As a senior member of our Product team, I sit at the intersection of many decisions between teams such as Engineering, Design and Product Marketing. These teams may have differing perspectives day-to-day, so it is one of my responsibilities to help communicate and unify the teams towards our shared vision at key moments in the product creation process.
Throughout my six years at Narrative Science, I’ve learned that there are very different types of meetings, and each type benefits from unique organization and processes. In this post, let’s look at “buy-in” meetings and techniques to help them be successful.
Tip 1) Understand when it’s a buy-in meeting
A “buy-in” meeting is one where you need a group of people to agree and commit to a particular direction. The goal is that everyone leaves the meeting dedicated to the agreed-upon direction and (hopefully) becomes mini-advocates for the decision. This way, they can understand the reason for the decision and confidently defend and articulate it to other folks not directly involved in the process.
You’ll quickly realize that you haven’t reached this goal if you see a bunch of vague head nods during the meeting and the conclusions are promptly forgotten or ignored after the meeting is over.
Tip 2) Socialize your proposal ahead of time
Ahead of the meeting, circulate two very important documents with enough lead time so participants can actually read and consider them.
The first document is the full proposal, which includes whatever detail necessary for people to fully grasp and respond to your proposal.
The second document is a subset of your full proposal—it is the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read) list of bullet points that captures the most important concepts from the full proposal.
Many of the folks in your meeting (particularly the more senior ones) may lack the time to read through the entire proposal, but there should be no excuses for not reading the TL;DR list. This is why it's super critical that the TL;DR list captures the most controversial or contentious points from the full proposal. Essentially, you're shooting for "If you agree with everything in the TL;DR list then you will also agree with everything in the full proposal."
Make sure to send an explicit email that makes it clear that at least the TL;DR list needs to be read and considered in advance of the meeting (people tend to ignore documents if they are just attached to a meeting invite or shared via Google Docs.)
Tip 3) Use the TL;DR list as a meeting agenda
If the TL;DR list accurately reflects the full proposal, and you can get the entire room to formally agree to each point in the list, then the entire room has also agreed to the full proposal. The actual meeting itself can stay focused by essentially going through each point in the list and marking them as "Agreed-to" or "Needs further discussion".
There's also psychological benefit to tagging each point as Agreed-to as the meeting progresses: it makes each participant a positive supporter of the idea. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert believes, “once we’ve committed to a course of action, we stop thinking about alternatives. Or, if we do bother to think about them, we think about how lousy they are compared to our clearly superior and awesome choice."
In other words, positively supporting an idea is a much stronger commitment than, "I didn't comment negatively on the idea", and it will help ensure that the participants of the meeting are active supporters and champions of the ideas and decision to others not involved in the process.
Tip 4) Take notes and incorporate comments
Take notes on the discussion during the meeting in as public a way as possible. One easy way to do this is commenting directly on the TL;DR list on a shared screen as the meeting progresses. Taking notes publicly shows participants that their opinions are important to the process, emphasizing the valuable nature of their feedback by accurately incorporating their ideas into the meeting.
After the meeting, take time to add the participants’ thoughts into the main body of the proposal. As much as possible, be explicit in responding to each comment, including the ones that won’t further the proposal or make their way into the document. This is perfectly fine, but it’s not okay for someone to feel that their contribution was just set aside or ignored.
Tip 5) Recirculate the modified and agreed-to proposal
Finally, recirculate the reconciled proposal. If there was significant disagreement during the first meeting, you may need to repeat the process (hopefully resulting in big chunks of the proposal agreed-to and serving as "ground truth" during further discussion).
If most accept the bulk of the proposal during the first meeting, the reconciled proposal can likely just recirculate along with a helpful reminder that everything in the document was already agreed-to.
Building and delivering an innovative technology like Quill has taught me a lot about team dynamics. It’s also taught me that technologies like Quill wouldn’t exist without each team member contributing their perspective and help. Overall, buy-in meetings are essential to a company’s continued growth and ability to get to market quickly, so hopefully these tips can be a helpful guide next time you must align multiple perspectives around a shared vision.