Collaborating in a low-meeting environment

"That 1 hour meeting could have been an email. " - Nick, all the time

Tremendous has a low-internal-meeting culture, and it’s awesome. We prefer to write things out. Docs eliminate the need for many meetings, and make the ones we do have more effective.

This doc explains why we have this culture and provides practical tips and examples for how you can uphold it.

What’s the beef with meetings?

Success for Tremendous hinges on our ability to create and ship things.

Creation requires deep work–uninterrupted focus time where we can work on challenging problems. Coding, designing, writing, planning, organizing, researching, editing, and problem-solving all require deep work.

Simultaneously, meetings can be an incredible productivity tool! It can be more effective to talk something out for 15 minutes than to wrack your brain on it for 8 hours.

Tremendous still has meetings. We strive to eliminate unnecessary ones, and make the ones we do have as efficient as possible.

Before jumping to a meeting, write it down

Whatever you were going to communicate in a meeting– write it down (or sketch it or record it). And share it.

If you wind up meeting to discuss, the other parties will have the context from your doc. This makes the meeting more effective, because you can focus on discussion.

Often you’ll find you didn’t need to meet at all!

Practical tips

If you’re new, and are stuck or otherwise need help, don’t sweat this too much

  • New folks sometimes get intimidated and avoid asking for help because they don’t want to incur on others’ time. This is counterproductive.
  • Live conversations are helpful when starting out. You’re trying to assimilate context, and are asking a ton of questions. Live convos also help you build relationships with your co-workers.
  • It takes time to calibrate to our approach. You’ll absorb it by watching others and getting feedback yourself.

When a meeting is appropriate

  • When you shared a message, doc, or video, but the amount of discussion makes it obvious that it’d be faster to resolve live.
  • When there’s a lot back-and-forth required– like discussing a course of action, debating whether to extend an offer to a candidate, architecting a feature, or pair programming.
  • When you’re kicking off a major project or making a big decision, to discuss and get alignment from others.
  • When you’re building relationships or helping a team gel. It’s hard to make friends in Notion comments.
  • When you’re handling something emotionally tricky, like giving constructive feedback.
  • When you’re stuck. Talking things out is a great way to unblock yourself. Use sparingly.
  • When there’s an emergency that requires immediate action.
  • When the meeting is well-structured and known to be useful. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

When a meeting is inappropriate

  • When a message, doc, email, deck, or video would have sufficed.
  • When all you’re doing is sharing information. See above.
  • To talk through updates. This is people taking turns sharing information. Prefer writing out updates and circulating them, so the meeting can focus on discussion.
  • To solicit opinions before you’ve done work yourself. Research and write out the problem and the options in a doc first. Get feedback async, and then discuss.

How to ask for meetings

  • Don’t sweat asking for an ad-hoc meeting with 1 or 2 people. They’re low-cost. It’s the big, recurring ones we worry about.
  • If you’re going back and forth on Slack in real time, you can ask “Want to chat live about this real quick?” and send over a Zoom link.
  • When asking to meet, explain why. Don’t just be like “Can we meet?”. Context helps prioritize the request. Plus, without it, people will assume the worst.

How to run a meeting

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting, and include it in the calendar invite.
  • Link to the pre-read in the calendar invite. If it’s not ready yet, mention it’s forthcoming.
  • Use pre-reads or pre-watches to get everyone on the same page before the meeting.
  • Great meetings start with an objective: “This meeting is for X. It will be a success if we can do Y and Z.”
  • Avoid starting meetings by reading the pre-read doc out loud. Instead, confirm that everyone has read it, and jump into the discussion points.
  • If key attendees haven’t read the materials, give them 5 minutes to do so at the start.

How to manage big / recurring meetings

  • Smaller meetings are more effective. It’s OK to exclude people from meetings in order to keep them small. Share notes or a recording with the folks who didn’t attend.
  • Larger meetings require more structure. The more people involved, the more prep required. Definitely set an agenda.
  • At a certain size (15+?), meetings become useless. Discussion is impossible, or dominated by a few people. Or the meeting devolves into one-to-many information exchange. Consider breaking into smaller ones, reducing meeting attendees, or eliminating entirely.
  • Recurring team meetings get sneakily large when teams grow, and will need to be restructured.
  • Owners of recurring meetings are responsible for ensuring they’re valuable by soliciting feedback, making adjustments, or canceling as needed.

