“Why do we have three separate meetings to go over the same spreadsheet?” said a colleague a few years back, mid-meeting. He had a point: we had three of the same weekly status meeting, whose purpose in each case was to read through that spreadsheet. Half the attendees were lost in their laptops. I was paying attention, but only because there were so many people in the room that we’d run out of chairs.
Sound familiar? How about the one where we can’t figure out what to talk about in the recurring meeting, so we make up topics? Or the secret ad-hoc meeting to accomplish whatever we know we’re not going to get done in the real meeting? Or maybe the “alignment” meeting where the VP tells us his plan, ignores our input, and then says, “Great meeting, guys!”
I’ve spent the last twenty years in tech—as a designer, a product manager, a people manager, a founder, and an executive. For much of that, I’ve focused on communication and collaboration tools, from personal to-do list apps to productivity startups to behemoths like Gmail. I didn’t set out to specialize—indeed, my last role was a much-needed break from this space—but I find myself inexorably drawn to it.
Why? My reasons have changed over the course of my career—and, to some extent, with the evolution of product design itself. At first, it was about organizing and finding information: with thousands upon thousands of emails, how do you slice through the clutter to get at what matters? But the more projects I did, the clearer it became that the biggest, most challenging problems aren’t about the information. They’re about the people—organic, irrational humans and the relationships they form. And the more I learned about people and their quirks, the more excited I became about tackling those problems.
The turning point, for me, was a deceptively simple project: a to-do app called Stky that I designed and built back in 2012. Its fundamental insight: productivity isn’t about how much you get done; it’s about whether you feel a sense of control over your life. If you can keep your job, pay your bills, and feel good about everything without ever checking off a single to-do, that’s fine! Designing a great productivity tool requires, first and foremost, attention to psychology. And that’s even before it becomes collaborative; once it does, you’re dealing with group psychology and questions of organizational behavior.
It would be naive to suggest that software determines organizational culture—but surely it contributes. Give one team Slack and another Gmail, and you’ll end up with different communication norms, both online and off. So as developers, we can’t create culture but we can influence it, for good or for ill.
Slack (like email before it) has changed the nature of our professional relationships, just as Facebook has changed our personal ones. Google Docs has changed the cadence of workplace collaboration. Shared calendars have altered how we schedule things, right down to our expectations of what’s polite, impolite, and interruptive.
Know what hasn’t changed? Meetings. A bunch of people get in a room (or lately, a Zoom) and talk about a thing. Maybe there’s an agenda; often there’s not. Maybe a decision is reached; often, not so much. Maybe alignment is achieved but often, one or two people do all the talking and everyone else is just...there. Not working. Not contributing. Maybe you schedule a follow-up to finish the conversation, whose goals are still not understood. Maybe six weeks later you just have the same meeting again. And nobody says, “Hey, this whole meetings thing isn’t working...is there a better way?” Or somebody says it, like my colleague, and is ignored.
Yes, there’s software out there to help with meetings. Purpose-built collaborative agendas. Shared note-taking systems. Polls you can use mid-meeting. Designers, who often have training in facilitation, have additional tools at their disposal: real-time canvases like Miro and Figma that, when used properly, can be invaluable in structuring a productive meeting.
When used properly.
And that’s the problem: those tools might be useful to someone who’s already a champion facilitator. But you can’t turn someone into a chef by sending her a set of mixing bowls, and you can’t turn someone into a great facilitator by sending her a better note-taking app.
Great meetings aren’t a pipe dream. Skilled meeting leaders—meeting heroes—understand how to achieve them reliably, and have a toolkit of techniques at their disposal.
So, how do we turn mediocre meeting leaders into meeting heroes? It’s not about simple training or education: if it were, all the articles and books and podcasts and consultants would have fixed this by now. It’s not about research: so much of that has already been done, but we rarely implement even the simplest of its findings. It’s not about refining our toolkit: we don’t leverage the toolkit we already have.
No, to turn meeting leaders into meeting heroes, we need a platform for behavior change: a product that guides people to run better meetings, that requires low enough effort that they needn’t make a time commitment, that works seamlessly with their existing infrastructure, that rewards them for a job well done and highlights opportunities for improvement.
In short, we need exactly the sort of product I love to build.
So, here we go: I’m proud to pre-introduce Miter. It’s early days for us. There’s so much yet to figure out, so many unexpected twists and turns, heartbreaks, and triumphs ahead of us. We’re excited for the adventure, and for the opportunity to make people’s work lives better.
And, we’re eager for your help. If you’re an engineer and this sounds exciting, drop me a line: we’ll be hiring soon. If you hate meetings, head over to our website and tell us your worst-meeting story. Hit us up on Twitter with your ideas. Or, y’know, drop something in my calendar. But make sure it’s at least two hours long, there’s no agenda or goal, and you have a sixty-slide deck to present.