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Want to Change Your Company Culture? Change Your Meetings

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Kindra Cooper

workplace productivity

Despite a growing body of research on the productivity-killing effects of eight-hour workdays, coworking and long meetings, organizations are – you guessed it – slow on the uptake. In many cases, advanced technology nullifies the need to have a meeting at all. 

Even fruitful meetings brimming with idea generation and debate see a large proportion of these discussions disappear into thin air when the meeting is over. Few ideas are actioned upon despite copious note-taking and meeting minutes – a damn shame, seeing as meetings have a “disproportionate impact” on company culture, says Darren Chait, cofounder of software company, Hugo

Darren Chait cofounder of Hugo“Culture isn’t something you roll out or implement; it’s a derivative or function of the behaviors, personalities, values and all those sorts of things shared by the founding team, early employees and people that influence the business.”

As a place where decisions are made, strategies set and relationships built, meetings speak volumes about an organization’s culture. 

In a slow-moving, change-averse enterprise, meetings can last several hours and are filled with endless incremental “updates” and “check-ins.” In a top-down, autocratic culture, meetings consist of executives briefing underlings on decisions that don’t involve them, with little room for debate. An agile organization, on the other hand, only hosts meetings when there’s a real necessity for brainstorming, keeping them short and small. 

By conducting meetings poorly, organizations do their employees a disservice. 

Chait and his cofounder, Josh Lowy, founded Hugo in 2017 to enable organizations to turn meeting insights into action items by integrating note-taking software with a range of applications. For instance, a to-do item triggers a support ticket in Zendesk, an update in Salesforce, a bug report in Jira, or a company-wide memo in Slack. The software also integrates with 20-plus other systems. 

Read more: How Consumer Psychology Can Help You Understand Your Customers Better 

Hugo’s larger mission is to empower companies to optimize culture through effective meetings. Together with Rob Lennon, product marketing and education lead at Hugo, Lowy and Chait co-authored the book 10X Culture, providing insights into Hugo’s “4-hour meeting week” and 25 other secrets from innovative, fast-moving teams. 

Here are the five characteristics of 10X teams. 

1. Adaptable

A truly agile culture requires teams that can rapidly change their beliefs and develop skills based on an uncertain environment. Its pervasiveness has spawned clichés like, “every company is a technology company.” Most importantly, teams need the latitude to step back, re-evaluate and consider adapting -- even amidst the day-to-day rush of meeting deadlines. 

But don’t change plans indiscriminately. Here are situations where it makes sense to change course, according to 10X Culture:

  • Do we have new information that we didn’t have when we made the decision?
  • Would changing course impact our desired outcomes?
  • How does the original rationale hold up against today’s information? 

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and overhauling company culture takes more than printing a glossy handbook or mounting an inspirational wall decal. 

“That’s why we keep saying, bite off tiny behaviors, practices and ideas that influence culture, implement them one at a time and before you know it your culture will be changed,” says Chait, a former corporate lawyer. “You don’t need to build this huge mission or undertaking.”  

2. Networked

10X teams use interconnectedness to amplify their capabilities. The average organization uses an average of 123 different SaaS tools across departments, which leads to massive data fragmentation. Adopt tools that integrate and sync between systems, like a project management tool that syncs with Slack or development tools that connect to GitHub. Customer-centric organizations realize how much their respective departments overlap,and that CX is the responsibility of every department, not just the customer success team. 

Read more: Only 6 Percent of Organizations Have a "Mature" CX Program

“How can you possibly be customer-centric when half to three-quarters of the company have never had a customer conversation before? The answer, in our view, is with these sorts of practices, by sharing insights across the company, by ensuring everyone has access to what those customer-facing teams are [learning].” 

3. Shared consciousness

At Hugo, new hires receive a copy of Team of Teams by retired army general Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force that defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq. In his book, McChrystal introduces the concept of “shared consciousness,” which entails having faith in your colleagues and aligning behind a common goal. It enables you to read, empathize and nonverbally communicate with your team.

How? It gets cultivated over time using a method called a “decision journal,” another concept McChrystal introduces in the book as a way to develop shared consciousness. When teams or individuals make decisions – however big or small – they fill out a form that asks for the rationale behind the decision, the expected outcome and a review date. This simple exercise helps people understand how their colleagues think, while opening up decisions for debate and constructive criticism. 

“It’s brought our team closer intellectually [more than] anything else we’ve done,” says Chait. “I can now tell you exactly what engineer number three is going to say about an idea I’ve got in my head because I know how she makes decisions.” 

Decision journals have a knock-on effect on the way meetings are conducted. Now, time is spent debating the finer details of a decision, questioning the rationale and adjusting or reviewing the outcomes. Or, this back-and-forth might even take place on Slack before the meeting. 

Read more: 5 Most Common Customer Complaints and How to Fix Them

The most important thing is to share your approach to solving problems with the decisions you make. It’s “an approach to decision-making that optimizes for speed and decentralization, empowering more people to make their own decisions without seeking permission,” the authors write.  

  • Reduce the number of people involved in each decision
  • When new information is generated, encourage past decisions to be reassessed and adjusted

4. Experience other roles

New corporate hires at McDonald’s spend their first few weeks on the job flipping burgers at a restaurant in order to understand the pain points of their customers and coworkers. The idiom goes “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Organizations that want to develop shared consciousness and close-knit relationships need to offer employees the opportunity to walk in each other’s shoes. 

“Why shouldn’t your marketing team take the occasional support ticket to know what customers have trouble doing? Engineering can do the same to get a sense of the bugs being reported,” the authors write in 10X. 

5. Structure meetings with purpose 

With an adaptive, connected culture in place, you’re on track to structure more effective meetings. First, look at the purpose and objective of the meeting to determine if there even needs to be one. 

“If the objective of the meeting is to share information or provide updates, it doesn’t need to be a meeting,” says Chait. 

Before the meeting, don’t just share the agenda. Send every update, FYI and nice-to-know, making sure to link all relevant documents and provide complete information. 

“The real purpose of a meeting is dissent, debate, discussion, decision-making, not to go around and chat about what we’ve been working on or what everyone needs to know.”