I have a complicated relationship with meeting culture
In my corporate life, I’ve always hated meeting overload. On a fundamental level, this approach to business has just never made much sense to me. If your day is filled with back-to-back meetings, when are you actually supposed to get any work done? (And if your natural response to that question is “At home,” you may be entitled to financial compensation.)
What was all the more frustrating at the time was that these meetings weren’t even relevant to my role or to my team, but I didn’t feel like I was a part of a culture where I could leave without judgment. I daydreamed. I filled notebooks with doodles while I strained to pay attention. I thought about all the things I had to complete before the end of the day.
When Meghan and I created Formada, I knew that the last thing I could ever advocate for in my own business is daily meetings.
When we decided that Formada would be a remote agency, it quickly became clear how necessary meetings — particularly a daily team meeting — were going to be if we wanted to build a healthy team culture.
What do meetings have to do with culture? A lot!
Meghan and I talk about culture a lot, because we see how essential it is to building a successful business. Want to be profitable? You need a great team. Want a great team? You need to offer opportunities that are appealing to top talent. Want to attract and retain top talent? Then your mission and vision need to be something beyond a transactional “We’ll pay you for your work”-style relationship.
In our experience, people want more than a job. They want more than a career. They want their work to have meaning. They want to see the ways in which they can grow through their work. And they want a level of work-life balance that allows them to achieve a deeper sense of personal fulfillment.
Now, we can’t make our people feel that sense of fulfillment, but we can certainly create an environment that makes it possible for them to. That environment is where we can foster a healthy team culture, and while that’s difficult in a lot of traditional, in-office team environments, being a fully remote agency presents its own set of challenges.
Three things we learned from having daily team meetings
But this is why we initially implemented daily team meetings into our schedules. As the team evolved, so did the frequency of those meetings. And now that we’ve grown from two founders to, at the time of this writing, a team of nine, we learned that I’ve found that daily or frequent tea, meetings do three things extremely well:
- Foster community
- Reinforce team culture
- Align our work with our goals
This level of understanding didn’t happen overnight. It took experimentation, patience, and listening to get to the bottom of what the team really needs. While I know that these insights will continue to evolve, this is where we’re at today.
There are so many friends that I’ve made throughout my life that I wouldn’t have otherwise, were it not for us sitting near each other — solely by chance, and just long enough for us to get curious about one another.
Typically, relationships are formed through proximity. School, dorms, cubicles — they all push us together, so we more or less have to interact. From this, the unlikeliest of bonds are formed.
I’ve never found small talk to be very effective at building relationships. Watercooler talk — like talking about the weather because you’re both straining for something relevant to say — is still the bane of my existence. Despite that, those conversations can often be the gateway to a deeper connection.
So how do you foster those unlikely relationships — or any relationships, for that matter — with teams that are distant? These meetings give people real time together.
And while we have a clear agenda for those meetings, we encourage tangential conversations and space for the team to share their interests or an anecdote.
It’s in these little moments that we can learn a little more about one another as people, not just as co-workers. In turn, we’re building a community.
Reinforce Team Culture
There is no greater teacher than observation. I loved sitting in on client calls with my bosses, leadership, and senior members of my teams. I enjoyed it because I watched them navigate difficult conversations over and over again. I saw them fail and I saw them succeed.
The same was true for watching how leadership behaved in team meetings. I learned mostly things I never wanted to do to my own employees. I saw how a dismissive comment could kill morale. Instead of building a culture that fostered a togetherness that included our manager, they were inadvertently fostering a culture that was building a wall between them and the team.
We go into our team meetings with the understanding that observation is a vital component. Our team members get to watch me and Meghan make decisions on the spot. They get to see what we value and what we do not. We get to model our approach to client partnership, teamwork, and leadership every day.
And yeah, sometimes we won’t say much on any given call, but the important thing is that the team sees that we are listening and acting on what our team is sharing with us. Our goal isn’t to fill space for the sake of filling space. We’re certainly not the type of people who like to listen to ourselves talk. Quite the opposite, in fact. Hearing what’s going on with the tea is one of my favorite parts of the day.
Align Our Work with Our Goals
Project management systems have made it so easy to keep track of client requests and work. But these systems are often not smart enough to properly categorize or prioritize tasks in a way that gets us incrementally closer to achieving our goals.
