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Make better decisions faster without meetings

The Hidden Challenge Keeping Us In Meetings

How better decision making practices could liberate teams from unnecessary meetings.

Hang on to your PSLs folks: we have a lot to share this month! If you’ve been following along this far, you know that we left Atlassian to build something that helps bring asynchronous communication to remote workers. We’ve been talking to loads of knowledge workers, while also thinking through the company culture we want to foster. So what’s new? Let’s start with the current reality many of us are facing.

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The Synchronous Communication Trap

When the pandemic hit and knowledge workers were forced to become remote workers overnight, there wasn’t an opportunity to think through processes and make sure they made sense in a distributed context. (Not to mention all the pandemic related challenges to health and childcare!) As a result, companies copied and pasted in office practices in a remote environment. They adopted chat to mimic the tap on the shoulder. They discovered video meetings could work for lots of previously in-person synchronous interactions. They LARP-d their jobs. And things snowballed from there.

Time and again in user interviews we hear that people are logging insane hours after work and on the weekends after spending most of their actual workday in meetings and responding to chat.

Creative workers need the ability to focus and execute: writing, coding, designing, etc. Meetings aren’t bad in and of themselves. But defaulting to meetings all the time isn’t the answer, either. We’ve all been in good meetings and bad meetings and know the difference. We need more of the former, and none of the latter.

What Are People Doing In Meetings?

In user interviews, we heard things like “gaining alignment,” or “building consensus” when we asked what all those meetings were about. Digging in further, we discovered a major problem lurking in the shadows pre-pandemic which became amplified by the challenges of remote work.

A big problem leading to meeting overload is decision making. Decisions throw off all sorts of questions that spawn meetings including things like trying to understand:

  • What information is needed to make a decision
  • How important is the decision at hand
  • Who has the authority to make a decision
  • When does a decision need to be made
  • Who should be included in a decision

Decisions are complex interactions between multiple stakeholders that have varying degrees of importance. Due to questions and ambiguous complexity surrounding decisions, teams end up in endless cycles of trying to figure out what needs to be decided before work actually begins.

Office Space movie meme

Does This Sound Familiar?

You’re a product manager in charge of an upcoming launch. So much to do, so many people involved, so little time! This week, you’ve been going in circles with the Engineering team and Marketing on when the launch will take place. Marketing wants to launch during an industry event. Engineering needs more time. You decide today is the day to make a decision.

  • You spend the day in meetings with stakeholders about considerations for the launch date. Most of the day goes by in 1:1s with Marketing, Engineering, Support and Design on coordinating details.
  • You send an update in Slack regarding the launch. Marketing is upset because the date is after the industry event. Engineering still feels like it’s not enough time. Support totally misses the message because they are dealing with another issue.
  • Your boss DMs you asking what the status of this decision is. You struggle to remember all the details from every stakeholder and spend a bunch of time scrolling through chatter in chat to figure out a cogent response.
  • Frustrated, your boss just picks a date for the launch. Everyone is unhappy.

Some variation of the above is happening in just about every department in almost every company…all the time.

A 10 year study performed by Bain (published in 2013) showed a 95% confidence interval in the correlation between decision effectiveness and business performance. It turns out that effective decision making is at the core of most successful business processes. Yet, just about everyone struggles with how to do it, especially as an organization scales.

Where We Fit In

We see a huge opportunity to help teams make better decisions faster, and in many cases, without meetings. Most decisions suffer from:

  • A lack of process - How is the decision even made? How do we decide who to involve in making the decision? Where is this communication taking place?
  • A lack of documentation - How do we gather the inputs necessary to make a decision? Where do we communicate the outcome of a decision? How do we inspire action?
  • A lack of a central home - Where do we go to find out why certain decisions were made? How do we build institutional memory for the future?

We believe that by adding a little bit of structure, we can help bring a lot of clarity to complex and ambiguous interactions - starting with decision making. Using the power of simplicity to help with the challenge of complexity is core to our vision and experience building Trello.

We’re currently heads down in building mode and will be sharing a way to sign up for an alpha very soon.

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