At this time of the year, New Year’s resolutions are on everyone’s minds - and I’m no exception. Coming up with a resolution is never easy, though. There are so many things to improve and so much room for learning. One thing has fascinated me ever since I co-founded my own company: freedom. Startup tech culture seems to emphasize personal freedom over any other industry. Coming from a law firm with a more traditional culture, I embraced this concept with open arms. In fact, I had planned for 2018 to be a year for breaking free of the dreaded frameworks and processes.
Being a co-founder, however, is not just about creating an amazing culture. It’s also about being an effective (and organized) leader. Ironically, this required me to establish structure in our team’s meetings, which went on to be one of my most useful tools for success in 2018. How? I used meeting note templates and discovered that freedom doesn’t have to come from disorganization.
Why to Optimize the Meeting Structure
New communications technology comes out regularly, and this year will be no different. From video conferencing to BEAM to even virtual reality, innovation will continue to change the nature of meetings. What will not change any time soon, however, is the necessity of meetings themselves. We continue to set aside significant parts of the day to talk about what matters most to our organizations.
As an entrepreneur, around 75% (often more) of my day is generally consumed with meetings, and I’m certainly not alone. So it has always been surprising to me that we don’t focus more on creating efficiencies and increasing the value of meeting output. This is why I started 2018 with an experiment - to provide our team with a framework for meetings, each one requiring a template for an agenda and meeting notes. Sound obvious? Maybe, but what’s less obvious is the impact this has had on our business, which is why 2019 will be the year to focus on the meeting note template.
Can Structure Really Lead to Freedom?
At Hugo, we look at meetings like any other source of data. Important knowledge is generated and shared, discussion elicits new ideas, and decisions are made. The challenge is that conversations create some of the most unstructured data out there. An hour long recording or a 20 page transcript of a lengthy meeting makes any sort of quantitative or qualitative analysis incredibly difficult.
This was one of the key drivers to experiment with using meeting note templates as a way to create semi-structured output from meetings. We started with our user feedback template because these meetings historically resulted in notes full of comments which were hard to summarize, action, and compare. By simply adding structure to group together the ideas, we had a set of data in the meeting note that could be easily analyzed and shared across the organization.
How to Elicit Subtle Change
One of the lessons I’ve learnt as a co-founder is that it is important to determine how much structure is the right amount of structure while building and scaling your business. Too little can cause things to fall through the cracks. Opportunities can be missed and the value of the team would be under-utilized. Too much, and we hamper creativity, micro-manage, and misallocate time. Meeting note templates have proven to be a very effective way to implement the ideal level of structure we need at Hugo.
It is also important to align as a team on the ideal outcomes for specific meetings and on which information should be captured to create a lightweight playbook. Take a customer handoff meeting for example. On one hand, I could write a playbook and checklist, bring in the team for training, and then regularly review how the process is actually being used. Or, I could agree on a template for how these meetings should be run, the information that should be shared, and the ideal outcomes.
The difference is that the first option means I have to enter the role of a school teacher and compliance manager, and the other requires a few minutes of collaborative teamwork that results in the same or better outcomes and freedom for the entire team. I can teach my team and create alignment and consistency through process without becoming a micromanager.
From Objectives to Outcomes
One of the most commonly cited reasons meetings are an expensive failure is that they don’t achieve their perceived objectives. The go-to strategy to solve this problem is using agendas - a meeting prep step I swear by. Agendas are an effective way to align attendees on the purpose of the meeting, make sure everyone’s prepared, and help keep everyone on track. But the value of agendas ends as soon as the meeting ends. Luckily, this is where meeting note templates can become the link between meeting objectives and meeting outcomes.
For example, in our Partnership Check-in meeting note template, it’s very clear that the objective of this meeting is to assess the health of the partnership, identify risks and opportunities, and make sure the partnership keeps moving forward. The best thing about using a meeting note template in these situations is that they can be used to make sure nobody walks out the room without hitting these objectives.
One quick tip that’s worked for us here is using a template for the agenda and using the agenda as the template for the meeting note. It becomes a case of filling in the blanks from the agenda. We actually built a little feature in Hugo to create a meeting note from an agenda, for us initially but teams love it.
The Art of Effective Leadership
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to come across as an organized, experienced leader at work? This sort of professional respect naturally requires the ability to share your progress, successes and learnings with others on your team. Interestingly, the successes and ability of our team at Hugo has been more obvious than ever over the past year. We found that being able to actively share succinct, consistent meeting notes closely linked to the meeting’s objectives is a sure fire way to celebrate the wins and successes of each teammate - completely enabled by meeting note templates.
Making a document full of notes available to the rest of the team is not enough. Individual contributors want to share important knowledge that others will actually read. Meeting note templates are an underutilized ally to show off your work and structured approach to business goals, aside from the business benefits mentioned.
With the benefits of meeting note templates all but proven for Hugo as a business, my New Year’s resolution is create every meeting note using a template. This simple tweak to my process at work will making me a better leader and teammate, all while saving me hours from wasted meetings each week.
Don’t take my word for it! Set up a meeting note taking process that relies on meeting note templates for efficiency. We’ve researched some of the best templates out there that we have made a part of Hugo. Check them out for yourself!