“Are the conversations after a meeting a lot more honest than the ones in a meeting?”

Eric Barker advises asking the titular question as a way of assessing whether or not a company is in a state of denial:

Yet denial isn’t the only reason I can think of for why post-meeting conversations might be more honest than the ones in the meeting.  Here are a few other reasons I can think of off the top of my head, and what you should do about them if they apply to your startup:

1) Team members don’t feel like they are allowed to speak up during meetings.
This usually happens when a founder or executive assumes a dictatorial role, rather than seeking out input.  If you can eliminate the dictator, do so. If *you* are the dictator, it’s going to take a lot of work to change this culture; you’ll have to change your behavior and consistently seek the input of others in a very public way.

2) Team members feel like if they speak up during meetings, their input will be ignored.
Even the startup doesn’t have an abusive dictator, employees whose input is ignored will eventually stop bothering to speak up.  Why bother to exert yourself, if it never has any impact?  If you’re the leader, find ways to clearly, explicitly, and publicly incorporate feedback from contributors.  If you don’t think you can do this without compromising the company’s chance of success, either you’re deluding yourself, of you’ve done a terrible job of hiring.  Either way, you need to make a chance.

3) Discussions are holy wars rather than open inquiry.
In Silicon Valley, we aren’t very fond of tyrants.  But it’s also an issue if every member of the team argues for their opinion, rather than being open to others’ ideas.  Instead of having one monstrous tyrant, you have an army of petty tyrants.  Either way, it discourages real dialogue.

4) You don’t leave enough meeting time for a complete discussion.
It’s tempting to view extended debate as a waste of time.  After all, there’s always more to do, and the best time for any action is generally “yesterday.”  But the only thing worse than filling your schedule with meetings is filling your schedule with rushed meetings that don’t reach a satisfactory conclusion.  When you run out of time, the temptation is to kick the can down the road to a subsequent meeting (wasteful) or make a fiat decision just to have made a decision (disheartening).  Usually, it’s better to make the decision, but it’s even better to make sure you leave enough time to reach a decision.

In most of these cases, the people involved have good intentions, even the tyrants.  But good intentions don’t necessarily result in good meetings.  If you’re frustrated with your meetings, take the time to diagnose and treat the problem.

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