Meeting Cockpit

How to make meetings effective when building up your start-up

How to run effective team meetings

Startups, equally as grown companies, can all easily suffer from ineffective meetings. We have all attended meetings during which we had the feeling that we are wasting our time. The tragedy is that the time wasted is multiplied by the number of people in the meeting. Especially in the startup setting, time is very valuable and therefore effective meetings should become a routine. Setting up a meeting agenda is the very first step to build on.

Meetings should fulfill the purpose of exchanging information and coordinating the work in the team. However, oftentimes the lack of an agenda or a plan makes meetings unsuccessful. You end up having discussions about details, always the same people speak, important and uncomfortable issues are forgotten and the meeting outputs are not documented. Team members start feeling like they are wasting their time and stop paying attention during meetings. At some point, you might even decide that you do not need as many meetings because you would rather save the ‘wasted’ time. However, less meeting means less coordination and communication within the team. It will become increasingly difficult to keep the overview of ongoing tasks and issues.
Therefore, preparing a plan for meetings will make your life much easier and increase the quality of your meetings. To facilitate the process of providing an agenda, I created a concrete agenda structure in an Excel spreadsheet guiding you through your meetings, the so-called ‘Meeting Cockpit’.

The Meeting Cockpit is an Excel spreadsheet which provides a pre-structured meeting agenda addressing crucial discussing points. Not only does the Meeting Cockpit offer these rather mechanical benefits, but complemented with the right way of usage it becomes much more than an Excel spreadsheet.

The Meeting Cockpit
helps you to

Much more than an Excel spreadsheet

A meeting agenda also serves as a time management tool.

When starting the meeting the organiser sees how many agenda items will be discussed and reminds everyone in the beginning of the meeting how much time they have for each discussion point. Through the time reminder, participants will mostly stick to short comments. If not the organiser should repeat the time reminder during the meeting.

Not a thorough protocol but still an overview of what was discussed.

The Meeting Cockpit does not display detailed information. It rather records general points like decisions taken, priorities, checkup and news. So everybody can participate actively in the meeting. This way also the note recorder has the opportunity to participate in the meeting because this person is not only occupied with writing the notes. Taking notes during the meeting is important as you will not, realistically speaking, take the notes after the meeting since time is scarce, especially in startups.

Meeting Cockpit Tip

People talk too much about not-related issues during meetings.
Keep it compact and to the point.

Display of the Meeting Cockpit for everybody visible during the meeting.

Make the Meeting Cockpit visible for all meeting participants through a projector or everybody has the sheet displayed on their laptops. So the team follows the process of filling in the different sections. Team members become more attentive. They can see in real-time what is happening in the meeting and feel more comfortable participating more actively. Additionally, important and uncomfortable agenda items like finances will not be ‘forgotten’. Everybody sees that this point has to be discussed and the lead of the meeting has to make sure it is not skipped.

Responsibilities are assigned to everybody visible.

Not only are the various tasks filled in during the meeting, but also who is responsible for them. This creates a sense of accountability and team members feel they should complete the task they are responsible for. Especially if they see their task(s) being shifted again and again to the next week.

Summarising emails to employees and investors are easier to write.

Writing emails looking back at the last month or updating your investors becomes easier. You will not be able to remember everything that happened or what was decided in the last weeks and months. Searching in detailed protocols for information you need is very time-consuming. Having a look at the weekly summaries in the Meeting Cockpit gets you the information quicker and writing your emails becomes easier.

Meeting Cockpit Tip

In certain cases people seem to not care much if they complete their tasks or not. Here are 3 tips how to approach this, depending on the person:

  1. Talk openly about it. Ask why
  2. Ask if the person needs help
  3. Assign the responsibility of the task to someone else.

The basics

Get familiar with the different sections of the sheet.

The Meeting Cockpit Tomatosheet consists of 7 sections: 

  • Regular Checkups
  • Priorities this Week
  • Priorities last Week
  • News
  • Regular Agenda
  • Specific Meeting Agenda
  • Decisions

The top section contains the ‘Regular Checkups’ since those are tasks, which are ongoing and/or repeated and their progression is important.

The ‘Priorities of this and last Week’ help you focus your team on (urgent) tasks, which have to be done.

‘News’ are no regular or priority task. Information on whatever comes up during the meeting as important to a wider audience belongs in this section. For example, that the kitchen has to be cleaned more often or the team has been invited to a party.