Our team calls are the perfect venue for this level of prioritization — and it’s the perfect opportunity for everyone in the organization to have a clear view of what we’re all focused on.
We’ve created a unique approach to how we set our meeting agendas — we’ve nicknamed it the Domino, and it helps us stay on task and focused on serving our clients at the level they deserve.
In concept, the Domino is a team agenda that lays out decisions to be made, client and partner work we need to complete, roadblocks we’re facing, and new client opportunities to close.
When we review the Domino and take action on it every day, it’s a lot like knocking over one more domino towards our goal. (Still so deeply proud of this one.)
It’s easy for remote teams to just work on incoming tasks and not question whether it’s the *right* task to tackle that day. It’s best if we can look at things together, briefly, and validate that we are all rowing in the same direction. Over time, this gives the entire team a great sense of confidence in knowing where we should focus our resources, and how we problem solve in a remote but still rapidly changing work environment.
Even brief meetings can have a profound effect on your culture
For some, an hour-long team meeting might seem like overkill, and some days we don’t have enough content to fill the hour. So we call it and give everyone that time back so they can focus on their project work.
Others, there’s so much to discuss that we could easily fill two hours if given the opportunity. We adapt to where the greatest need is. The underlying point is, however, that these daily face-to-face touchpoints with the team, no matter how brief, will foster a positive team culture and environment.
This doesn’t happen on its own. Meghan and I, as well as other members of the team, strive to be good communicators, which requires being a good listener, as well as paying careful attention to important visual cues.
What we don’t want to have happen is a feeling that we’ve lost touch with our team, or that morale is fizzling out, or that there’s any confusion whatsoever about company priorities.
If we sense these things, we always do our best to address them as quickly as possible and in the most appropriate venue that we can.
This is an anecdotal, not prescriptive, illustration of modern work
It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the employment marketplace has changed drastically over the last three years, and it’s been interesting to see how companies have adapted to those continuous changes.
Looking at 2020’s lockdown specifically, a lot of businesses had to pivot quickly to remote work, and I think, initially at least, it was happily embraced by employers and employees. It meant that people could continue to work, collect a paycheck, and have something consistent to focus on outside of the feelings of uncertainty that the pandemic ushered in.
However, over time, and especially since the threat of COVID has largely waned, the push to go back to the office has increased.
There’s a lot to be said about having in-person contact and professional relationships with your colleagues, but I do have a hunch that a lot of these preferences are generational. And with so many organizations being composed of multiple generations simultaneously, a one size fits all solution just isn’t going to work any longer.
To me, this means that employers really need to get their acts together in terms of how to manage these different types of work styles, how to manage and train these different sorts of workers, and how to create a culture that supports all of the above. It’s a fast-moving target, but workers are more empowered than ever before to set their own terms for their careers.
We’ve been remote since day one, but we’re never complacent
Luckily for us, we started working remotely well before 2020. We have more experience in this arena than most businesses, and our clients and our team’s have reported that they are happy with the way we work.
That said, we’re always looking for ways to adapt our approach to our work, including daily team meetings in order to better square with our client and team needs. As I mentioned before, as the team evolved, so did our feelings about how frequently we needed to meet as an entire team.
Recently, we decided that on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, we would hold an all-team meeting. On Tuesdays, we have a Leadership team meeting. And Wednesdays? We implemented a “no meetings” rule so that everyone has the entire day to focus on their projects.
For the business to evolve, your perspective must also shift
And I imagine that as we continue to grow, this approach to our meetings will change too. I can see a day where we have daily departmental meetings, quarterly presentations, or things that we haven’t even yet considered.
This is just what’s worked for us so far, and we know that it’s important to always be in a state of assessment so that we’re making decisions that are best for our team and for our clients.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that if you’re a remote, in-person, or hybrid business, that meetings have the potential to be a positive or negative contributor to your culture.
No one likes a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. People deserve to have their time filled with purpose. Sometimes, as a fully remote business, we have time built into our meetings to connect and build rapport, because we know that will have a positive impact on our work.
It’s about listening, observing, and adjusting. I’m looking forward to revisiting this topic a year from now so we can share how much things have changed. See you then.