Silent Meetings

Since remote working became default, we've all been trying different ways of working – from those adopting Slack or Teams for the first time, to doing one-on-ones over Zoom.

There's never been a better excuse to try radical changes to team collaboration.

The weekly kickoff

Every Monday morning we start the week with a kickoff.

We have a Notion doc that everyone has access to, with a clear agenda and structure.

The person who owns each “department” of the business outlines how they're doing against their objective for the quarter, and their action plan for the week to get closer to achieving it.

We used to do these kickoffs in person in our office. And then one of the team moved to Scotland (who can blame them!), so we started do do our kickoffs with one person on a video call and the rest of us in the office.

And then 2020 hit and we were forced to all join our Scottish colleague and communicate via Zoom in these Monday morning meetings.

Lack of engagement and no lack of chaos

We started to notice a few trends in these meetings:

  • Some people would speak for more than they needed, while others would speak less.
  • We saved questions to the end and found many of the team would not have the opportunity to ask what they needed.
  • Regardless of Zoom it was often hard to digest numbers and explanations on the spot when spoken aloud.

Most of all, we started to question the very purpose of these meetings – what's the point of us all getting together at the same time on a call if we aren't going to interact? If we are just going to speak at each other?

Meetings are expensive.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of life has not discovered the value of life.” – Charles Darwin

Take an hour for the meeting (assuming it starts on time and finishes on time), plus the hour before to prepare, plus the 30 mins after to fully get back into your flow, multiplied by the number of people in the meeting.

Add all this up and you quickly realise you're taking 15+ hours of the team’s time.

Every member of the team is incredibly skilled, ambitious, and driven. One resource that is impossible to replace is their time – once it’s spent they’re not getting it back. So I try to be extremely cautious of any time we take from anyone on the team. In that time, does every member of the team feel like it was valuable to help them grow, perform better, and achieve their goals? Or do they feel like that meeting just robbed them of an hour of their life?

15 hours is a lot of collective team time, and when you also consider that everyone is being paid to be there, a lot of money being spent too.

Efficient, well run meetings not only matter morally but they make financial sense too for any business.

Embrace the silence

The problems with these kickoff meetings were bothering us.

There is no silver bullet to a well-run meeting, but there was a concept I wanted to try: the silent meeting.

I had previously stumbled upon the idea from small upstarts like Amazon, and as we went into lockdown, I started reading more about other companies trying the “silent meeting” format out.

So we changed up the format and now our meetings follow a very different format.

The silent meeting format focuses on a single shared written document, and gathering attendees to read the document in silence, before then discussing and questioning its content.

Our silent meeting format

Everyone is expected to prepare their notes for the meeting in advance – each team member has their own section, and must complete a short and snappy summary ahead of the meeting start time.

When we start the meeting, the meeting owner gives a quick intro, and then communicates to everyone that we’ll read the shared Notion doc.

Everyone mutes their mics, and optionally switches their cameras off. When you have read and consumed everything, switch on your camera. The meeting owner will also give a heads up when it’s time to get back into discussion mode – usually no more than 20 minutes is required for reading and digesting everything for a single meeting.

This frees up the rest of the meeting for discussion and helpful debate. Rather than presenting and pitching, people can confirm details, contribute ideas, and genuinely benefit from everyone being on the same call at the same time.

The first time we ran this process it felt extremely weird, but as we have employed this format for several weeks now, the format is spreading to other meetings across the team.

Using Notion and want to try this out? Grab our Notion “Weekly Kickoff” template here!

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