Case Study: Meetings

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(This is a business case study. It will be used to guide discussions during the session: “Meetings” at the Vendo Partner Conference in Barcelona on Tuesday, September 13th.)

standing meeting

Sean and Lars were such regulars at Point Market and Cafe that the waiter didn’t even bring them a menu when they sat down. A few minutes later Sean’s sparkling water arrived along with Lars’s Corona. Seven minutes after they both had their breakfast burritos, all without a word spoken.

Point Market and Cafe is a restaurant on Sequel Point, at the southern end of the Santa Cruz bay. It sits just above a public beach access and looks out onto a break. “Those guys are surfing my wave,” Lars thought to himself.

The two friends met for lunch each weekday to take decisions about their bootstrapped cams company. They knew what they were getting into when they bought it. It didn’t have any management structure at all. It had technology staff in place plus a skeleton of a customer service and accounting staff. That was it.

They were used to small startups in the wild west days of the early internet. Neither of them had any corporate or ‘big business’ experience to draw from. They were used to putting together a strategy in their own heads, and then just telling staff what was needed from them. Most of the time it was a quick phone call, instant message, or email.

When the cams company started growing, they would have daily lunch meetings to go over short term goals and revenue. They did not have an office for management. Everything was home office based so the meetings were always held over Mexican food at the spot with the view of Santa Cruz and Steamer’s Lane. When they were done with their lunch meetings they would leave $20 on the table (no need for the waiter to bring the check) and go back to their respective desks and get to work.

And it worked…

The cam company grew from $10k per month in revenue to $7 million per month in less than three years without changing this structure.

In 2005 the company merged with a dating company. At the time Sean and Lars had just forty employees. The marketing staff was Sean, Lars and one more. The dating company by contrast had three hundred employees with a marketing staff of more than thirty people.

Meetings at the dating company happened daily inside of each department. The meetings had at least ten people in them and lasted at least one hour. There were also meetings between different departments each day, and a weekly executive meeting that lasted more than three hours.

The meetings had very little structure. They could last up to two hours. There was never a solid agenda brought to a meeting. The content centered on project updates, kick offs or launch meetings. Marketing meetings followed the same type of structure and they might also include a review revenue or a department update.

The difference between the two cultures was stark. When Sean and Lars merged the two marketing departments the meetings became chaotic. Sean admits that he brought on most of the chaos. “I put a lot of pressure on objectives. They took so long to meet. I didn’t get it. Why we weren’t we meeting our objectives in a reasonable time frame? I didn’t make sense. I really just couldn’t understand it. I knew if I didn’t know what the problem was I wouldn’t be able to create solutions. I often pushed people really hard to get answers.”

Not getting answers motivated Sean to take over the marketing department. “We reorganized everything from the top down. We had a few meetings to talk about the structure and then launched into action,” Sean recalled.

“Every Monday and Friday we had a marketing meeting that had a set time and it could not roll over that time.” Sean implemented other changes, too. “An agenda was sent out before the meeting with detail, and the meeting was more of a question and answer session on the agenda items and marketing plan.”

Sean upended the old approach further by making everyone stand. “Nobody was allowed to sit down, nobody was allowed to look at their phone,” said Sean. While they talked one person took notes on a whiteboard, transcribed them, and sent them out to the team after the meeting.

These meetings were based on short term goals that needed to be accomplished for the monthly goals, quarterly goals, and how they were rolling up to that year’s business plan.

The team liked the changes. They were energizing. They got results.

But the changes in the marketing department were unique. The people working in marketing ran into problems when they tried to communicate and coordinate with other departments that were still working on the old style meeting format. “We were not able to get much from the meetings that we had with other department and the meetings would last more than one hour,” Sean remembered. It was frustrating but the benefits within the marketing department more than justified the change.

When Sean started his new company he knew he needed to have more brainstorming and room for creative conversation. He was building his new company in a red ocean environment. Lots of competitors wanted to see him fail. This required a new approach to collaboration within his team.

At the new company he decided to have short daily scrums to see what the immediate needs are. They now meet weekly for a SWOT meeting. They also have a separate time set aside each week to discuss strategy. Sean also meets one on one with his team leaders weekly.

Sean’s found that the answer to these questions below depends on context. How would you answer them for your company today?

  • How do I get the most out of my meetings?
  • How should I run them to get the most out of them?
  • How many should I have?
  • How can I get what I need without a meeting?

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