How to be a good attendee

  • Show up on time. If you’re running behind, notify the organizer.
  • Review pre-reads or pre-watches in advance. Don’t be this person.
  • If a meeting seemed ineffective, give the organizer feedback. Even if it is your boss’s boss. Tell ‘em Nick and Kapil made you do it.
  • Question meetings. Regularly ask “Was that meeting worth it?”

How to protect your time

  • Block your calendar when you need to focus to keep random meetings or interviews from being scheduled.
  • Reschedule meetings to batch them together to optimize for focus time. This might mean rearranging your schedule so most of them are on one day. Clockwise will also do this for you.
  • Decline low-value meetings. This includes internal meetings (ping the organizer first saying you don’t need to attend), and external meetings (random LinkedIn requests, vendor meetings).


Starting with a doc, and escalating to a meeting

Here’s an example where Angie and Kapil are trying to improve collaboration between product and sales.

  • Angie was trying to improve visibility for the sales team on the product roadmap and changes.
  • She drafted a doc on Sales / Product collaboration, and shared it with Kapil in a thread to get his thoughts.
  • Kapil reviewed the doc, commented on it, and suggested chatting live to discuss some of the content in more detail (with a rationale)
  • They scheduled some time, and had a productive session (that led to the creation of this list of GTM needs from product)


Avoiding meetings through documentation

At most companies, product and design reviews are done in meetings. Tremendous uses an asynchronous review process that’s been wonderfully efficient thus far:


Employing the pre-read / pre-watch

Brenna, the PMM working on our fraud prevention feature, wanted to align with stakeholders across product, sales, and marketing to make sure our launch was successful.

  • She put together a pre-watch video covering how the feature works and the details of positioning, so we wouldn’t have to cover how the product worked
  • The meeting was kept small, and recorded so others could access if needed.
  • The call itself was focused on Q&A and discussion. We wrapped in 22m!


Structuring a recurring task meeting

On a weekly basis, the PM team, Kapil, and Magnus process the Product Inbox in a live meeting. The goal of the meeting is to discuss and triage the tickets as efficiently as possible.

  • We know it’s best done live, because there’s so much back-and-forth to triage correctly. Often times, 3 or 4 people need to weigh in!
  • The agenda is set / standardized: run through the list, triage them, and explain the rationale for why.
  • Attendees do pre-work of reviewing tickets in advance, sometimes even commenting and categorizing.

Running a meeting without doing a standup

Client Experience’s weekly check-ins have eliminated most procedural items, and instead focus on demos and team bonding.

  • Everyone logs individual updates beforehand (example).
  • Agendas include demos and work-related discussion topics (see examples), but sometimes the full 30m is spent on a prompt that has nothing to do with work.
  • The social parts consist of icebreakers, like “What’s your hometown’s and/or culture’s most underrated food?”


Does Tremendous have meetings?

Yes! We have 1:1s, weekly team meetings, kickoffs, all hands. We’re just judicious about using them.

What about meeting with customers or candidates?

External meetings, like interviews or sales calls, are totally different than the internal meetings this doc is focused on. If you are in an external-facing role (e.g. sales, customer success, recruiting), you will end up with a large number of external meetings on your calendar.

Does this apply to leaders as well?

Yes- leaders at Tremendous are constantly doing deep work– writing, editing, brainstorming, reviewing.

For a visual, here’s our CEO’s calendar vs. a typical CEO’s calendar:


Wait, does it actually make people happier?

Definitely. We hear it all the time. Here are examples of people talking about it unprompted in our culture surveys:

  • I find that my values and the company’s values are similar ”Especially when it comes to things like async work, using meetings effectively, helping each other out, etc.”
  • I am proud to tell others that I am part of this company “No VC money baby. Plus, no meetings where people pretend to be important or busy
  • How likely are you to recommend your company as a place to work? “Tremendous is a great place to work! Low meeting culture, high productivity, dedicated individuals who really care about our product”