or who are running large, complex projects. Use office hours or less frequent check-ins to catch the other members of the team.
  3. Build relationship and rapport with your team members by taking them to lunch or out for happy hour after work where you will have a chance to connect more informally. Or, follow in the footsteps of some of history's great thinkers, and take a walk.

Guiding Principle 2: Set a high bar for staff meetings

Staff meetings are legendary for devolving into a series of 1:1 updates between the leader and each member of the team while everyone else multitasks. In fact, one of our clients recently said about his staff meetings "They're my meetings and I dread them. They are the worst part of the week." Avoid the common pitfall of staff meetings by collecting updates in a shared online document (which also serves as the team's memory). Spend staff meeting time problem-solving emerging issues, communicating important updates to the team and thinking strategically together. Designate a note-taker who is charged with capturing key decisions, conclusions, and next steps and disseminating them to the team. If you block off the ½ hour prior to your weekly staff meeting, you can use it to review the updates and surface the key items you'll want to discuss.

Guiding Principle 3: Don't go unless you know

For all the standing meetings that are part of your meeting architecture, make sure you're absolutely clear on the purpose of each one and then design the structure to support the purpose. For example, if you're in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment or a fast-moving project, you may want to consider a daily stand-up meeting to quickly share information with one another and make sure you're aligned on the day's tasks. On the other hand, reviewing weekly KPIs and dashboard lends itself to a more traditional meeting structure. The pace of your work has everything to do with the best meeting architecture for the team. Think about the key conversations that need to happen to move the work forward. Think daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. Then design. And like any good design, your meeting architecture should have only what's needed - no more and no less.

And finally, we say go slow and experiment. Start with a bare minimum and build up from there. Recurring meetings are a little like zombies - hard to kill once they're up and running! So start small and assess the value after a month or two.