Professional Development | Running Effective Meetings

Running Effective Meetings

All of us have experienced meetings that feel like a complete waste of our time. But, what are the key factors that contribute to an efficiently run, productive meeting? How can you do everything possible to make sure everyone leaves the meeting feeling energized and like they’ve really accomplished something?

For the most part, effective meetings can be boiled down to a few key factors:

  • They accomplish the meeting’s purpose
  • They accomplish the meeting’s purpose in the least amount of time
  • They are run with enough of a logical process that everyone leaves feeling that they understood the necessity of the meeting and what was accomplished during the meeting.

Let’s dive deeper into all three of these important factors.

1. Maintain a clear objective for the meeting and a plan for how you will accomplish it.

No one likes being a part of an aimless meeting that feels like a gigantic waste of time. Before calling a meeting, it’s a good idea to be very clear about what you would consider a successful outcome. Do you want a plan to be created? A decision to be made? New ideas to be generated? Do you want the participants to learn or understand something?

To help you clearly define the meeting’s objective, know the answer to this question: “When the meeting is adjourned, I want everyone to ________.”

2. Be considerate of everyone’s time (including your own!)

The biggest complaint I hear about meetings is that it was a waste of their time (their most precious resource).

Here are a few ideas for creating an agenda that will allow you to control the meeting in such a way that everything that happens during the meeting furthers the objective.

  • Prioritize everything you’d like to cover so that the most important things will be addressed in the time allotted no matter what. Even better – allot a specific amount of time to be spent on each item in your agenda and let everyone know what the schedule is. Say, “In the next 10 minutes, we need to come to a conclusion about this issue…” If the issue has not been fully addressed in the time allotted, you can delegate it to someone else, table the issue for another time, or just push for a decision.
  • State the meeting objective from the outset so that everyone is focused on the same goal.
  • Only invite the people that absolutely must be there. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a “Two Pizza Rule” for meetings: If 2 pizzas aren’t enough to feed the number of people in the room, there are too many people at the meeting. It’s just more difficult to get anything accomplished when there are too many people in the room.
  • Using your list of priorities for the meeting, consider whether there is anything participants need to do before hand in order to be prepared. If the purpose of the meeting is to solve a problem, let them know that ahead of time and ask them to come to the meeting with solutions in mind. If the meeting’s purpose is to create a plan, ask everyone to come to the meeting with ideas for how they will contribute.

3. Have a logical process for accomplishing the meeting’s objective and communicate that process to all participants.

Pass the agenda out to participants ahead of time and ask for their input. This not only makes sure everyone is on the same page right from the start, but encourages buy-in from everyone involved. The best meetings are truly participatory, not dictatorial. It also allows for the agenda to be adjusted to important items you may not have been aware of or disregard items that have already been dealt with outside of the meeting.

Here are a few more ideas for how to create an effective process:

  • During the meeting, before you move from one agenda item to the next, summarize what was said or decided and make sure everyone is clear on any action items. If something requires further discussion, put someone in charge of making that happen or set a new meeting time right then and there.
  • Do everything you can to keep the meeting on topic and following the agenda, but don’t be too ridged. If it’s clear that everyone needs a break, or that you are at an impasse, adjust as necessary.
  • As a leader, be a role model by really listening as others speak, making eye contact, and showing interest and appreciation for all contributions. Also, admit your own mistakes.
  • Create a “holding place” for ideas that arise during the meeting that are off topic. This can be as simple as a white board or a blank sheet of paper from an easel pad taped to the wall. This will allow you to safeguard important ideas for later consideration while not steering the meeting completely off the rails.
  • Assign someone the task of keeping notes about important next steps and decisions made. Ask them to send a meeting summary to participants directly following the meeting.
  • Ask meeting participants for their feedback about what went well and what could have been done better. This will not only help you to improve future meetings, but will help keep meetings on subject. When participants know that they will have time later to discuss procedural issues or air any complaints, they will be less likely to bring these points up during the meeting itself. If you’re looking for a good meeting evaluation template, you’ll find one here.

A few other things to consider…

Structure. How should you organize the meeting in order to achieve your objective? Determine whether it might be good to invite a guest speaker, create a PowerPoint, create discussion groups, etc.

Location and Time. Just because meetings are always held in Board Room A, doesn’t mean it’s the best location for every meeting. Choose a place that will best support your objective and put people in the right frame of mind. If you need to generate creative thinking, consider getting everyone out of the office, if at all possible. Also give some thought to the meeting time. It might be more convenient for everyone to meet at 4pm on Friday, but the end of the workweek might not be the most productive time for anyone.

Consider bringing food and drinks. Providing coffee and muffins at an 8am meeting, lunch at a noon meeting and afternoon snacks at a 4pm meeting will provide some additional energy and motivation. At the very least, make sure there is water and coffee on hand.

Above all, remember that meetings CAN be fun and productive. It’s easy to get bogged down from the pressure of leading meetings, especially important ones. But stress diminishes creativity and can lower the quality of the meeting’s results as much as disorganization can. Try to relax and remember that the best results come from groups who are able to laugh together, be honest about mistakes and take pride in their accomplishments.

What are your suggestions for running effective meetings? Please share them in the comments box.


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