Work Hacks: How to Run Meetings Google-style

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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

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