Typeform’s Joaquim Lecha on How to Make Meetings More Meaningful
For Typeform CEO Joaquim Lecha, a meeting isn’t just a meeting – it’s an opportunity to make a deeper, more meaningful connection. His vision was reflected in a recent virtual event that explored the ways people can have meaningful conversations to create better and more inclusive workplaces and societies.
Editor's Note: The following article is an excerpt from our book Better Meetings Every Time: The Secret to More Productive Meetings in a Digital World. You can access the entire book here.
At Typeform, according to Joaquim, business has always been personal. In the company’s early days, employees were clustered mainly in one of two Barcelona offices, with a third group centralized in a coworking space in San Francisco. Typeform’s rapid growth in the past year, however, during a time when offices were closed, has tested how smoothly the team can scale while retaining a high level of personal connection.
Today, Typeform’s 370-plus employees are scattered across Europe and North America. Among others, teams have sprouted up in the UK (mostly in London), Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany, with a handful of engineers based out of Russia, Poland and Hungary. And that small San Francisco contingent? Now it’s a full US arm that encompasses nearly 15% of the company’s headcount and it’s growing fast.
“I haven’t even started imagining what things will be like when we hit 1,200 or 1,500 or 1,800 employees spread all over the world,” says Joaquim.
The company’s sudden growth means that for every team member who was once able to grab some real face-to-face time in the communal kitchen or over beers in the “barception” area of their Barcelona headquarters, there’s another recently onboarded coworker sitting behind a monitor in some distant city, hours behind or ahead.
In a time when many are working from home, how does Typeform keep new and long-time employees engaged, while continuing to nurture personal connections?
“With difficulty and learning,” Joaquim says. “During COVID times, we’ve been able to hire a lot of talented professionals. We’ve had to be novel in how we approach workshops, onboarding, and communications.”
It’s an apt challenge for a leader whose company is all about gathering insights and creating meaningful connections at scale.
What is a meaningful conversation, anyway?
Joaquim and his team have spent a lot of time thinking about how to replicate authentic connections between individuals in an online setting. The way he sees it, successful companies use their products to engage with customers in a way that treats them like humans, creating authentic relationships while also maintaining scalability.
Typeform doesn’t just solicit information from users – it engages them in a conversational, interactive experience that moves fluidly and helps brands get a more personalized understanding of their customers.
“Online interaction is enabled by technology,” Joaquim says. “Technology helps, but sometimes technology is not human-like. Sometimes it might be a little inhuman. We’ve thought a lot about how we can make those online interactions more human-like. And we’ve thought about the concept of meaningful conversation.”
For Joaquim and his team, a meaningful conversation has four main attributes:
It’s relevant to the participant.
It’s a beautiful experience.
In a team setting, this means being deliberate about who’s involved in a meeting, while providing participants with relevant context and discussion topics to prepare for the meeting ahead of time, so that they feel valued and encouraged to contribute meaningfully.
It also means finding the best medium to gather, share ideas, and make decisions. At Typeform, more meetings does not mean more meaningful. Depending on the topic, the best medium might be a synchronous virtual meeting, but it also increasingly involves interactive tools like shared documents and video.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of Joaquim’s suggestions for how to make meetings more meaningful.
Embrace the asynchronous (and the synchronous)
On a given day, Joaquim has three to five meetings of 30 to 45 minutes in length – altogether he estimates that half of his workday is spent in meetings. As his team’s communications have shifted to a virtual environment, spread across multiple time zones, his team has begun to lean into the benefits of asynchronicity to give context to meeting participants.
“San Francisco and Barcelona are nine hours apart,” he says. “Written communication is so important. This means sharing documents, and writing clearly and thoughtfully. You have to provide context, make yourself understandable for others to read, and be able to contribute.”
In addition to Typeform’s monthly all-hands meeting, the company also holds a monthly asynchronous all-hands meeting where individual members prepare video presentations that people can view at their leisure.
Joaquim has evolved the ways he uses asynchronous communication to provide the right context and relevance for people. Previously, he would devote time to carefully planning and preparing presentations to give in front of his team. These days, he favors sharing the slides ahead of time so that when they all meet, they can use the time to actually discuss what has been shared.
His team has managed to scale this front-loaded approach by preparing video content that discusses company-wide topics like quarterly financial performance, user research, product roadmaps, and company policies regarding work-from-home benefits.
“Making that content available and letting people choose which videos they want to watch gives more power to the meeting participants,” he says.
Make each team member feel special (because they are)
To Joaquim and his team, the key to success lies in talent. He knows that a few desks and computers alone don’t produce anything without humans at the helm, and people respond best to individual and personal attention.
“In any kind of interaction, there are elements that need to be personalized,” Joaquim says. “Showing people individually how valuable they are and how they can contribute will make them more effective at their work.”
That sense of personalization extends to how Typeform approaches internal communications.
“Instead of trying to do one to many, we think about many one-to-ones,” Joaquim says.
With colleagues he speaks to every day or several times a week, he’s taken to using phone calls rather than virtual meetings, so that he can maintain a focused conversation while reducing his own sense of screen fatigue.
For larger meetings, he approaches each discussion with a clear purpose and stated goal, and from there he works backwards to achieve the desired outcome.
“Why are we having this conversation? What is it we want to achieve?” he says. “Once we know that, we can ask: Is everybody well-prepared? Did we miss someone who has important insight? Based on the desired outcome, what is the best way to get there?”
Make the professional personal
Meetings at Typeform aren’t all about making important business decisions and goals. Having meaningful conversations requires engaging with people on a human level. Over the past year, there’s been a lot to engage with as people transitioned to working from home.
“We were concerned about people not separating work from life,” Joaquim says. “When we were in shelter-in-place, there weren’t many reasons to do any other things.” He encouraged managers to check in with their team members via regular 10-minute meetings and conversations to see how they were coping.
While these check-ins have helped replace some of the human connection lost between computer monitors and timezones, Joaquim says that for the Barcelona-based company there’s no topping a meal shared between teammates.
“Here in Spain, we have a big food culture – going out and having a beer or wine with friends, having a good meal in a restaurant,” he says.
Typeform’s teams regularly have lunch together virtually, since they can no longer do so in person. They have also moved whiteboard sessions and workshops to a digital environment to continue generating new ideas and to keep individuals socially engaged.
As offices gradually reopen and opportunities for in-person engagement return, Joaquim and his team’s efforts to stay connected over the past year – from learning to work virtually to having better video meetings to welcoming new employees into the company culture – will go a long way in making sure that meetings at Typeform remain meaningful.