Do you hate meetings? Are you frustrated by how much time they seem to waste? If so, then this is one of the most important episodes you’ll listen to this year. We’re about to fix your meetings for you. Or rather, Hiba Amin is. She’s the Sr. Marketing Manager at Soapbox. Soapbox is an “app built for managers,” designed to “streamline objectives, meetings, and morale into one workflow that gets you results.”
Meetings are hard to get right, but so essential to making the most of your day to day, because they’re necessary. Hiba shares concrete steps you can take to transform the nature of your meetings moving forward. Take the steps she suggests, and you’ll master your meetings, ending frustration, saving time, and getting critical time back every week.
Hiba’s meeting philosophy is pretty straightforward.
“If there’s no point or goal to the meeting, don’t have it!”
Hiba doesn’t have more than 4 internal meetings per week, because she doesn’t need more. That number can vary by company or team size, of course, but the point here is to be lean with your meeting planning.
“If it’s a status update, add it in Slack. Add it in email. Or just add an item to your agenda and tackle it asynchronously. But don’t have a meeting for the sake of having a meeting.”
Hiba notes there are four types of internal meetings to address here.
Crafting a meeting worth having means matching the activity of the meeting to the meeting type.
“For one-on-ones, the whole point is for managers and employees to continuously exchange feedback, to talk about their growth, to find different levers to engage their team, to talk about blockers, to use it as a coaching session.”
She says you can really accomplish a great deal in a one-on-one.
“The baseline is just to build trust, to exchange feedback, and continue to build so much rapport that the feedback exchange becomes easy and natural, which I think is really important between managers and employees.”
Next, Hiba addresses team meetings.
“Team meetings are to keep your team in sync. Let’s talk about the blockers, but I also want to make sure you’re not just waiting until a team meeting to talk about a blocker, either.”
A blocker is anything that keeps someone from achieving a goal or completing a project.
“Don’t wait two weeks, if that’s the [meeting] cadence, to say: I’m actually stuck on this one project. You could have solved that two weeks ago. The team meetings just really keep the team in sync.
Talk about goals. Make sure you’re aligned. Make sure that you know you have all the steps in place to be able to hit your goals and not wait until the end of the quarter to say: oh crap. Didn’t hit that goal. Don’t do a retrospective of the past three months. Do the retro for two weeks. Fix your problems.“
What about company-wide meetings?
“At least at Soapbox, they’re really short. We have a 15-minute company-wide meeting every Monday. That’s ultimately walking through our goals, giving everyone visibility into things like our MRR, weekly sign-ups, all those things that are the core metrics we measure and track. We do this every week because it gives us 52 chances to correct the ship.
If we release a payment modal and our sign-up numbers from free-to-paid go down, we know so we can revert that change and not wait 3 weeks to say: holy crap, we lost 20 potential customers as a result of this change. We can do that immediately in the following week.”
Finally, one-off meetings.
“Things are going to happen. You’re going to have to meet about making specific decisions. Maybe you want to launch a campaign and you need to have all the stakeholders in there. I think the important thing there is, again, what’s your goal? What do you want to accomplish?
Go in with an agenda, give everyone access to that agenda. Then they can just come in prepared to talk about all the items that matter. And that will help you not stray off.”
She even suggests appointing someone to keep each meeting on track, a role she calls the Accountability Officer.
“Someone to say: hey ya’ll. Let’s get back to the meat of the conversation. This is straying really far off.
This prevents the types of meetings we all hate, the ones where everyone spends 20 minutes talking about nothing.”
So how much time should you spend planning and preparing for meetings?
“I think I’m biased because I’m at Soapbox. But I think having a template to work off of really helps with the pre-work.”
Part of Hiba’s job is building an agenda templates library to make sure that her company and its customers have the tools it needs to handle meeting prep in an efficient fashion.
“To have something to start off. To be able to see: these are the things great teams cover in a project kickoff meeting. Let’s alter it to fit our teams the best.”
Putting it together in advance, and giving everyone access to the agenda, really enables people to potentially make some decisions asynchronously, just by adding comments to things you want to touch.
“I think the prep should fall under the person who ultimately owns the meeting, but at the same time making that agenda collaborative and accessible really helps specific people say: hey, I’ve got all I need from this. Just send me the notes for whatever you decide. I don’t need to be part of this.”
That allows someone on the team to save maybe a half-hour, or an hour, or whatever the meeting length is, but there are other benefits.
“You can tackle things asynchronously together. That way, when you meet, what would have been a 30-minute meeting, maybe half that agenda you don’t need to talk about anymore. It’s resolved. At the heart of all of this is collaboration. And not feeling like you have to meet for the allotted time.”
At Soapbox, many meetings never go over the allotted time.
“We all end up getting that sweet ten minutes back, which is incredible.”
Garrett asked Hiba what she generally does with her sweet ten minutes.
“Typically, grab a coffee, collect my thoughts. Get a 5-minute task done.”
She says the return of that ten minutes really started keeping her productive.