The ‘Specific Meeting Agenda’ are points, which do not happen on a regular basis and have to be discussed and/or a decision has to be taken on.

Decisions taken during the meeting have to be written down in order to be ‘official’ and to be remembered. They are not connected to a specific agenda item but rather come up throughout the meeting.

All these sections can be adapted to your own startup and context. For example, instead of having a ‘News’ section you can replace it with a ‘Metrics’ section in which you observe each week specific important metrics. Make it your own sheet to get maximum benefit out of it.

Before using this tomatosheet

First and most importantly, make each week a copy of last week’s sheet. You will then prepare the meeting with the copied sheet based on the tasks and checkups of last week. Also when using the Meeting Cockpit for the very first time, make a copy so you can use this template for other types of meetings. Fill in the sections as described below.

Again, feel free to adapt the different sections of the sheet to your startup.

Before the meeting starts, make the copied sheet ready for use this week: 

  • Delete the content in the sections ‘Priorities last week’, ‘News’, ‘Specific Meeting Agenda’ and ‘Decisions’ (in yellow on the image above). The ‘Regular Checkups’ remain. If it is your first time using this template then try to write down some checkups before the meeting and write them down as they come up during the meeting (mostly as part of the recap of last week).
  • Shift the ‘Priorities this week’ into the section ‘Priorities last week’.
  • Fill the ‘Regular Agenda’ section with your points. The points ‘Recap last Week’, ‘Finances’ and ‘Specific Agenda’ should remain since they feed into the specific sections of the Meeting Cockpit described.
  • Fill the ‘Specific Meeting Agenda’ with your points (see image above in orange for an example).

Now, let’s turn to how to make use of the Meeting Cockpit during the meeting.

How to use this tomatosheet

Once you have prepared the copied sheet, your ‘navigation system’ throughout the meeting is the ‘Regular Agenda’ section at the bottom left.

  1. Your first agenda point ‘Recap of last week’ (yellow) is based on the ‘Priorities last Week’ section. Still ongoing tasks in the latter section are copied into the section ‘Priorities this Week’. 
  2. The recap of last week can include the ‘Regular Checkup’ section or you can list the regular checkups as an individual agenda point. 
  3. Finances must be an agenda point each week and can be included in the ‘Regular Checkups’ (orange). To discuss finances is important in a startup because very often it is investor’s money you are dealing with. They want to know what is happening with their money and you need to keep them updated. Plus, you need to know if you can pay your team’s salaries and if your business model has the potential of becoming profitable. 
  4. The outputs of the agenda items ‘Specific Agenda’ (green) and ‘Priorities this Week’ (blue) will be noted down in their individual respective sections. As already mentioned above, some of the priorities of last week may be shifted to this week if they have the status ‘not done’.
  5. The AOB agenda point (pink) will provide content for the ‘News’ section.
  6. Decisions will be taken under any of the agenda points and will be added to the ‘Decisions’ section.
  7. Add any other agenda points specific to your startup you regard important to discuss (velvet). Depending on the point, its result can be written down in any of the sections (in this case in the ‘Regular Checkups’).
  8. The checkups and priorities are complemented with the responsibility and the status of the task.

It is crucial that one and not several people are responsible for a task since this increases the likelihood greatly of finishing the task. If two or more people are responsible for it then everybody thinks the other person is responsible and in the end nobody is really responsible. And the task is not done.

The status of the task shows if there are any complications with it or if it is done/not done.

Being able to prepare and navigate through the Meeting Cockpit is the very base of making your meetings successful. But only if you complement it with the 5 principles your success will be guaranteed.

What's next?

Avoid ineffective meetings from now on by starting to use the Meeting Cockpit. Set the stage by

Presenting the new tool in your next meeting to your team

Defining the meeting organiser who prepares the Meeting Cockpit and leads through the meeting

Create recurring weekly calendar entries for your team meeting

Nothing is holding you back anymore from running effective meetings! 

As important as team meetings are 1-on-1 meetings (in a team with more than 4 people) to receive feedback from your boss and your employees. Check out our blog on the 1-on-1 meeting Tomatosheet and read why 1-on-1 meetings are crucial and how to run them successfully.

The 5 Meeting Cockpit Principles

  • The purpose of meetings is to exchange information and coordinate work, and not ‘actual work’.
  • Present the Meeting Cockpit to everybody during the meeting.
  • Complete the Meeting Cockpit continuously during the meeting.
  • Let everybody participate actively in the meeting.
  • Make everybody feel comfortable to speak.

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