Running Efficient Meetings — 7 Secrets from Tech Giants - Senior Executive
Executive Life 6 min

Running Efficient Meetings — 7 Secrets from Tech Giants

As an executive, your calendar is packed with meetings. See seven tips from Amazon, Netflix, Meta and Google to help you make the most of the experience…

by Susana Mendoza on April 4, 2022

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  • Limit meeting participants to key decision makers

  • Build a detailed agenda with time set aside for feedback

  • Honor the end time of your meeting to prioritize efficiency

As a senior executive, you’re likely accustomed to an endless string of meetings. In fact, meetings may even make up the bulk of your day. Senior leaders are stuck in meetings 23 hours a week on average, according to Harvard Business Review. And if you’re a CEO, you can expect to spend 72% of your working hours in meetings.

Meetings can be a great tool to unlock new ideas, find consensus and make tough decisions with the support of key stakeholders. However, gathering your team together without an agenda and clear outcomes wastes everyone’s time. 

To help you run more efficient meetings, we turned to the tech world — a realm where large companies operate with the efficiency and speed of a startup. See seven tips from Amazon, Netflix, Meta and Google to help you run productive meetings. 

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1. Keep Meetings Small With Amazon’s Two Pizza Rule

In its early days, Amazon’s teams were designed to be lean and autonomous — a practice best demonstrated by the e-commerce giant’s “two pizza rule.” Under this mandate, the number of meeting attendees should be small enough to be fed by two pizzas. Founder Jeff Bezos’ reasoning: larger groups are less efficient and face greater communication barriers. “Bezos is very much an advocate for smaller teams focused on a smaller part of a project,” says Steve Anderson, author of “The Bezos Letters.”  

This rule initially also applied to team size at Amazon. However, as the company scaled, this rule adapted. Now, the company follows a single threaded leader model, where projects are given to one team lead. That person focuses solely on the initiative they are assigned to and are not placed on other projects.

To adapt this rule to a larger company, ask: “Who is mission-critical to this meeting?” Limit your invitations to increase productivity. 

2.  Kill PowerPoint Presentations and Save Time 

You won’t see any PowerPoint presentations at Amazon — and that’s for the best. There’s no need to spend hours aligning text boxes and building 40-page decks. Instead, you’ll likely receive a brief, but detailed memo right before the meeting starts. “Bezos thinks that slides and bullet points lead to sloppy thinking. He’s very much a writer. So at Amazon, people prefer memos, no more than six pages,” Anderson explains. When presenting data, memos feature charts, graphs and other attachments. 

3. Start Your Meetings by Reviewing Key Documents 

This may irk many company managers, but at Amazon, material is not shared ahead of meetings. Instead, the company dedicates time at the start of the meeting to review important documents. “A lot of people don’t read the materials before the meeting and won’t be able to participate, so Amazon dedicates 10 minutes of each meeting to go through the documents and memos that are going to be discussed,” Anderson says. That allows all employees to get on the same page, leading to increased engagement. 

Note that not every tech company waits until meetings to share documents. Meta, for example, shares data early and encourages employees to bring data-based discussion points into meetings. However, reviewing materials briefly at the top of your gathering can save your team time. If you can guarantee that everyone has read the notes, there’s no need to rehash points already spelled out in the documents. 

4. Build a Detailed Agenda Before You Meet 

If you’re leading a meeting at Google, expect to build a well-organized agenda to guide your gathering. “The agenda is a tool to force people to think about what they want to get out of the meeting,” says Google’s ex-vice president Marissa Mayer in a chapter of the book “Fire Them Up: 7 Simple Secrets to Inspire Colleagues, Customers, and Clients.”

Here are some tips one Google director shared to help you build your agenda: 

  • Sending a pre-brief of key information 24-48 hours in advance.
  • Call for additional agenda items and follow up with the agenda.
  • Include the allocated amount of time spent on each agenda item.
  • If meetings are longer than an hour, allocate time for a 5-10 minute break.
  • Assign someone to take notes and action items. This will be shared with anyone who is absent.
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5. Set Aside Time for Feedback

Netflix holds candor as one of its core values, as stated in their company’s work culture, which means creating the space for employees to speak their mind. That holds especially true in the company’s meeting. “Put feedback as the first or last item on the agenda, so that it’s set apart from your operational discussions,” writes Reed Hastings in his book “No Rules Rules.” 

In fact, feedback is such an important part of Netflix’s meetings that there are some guidelines as to how to give and receive it. As written in “No Rules Rules, feedback should

  • Aim to assist the receiver. 
  • Be actionable.  
  • Be appreciated by the receiver. 
  • Be kept or discarded. This means execs should take feedback to heart, then consciously choose to make changes or ignore the suggestion.

6. Keep Meetings Decision-oriented 

Former Google CEO Larry Page famously said that decisions should never be put on hold for a meeting. If a meeting must happen before a decision is made, the meeting should occur as soon as possible. Page also designated one decision-maker in every meeting. If there are no decisions to be made, he said, there should be no meeting. 

Attendees too should be limited to those who can aid in the decision making process and actively participate. Those who cannot contribute should not attend. 

7. Never Let Your Meetings Run Over 

Extra questions and meandering discussion can easily push your meetings beyond the allotted end time. However, at Meta, meetings end right on schedule — forcing attendees to use time efficiently. For Altimese Nichole, a social media agency owner who works closely with Meta, this is one of the things that stands out most during meetings. 

“They honor time. If your meeting is slated to end at 4:30, believe me, your meeting will end at 4:30. And if you need more time to discuss something, then that’s another meeting”, Nichole says. 

What tips do you have for running meetings? Send your suggestions to editor@seniorexecutive.com.

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