Yahoo, Marissa Mayer and How to Run a Meeting

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Really, there are so many things to say about Marissa Mayer’s insistence that Yahoo employees start coming to the office every day instead of telecommuting. There’s the question of whether she’s setting working mothers back 30 years. And whether she’s going to finally kill Yahoo by ignoring the growing trend toward remote working. But what struck me as the heart of the matter is:  Does Marissa Mayer know how to run a good meeting?  Because if she doesn’t, just having more people wearing out the carpets and cranking up the air conditioning isn’t going to get Yahoo where it needs to be.

What they all thought about during the meeting.

What they all thought about during the meeting.


On paper, Mayer has a point. A roomful of people collaborating can create great juju.  But anyone who has endured a meeting where the topic wanders off to people’s cats or babies, or who’s been trapped in a room with a client or boss who thinks he’s Garrison Keillor,

knows that a meeting can be a nightmarish time suck. A brain and productivity vortex.

So here, for Marissa Mayer and anyone else who wants it, is Caroline Valentine’s primer: How to Run a Meeting:

  1. Make an agenda: Make an agenda prior to the meeting and make sure everybody gets it.  Everyone needs to know the purpose of the meeting, desired outcomes and what decisions need to be made before you leave the room. Meetings should never be salons, where everyone just bounces their brilliant ideas off one another looking for affirmation and consuming all the oxygen in the room.  Frequently when that happens, it means people are scared to make a decision.  
  2. Decide on a structure: Who is supposed to be at the meeting? What are they supposed to bring? What tasks must be accomplished? If people are supposed to bring information to enable decisions to be made or tasks completed, they must bring it. Make it painful if they don’t.
  3. Appoint a leader: It might be the team lead, the client contact, it depends on the purpose of the meeting. Somebody has to be in charge of making sure you stick to the agenda and can check off your decision boxes when you’re done.
  4. Stay on track: You’ve been there when people start talking about something that might need to be resolved in some meeting some time down the road but it’s not even remotely part of this agenda?  That’s the time for the leader to step in and say “That’s a great point but it’s not part of this agenda so let’s stick to what we need to do here.”
  5. Write it Down:  You ever go to one of those meetings where you have to spend the first 20 minutes reconstructing what you decided at the last meeting?  Do not let this happen. Write down what was decided. Write down what action items must be taken and by whom before the next meeting.


I’ve had people tell me that introducing process into meetings makes them interminably long. I would argue the reverse. I think they’re much more efficient when you put this kind of structure around them.  Have you ever been part of a scrum? This brief meeting, created by people engaged in product development using the Agile method, is meant to be conducted standing up and everyone is meant to leave it knowing just what to do.

Now if that’s the kind of meeting Marissa Mayer wants people to come back to work for, it might succeed (though I think you can make that kind of meeting powerful no matter where people are).

But that’s part II for next week: How to Make a Telecommuting Staff Pay Off.

We can provide training for leaders on how to transform your meetings into productive, decision making power sessions.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.