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Summary:

For many of us, “meeting hell” is a perennial and ongoing problem, sapping both productivity and morale from our work days. So how does one of the world’s most innovative corporate cultures tackle the problem of badly managed meetings? What would Google do?

For many of us, “meeting hell” is a perennial and ongoing problem, sapping both productivity and morale from our work days. So how does one of the world’s most innovative corporate cultures tackle the problem of badly managed meetings? What would Google do?

Google has not only become synonymous with technological innovation, but also as a brand that employs innovative work practices, such as the famous 20 percent time for engineers and the playful Googleplex workplaces (read more about Google here).

Google’s Marissa Mayer was recently interviewed by Business Week. In the interview, she described her own methodology for dealing with the 70+ meetings she needs to attend each week.

Mayer’s six key principles for running productive meetings are:

  1. Set a firm agenda. Mayer believes agendas provide focus and help participants find routes towards achieving a particular goal.
  2. Assign a note-taker. Mayer’s meetings tend to use multiple displays to project presentation slides, a live transcript of the meeting and a ticking stopwatch! Each element provide focus, and crucially a record, enabling non-attendees to stay informed.
  3. Carve out micro-meetings. Mayer routinely divides larger meetings into smaller 5-10 minute blocks to highlight particular subject areas. This enables agendas to remain flexible, but disciplined, and also allows wide-ranging discussions to occur.
  4. Hold office hours. Each day, for 90 minutes at 4PM, Mayer holds court with colleagues in her own office. Coworkers can choose a slot on a first-come-first-serve basis. Incredibly, she’s able to get through up to fifteen meetings in these periods.
  5. Discourage politics, use data. To avoid showing favoritism and to minimise office politics, Mayer insists all decisions are driven by performance-based metrics and analytics. (This approach has caused some controversies, as related by former design director Douglas Bowman.)
  6. Stick to the clock. The “ticking clock” mentioned earlier might sound draconian, but is apparently a source of levity at meetings, exerting a subtle motivation, but also underlining a precious commodity in a busy organisation.

Most of Mayer’s advice seems to be largely pragmatic and productive, encouraging attendee preparation and leaving the meeting itself for debate, discussion and decision. There are lessons here for everyone, and although some of the pointers may seem somewhat obvious, it’s valuable to see how industry figures manage their time. I wonder if we’ll see some of Mayer’s practices finding their way into Google’s productivity apps?

Share your tips for running productive meetings below.

Photo by stock.xchng user trueblueboy

  1. Top Trending Technology Tags for Feb 9th, 2010 edition « ajbapps' blog Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    [...] Work Hacks: How to Run Meetings Google-style [...]

  2. cool list, many meetings need better coordination as they may quickly become time-consuming & low-productive

  3. Great tips, every meeting room should have one of those big countdown clocks. As a transport planner I also like the idea of traffic signals helping to control how much any one person talks.

  4. Thanks Neal, Andy – I’m on the fence about Google’s practices… possibly they can only really work when you hire particular types of people and that might undermine a company’s culture…

  5. love this list and agree that it’s a perennial problem. I’ve heard that one company has their meetings standing up. Marissa really anchors it with her suggestions and the key one is the agenda and then following the agenda.

  6. Imran,
    Nice read. Although I don’t really agree with some of Google’s policies but I have to admit that they are the most innovative and fun organization when it comes to corporate culture.

    They understand the very basics of retaining top talent.

  7. Run Meetings Like Google | Lawyerist Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    [...] Work Hacks: How to Run Meetings Google-style | Web Worker Daily [...]

  8. Could holding “Office Hours” make you a more productive manager? « Manage Lead Inspire Enjoy Thursday, February 18, 2010

    [...] Read how the folks at Google run productive meetings. [...]

  9. I love those suggestions. I think one of the biggest challenges is that typically, the people running the meeting thinks that he/she is doing a good job. Many have an agenda and assign a note-taker but that’s as far as they go. To run an effective meeting, you really have to be a good facilitator and that takes skill and practice.

    I’d love to see Google integrate some of these ideas into an app!

  10. 12 Ways to Find More Time – WebWorkerDaily Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    [...] Review your meetings. Have you been attending the same weekly meetings for months or even years? Are these meetings really needed? Regularly scheduled meetings can lose value. Ask for an agenda when people request your attendance. This gently reminds them to create an agenda, if they don’t have one. If they still don’t provide one, explain that you need to prepare yourself for the meeting and an agenda helps. Check out Imran’s tips on running effective meetings. [...]

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