Improving meeting culture
Nina Schneider is Chief Product Officer at Sherpany and is responsible for the entire product organisation of 60+ people. She shares her experience as a product owner, and gives practical tips for defining goals and improving meeting culture.
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In this podcast episode you'll hear:
Nina Schneider, Chief Product Officer at Sherpany, who is responsible for the company's entire product organisation, as she discusses her experience as a product manager and the role the team plays in this.
She explains the importance of clear objectives and their implementation, as well as how to improve the meeting culture in companies and organisations. She explores solutions to the following:
- What challenges are there in the development of business software?
- How can employees stay motivated on a daily basis?
- How can goals be defined and implemented with teams?
- How can a corporate culture with too many meetings be rethought and improved?
- How can meetings be used as a management tool?
*Please note: The podcast episode is available in German.
Insights and strategies to optimise corporate culture for more effective meetings
Nina, you've held a number of professional positions with a lot of management experience behind you and now also hold a leadership position at Sherpany [...]. How do you motivate your employees in your team, especially when things don't go as planned?
"It is essential for my team - and also for Sherpany's culture - that you develop a clear idea with them, a vision of what the future looks like and where we want to go. Very clear goals that motivate people. And on the other hand, it's important to give them responsibility and the freedom to decide for themselves how they work most productively and how they arrive at solutions. And I think sometimes it's also important to look the facts in the eye and say: Yes, we have now developed something [...] and it hasn't turned out the way we had hoped. That's also part of the process. Then we'll work on it again in the next iteration.
How do you proceed then?
One tool that we use very often is retrospectives. This means that after a development cycle, which is usually a quarter, we carry out retrospectives with the entire product team.
Then we take a look: What is going well, what do we want to change, i.e. stop or start. And then we decide together. We vote on what the most important issues are that we want to tackle. I take on board the solutions proposed by the team and make sure that we tackle and change these issues.
What is particularly important to you personally as a manager?
Getting feedback. I can only learn and improve if people tell me what I'm doing well and what I'm not doing well, on very different levels. That is something that is incredibly valuable and important to me.
And the higher you climb up the ladder, the more difficult it becomes to get any real feedback at all. [...] I take time once a year to speak directly with everyone in the product team. That's about 60 people. I ask them what's going well and what could be improved. Sometimes I get feedback, but not always.
I've realised that I have to keep asking for feedback, and accordingly I have to tell people publicly — when I've received feedback — that it was helpful and that I've changed. It's definitely a culture that you have to install and maintain. I'm certainly not at the end of the journey, but I've also had my moments of success when people have approached me. Because feedback is also good for managers, especially leaders."
We collect feedback at the end of every meeting, during the meeting, and not after the meeting, because that's the moment when people are still present and have the time.
How many meetings do you have per week?
"About 20 hours a week. [...] I spend half of the remaining time preparing for or following up on meetings. And the rest of the time I spend on focus work. I have to invest time in meetings. I lead people, which means spending time with them is important. And there are core tasks of meetings that are particularly important in organisations like the one we run in Sherpany, which are very collaborative and very flat: creating alignment, a common understanding. [...]
And we work completely remotely. This means that we really make sure that the teams see each other at least once a day in a meeting. These are very short meetings, just 15 minutes. But we have learnt from experience how poor the team composition and collaboration is if you don't stick to this."
How can managers make good use of meetings as a management tool?
"It has a lot to do with being clear about what goals you want to achieve in a meeting and consciously thinking about which meetings are important, which meetings we need and which meetings we don't need.
I'll use the example of the team meeting. In the past, I was never really happy about our team meetings and I didn't get the best feedback on them, if I did get feedback. And at Sherpany, we really iterated over several quarters on how to make this meeting better. In the beginning, we became much more efficient and then cancelled a lot of meetings because we didn't have any topics to discuss or could work through them asynchronously. If you just want to share information, you don't need a meeting. And then we realised we were missing something. Because the meeting also helps us to get to know each other better and build a connection with each other as a team working remotely.
We have now organised the meetings in such a way that we focus on how the team is doing and on getting to know each other better at the beginning and end of each meeting. And in the middle are the topics that we need to discuss. And if we don't have a topic we want to discuss, we hold the meeting anyway, it's just much shorter."
There are now many companies and organisations that are completely "overflowing" with meetings, where people are so blocked that they sometimes can no longer get their work done properly. What would you recommend companies do to break up this kind of meeting culture?
"At Sherpany, we always start with the question: What are the goals for the meetings? And what I know is that in such companies, in such corporate cultures, people don't hear that. They don't even have the time to think about it. That means that at the beginning I would probably really make a recording of all meetings and I would analyse all meetings that have more than three people and that are recurring. And if they don't have a clear goal, I would pause them first. That creates space in the diary so that people can think more consciously. And you also have to be realistic.
As I mentioned earlier, half of the time I don't spend in meetings is spent preparing for and following up on them. If you don't do that, then the meetings can't be good. This means that a person can spend a maximum of three quarters of their time in meetings. That would mean that the person should not do any other kind of focussed work. And the rest is then taken up with preparation and follow-up. I think you really need to take away some of the meetings at the beginning so that you can then add meaningful meetings again."
How can the topic of agility be applied to meetings?
"For me, what is also part of agility is actually the learning iterations. And we also apply this to meetings. We gather feedback at the end of every meeting, during the meeting and not after the meeting, because that's the moment when people are still present and have the time. In addition, every quarter we look at how we want to improve the meeting. That's one part of it.
The other part of agility is more about how you organise the content of the meetings. How do you create an agenda? And how do you work together to ensure that the agenda materialises? And who decides that? If the goal for the meeting is very clearly defined, you can also open up the organisation of the agenda more."
If a company has now realised: I have too many meetings in my organisation, the employees are simply far too tied up on a daily basis. What would you recommend this company do as a first step?
"I would look at the meetings that are recurring, that have more than three people and that have no defined goal. I would take these out and then I would give each team the task of finding out which meetings make sense in an agile way — in the sense of trying them out. Incorporate small goals and retrospectives and discuss every quarter which meetings make sense and which do not.
Personally, I've often found that at the beginning you're totally committed to always having an agenda and defining the exact goals. And then, somehow, after three weeks, the whole thing always falls asleep again."
So how can companies stay on the ball?
"I think the learning iterations help, because you come back to it a quarter later at the latest and start the endeavour again. I think the sense of achievement is also part of what helps. If you improve the meetings, then they actually feel better. And if you give feedback after every meeting, then you are even faster in the iterations.
In the end [...] it helps if you organise the processes as efficiently as possible, for example by defining a goal for the meeting or an agenda. [...] or using a calendar application. [...]. The more you are supported with defaults and the fewer things you have to think about, the better and easier the meetings become."