“There are so many little tasks you commit to that are maybe worth five or ten minutes of time commitment. And you just fire them off. By the end of the week, you’re like: I have so much done.” That’s a really cool feeling. It’s almost Inbox Zero. (Almost).”
Hiba stresses that meetings start to go wrong when they do not have an agenda. Even for one-on-one meetings.
“You want to be friends with your co-workers and have great relationships, so it’s really easy to take what someone is saying and then turn it into a side conversation.
That just continues to grow with everyone. But you have time to do that. You can set up a coffee chat or whatever, just to get to know people better, build those relationships, and maintain them.”
But when you’re meeting for a specific purpose, a meeting agenda really helps.
“It holds people accountable within those meetings.”
She points out it’s a profitability issue as well.
“We have 5 people here? That’s a really expensive use of company time. That’s a lot of people’s salary, especially for senior leaders. Let’s make sure we’re using this time wisely, and be as productive as we can.
We have a lot to get done, especially in the start-up world, even in the agency world. Let’s make sure we’re using each other’s time well.”
Hiba says it’s easy to stray off-topic, but having the agenda front and center just continues to remind you: “Oh, crap, we have three more items to get through. Let’s just get this done.”
Agency owners and consultants, of course, have to have a great many external meetings too, so Garrett asked what some of the most effective tools were for organizing an agency-client meeting.
Hiba stresses that clients care most about how the agency is doing with the goals they’ve set.
Speaking as a client herself:
“If we’re not doing great, I’d love an explanation. If we’re doing great, also an explanation. I want to know what’s going well because I think that information is equally valuable.
I want to know what we have planned and what’s coming up. Are there any blockers we should address? Because if something goes haywire, which things will, I just want to know. That will help me figure out my timelines on my end.”
She also encourages agencies to use these meetings as a time to ask for feedback and to provide it.
“You know, you came up with this idea and given the way we work, here’s what we feel is the best way for us to get the information we need to be successful for you.”
She again stresses that you should send some of these questions in advance, because the “asynchronous method” of working on meetings can work for clients, too.
Meeting follow-up is really key if you want your meetings to translate into concrete action.
“I send people notes. Within those notes, I break them up into what the item was, what was the decision or resolution that we had, and basically write the summary of the conversation.”
This method ensures that the entire team remains on the same page.
“If there’s any communication, handle it right at the moment, vs. two weeks later. To have that documented keeps all parties accountable.
If the client is like hey, (a month later), we didn’t talk about this, it’s like: we did. Here are the notes. Here’s the thought process we both had. Then the next steps. What each person is committing to doing by the next time we meet, or by a certain date.”
Hiba also stresses that this follow-up should be accessible to everyone.
“Does every stakeholder have access to the notes, regardless of whether they were in the meeting or not? That’s incredibly important.”
Garrett notes that agencies, at least, always want to iterate on processes and improve them. He asks how often they should be trying to iterate on meeting structure.
“After every meeting.”
Soapbox has a tool for instant meeting feedback.
“Was this a useful way to use your time? Everyone can anonymously answer: yes, no, or kind of.
Being able to get that feedback every single week lets us start to see: we were doing really well. We were running these meetings really efficiently. Something went wrong between January and February.
So let’s address that with the team. What can we do better? I think that keeps whoever owns that meeting accountable to either scrap the meeting altogether because there’s no longer a purpose for it or to fix it.”
Hiba began the project of creating meeting management templates during her first week at the company.
“We’ve been slowly building it ever since.”
These templates serve several purposes. For one thing, they help her snag high-intent search keywords for her audience because these are people looking to address a problem.
“Maybe they’re a first-time manager and they have no clue what they’re doing. They want some inspiration. Here’s a great template to get you started. Maybe you’re running really ineffective meetings. Something needs to change. Here’s a really great template to get you started.”
“We’re able to capture a lot of different keywords within the template library, we’re adding value within the product, but we’re also capturing really high-search intent users. These people are really great at coming in. They convert at a high rate from visitors on the website, to free users, to paid users.”
Need some guides or templates to get you started? Hiba’s got some excellent resources for you to tap into:
Hiba would like to draw our listener’s attention to animal shelters.
“My dog is a rescue. I’ve fostered dogs in the past. It’s been really tough, specifically in Canada, for dogs to be rescued during the pandemic because a lot of the borders have been closed. I’m seeing a lot of them pop up.
We brought 2000 dogs from the Caribbean. We’re bringing in all these animals that have no homes. The foster piece of the pie there is really important because it alleviates a lot of the resources for these people. Foster a dog before you commit.”
Hiba is very worried about a lot of the dogs adopted during the pandemic.
“I’m bored, I’m home all the time. What happens a year from now? People realize dog ownership is a lot of work. Which it is. It’s not a baby by any means, but it’s just as dependent on you and it stays dependent on you for 13-to-17 years. If you have the means, just go and foster a dog. Give it a test run until they find the right home.
Reach out to a local shelter and see how you can be of assistance. Alleviate stress and prevent future dog owners from making a bad decision and sending an adopted dog back into the foster system.”