We've all attended meetings where the first 10 minutes were spent on conversations like "How was your weekend?" and "What are you doing this weekend?" In fact, since people tend to drift into the room over the space of a few minutes -- and, inevitably, at least one person is always a few minutes late -- most meetings start with small talk.
In some ways, that's good. Social interactions among team members is important. Human connections matter. The best teams see and treat each other not just as fellow employees but also as people.
But those connections come at a cost, one your bootstrapped startup may not be able to afford. Say eight people attend the meeting. Each earns a $50,000 salary. Ten minutes of small talk before the meeting costs you money. Ten minutes of chatting after the meeting costs more money.
While it may not seem like much, added up over the course of a year and serious money is involved. And so is serious opportunity cost, since all those hours could have been spent more productively: landing customers, creating products, streamlining operations, etc. Pre- and post-meeting small talk often comes at a significant cost.
Maybe that's why, as Mark Cuban says: "The only way you're going to get me for a meeting is if you're writing me a check."
So how do you balance your team's need for social and personal connection with your business's need for efficiency and productivity?
1. Start every meeting with a purpose.
Never meet just to meet. Always meet to make decisions and act on those decisions. Set expectations. Assign responsibility. Ensure every meeting has a genuine purpose.
And make sure everyone knows that purpose ahead of time.
At LogoMix, we hold a daily 10-minute standup meeting to let the team quickly work through issues and exchange information that eliminates friction points. That allows leaders to identify potential problems sooner rather than later, and step in to remove barriers and provide early assistance. Everyone understands the purpose of those meetings; there's no digression and no "hmm... since we're all together, I'd like to talk about..."
2. Always start on time.
Waiting until everyone arrives means every meeting will "drift" to a start. Arrive on time -- you're in charge and should set the example -- and start on time.
People who enjoy a little catch-up time with other employees will arrive a few minutes early. People who don't will arrive on time. Either way, you won't have to get everyone's attention, or decide when to jump in to cut off a conversation (neither of which is fun).
And best of all, every meeting will feel productive and focused, right from the start.
3. Establish clear accountability throughout.
Decisions are important. Deciding who is responsible for those decisions is just as important. Assign responsibility. Decide what will happen, who will make it happen, and when it will happen.
Not only is that the right way to run a meeting, establishing accountability also creates a sense of urgency that reduces the amount of post-meeting chit-chat.
4. End every meeting with a purpose.
Never let a meeting drift to a close. Once decisions are made and responsibilities assigned, close with intent.
Say, "I feel really good about where we're going." Say, "Thanks for a great meeting. I'm really excited to see where this takes us." Say something positive, something that affirms the value of the meeting and the people who attended, say thanks, and then nod, stand, and leave the meeting, letting your body language display a sense of urgency and purpose.
5. Consistently provide opportunities for social interaction.
Your job is to build teams that get things done. But your job is also to help your employees know and appreciate each other as people.
Pre- and post-meeting small talk is one way to accomplish that, but there are better ways.
Occasionally bring in lunch and create a setting where everyone shares the meal instead of carrying their plates back to their desks. That's a simple -- and purposeful -- way to create personal connections between your employees.
You can also plan teambuilding outings. At LogoMix, we've done escape rooms. And scavenger hunts. The purpose was to build team bonds but in a way that also allowed us to solve problems together.
Creating human connections is an important part of building healthy teams and healthy organizations. Instead of finding a way to balance the needs of a meeting with the need for personal interactions, be more purposeful.
Do your best to keep the focus of a meeting on the meeting, and then do your best to find better ways to allow your employees to know each other not just as workers, but as people.