How to Lead Meetings That People Want to Come To

13839444 - office presentation “I hate meetings, don’t you?”

He said this as we were about to go into our meeting.

I didn’t, entirely, take it personally. We were exploring a possible partnership together. We hadn’t met often.

I’m certain he was referring to the meetings he had within his organization.

But the comment started things on an awkward tone. He was clearly watching the clock. I was clearly watching him watch the clock. Our ability to focus on what we said we wanted to talk about was diminished.

Personally, I like meetings. I very rarely don’t look forward to a meeting.

The reason is simple. I insist on valuable meetings.

If I’m running a meeting, I set it up so that it generates value. If I’m invited to a meeting, I won’t continue meeting with people if there isn’t value.

It’s that simple.

It also means that I usually only go to meetings that I set up. I recognize that this isn’t a luxury that everyone has.

However, if you are in leadership, you do have the luxury of making sure that your meetings produce value.

For leaders, some of our most important work will take place in a meeting. Leadership is a relationship. We interact with people. So, we need to meet.

We know this. But we mistakenly think the meeting is important. The meeting isn’t.

A meeting is only an opportunity to produce value. Make sure that yours produce high value.

Then you’ll enjoy your meetings.

And get a lot done.

To-Do’s for Leading Consistently High-Value Meetings

Define a Single Purpose or Outcome When you know what the meeting should accomplish you’ll find it easier to achieve it.

Individual Meetings: Every meeting should have a purpose. I don’t mean an agenda (although it should also have an agenda). I mean it should have a purpose.

If you only accomplish one thing in this meeting what should that be? Organize everything around ensuring that is accomplished.

Standing Meetings: For standing meetings, be very clear on what the overall purpose of those standing meetings is as well as the purpose of this week’s meeting.

For example, if a weekly staff meeting is a useful part of refocusing your team, maintaining accountability and keeping your finger on the pulse – construct the meeting to do those things. Don’t let it get sidetracked by announcements that could be made through a memo or discussion that is only relevant to one person in the room.

I find that the productivity of most standing meetings jumps when there is a larger plan for the meetings. For example, if your team sets a theme for the quarter and breaks it down into relevant phases for progress. Name each one and assign it to the meeting.

Now you know what the quarterly purpose is of your regular meetings and each meeting consecutively builds towards that purpose.

Some teams stand during their standing meeting – just to help motivate people to move quickly.

If you aren’t running a meeting, ask what the outcome of the meeting should be. Push beyond, “We just want to hear what everyone is up to.”

2. Create & Control Your Agenda Don’t wander into meetings. Chart your course in advance. Design your agenda to accomplish the purpose or outcomes above. Components of an effective agenda:

  • It provides ample time for deliberation or discussion on topics related to the purpose.
  • It is designed to get to “the purpose” first. Don’t stack your meeting with formalities, reports, and nonsense leaving the critical conversations for when people are tired, uninterested and out of time.
  • It is announced in advance, so people know how to prepare themselves.
  • It is simple.
  • It is controlled. While it is always important to be able to discern when a critical conversation might need to be allowed to continue – it is more often the case that we let the meeting get hijacked or just wander.

3. Ensure the Right People & Right Information Are in The Room

The Right People: Many meetings are worthless because a decision maker or someone with the necessary information isn’t in the room. Don’t meet if a meeting can’t be productive. Ensure that you have the right people present. This is easier to do when everyone starts to recognize that your meetings are high-value meetings.

The Right Information: Many meetings are worthless because people don’t have the right information for decision making present. If you know what the purpose is, and you know who is present, you should know what information may be needed to help the meeting accomplish its goals.

The only time not having the right information might be acceptable is if the meeting pushes a conversation or decision-making process so far forward that new, important questions have emerged.

Then the meeting has served its purpose by identifying what information is needed for next time.

4. Capture Decisions & Commitment

Many meetings jettison any value they created by not recording decisions or individual commitments and accountabilities. You don’t need highly formalized minutes. You just need to:

  • Capture & record decisions as they are made.
  • Capture commitment: Who agrees to do what? By when?
  • Quickly review & confirm this at the end of the meeting.
  • Make sure everyone gets a copy of it. If you do keep minutes, I find it most useful to pull all of this out of the record and put into a box at the top. That way people don’t have to read through everything (which they mostly won’t do) to remember what they are supposed to do.

5. Follow Up (Use Systems to Make This Easier)

If you capture decisions and commitments as I’ve described above, it is very easy to go into your next meeting and check on progress.

If you find that progress reports routinely tend to meander – it is often because the person reporting isn’t sure what information they need to give. So, they either under or over report. Or selectively report.

Using systems (even the simple one I described above) helps keep people focused on the relevant information. Using simple dashboards, where key metrics (often just 1 or 2) are displayed, can take an hour of reporting and reduce it to a 5-minute review. If your key metrics are tightly connected to your goals – they double as great accountability tools.

If your key metrics are not tightly connected to your goals, they are probably the wrong metrics.

If you don’t know how to define or track success, then you’ve just discovered an important topic worth meeting over.

6. Nurture A Culture of Trust Manifested by Discussion, Debate & Dialogue

If you rarely or never hear debate or discussion in your meetings, there is a problem. The problem is probably created by you.

There are many reasons why this could be, but it tends to boil down to the following:

  • There is insufficient trust: People don’t feel safe disagreeing with you or with each other.
  • The process lacks credibility: There isn’t belief value will come from the process.
  • There isn’t room or time: Issues that require discussion are introduced, but there isn’t time to get into them. If this happens regularly, the process loses credibility.
  • The right people aren’t present: Some meetings don’t generate sufficient dialogue just because the right people aren’t there. This can range from they weren’t invited, to they couldn’t/didn’t want to come, or the right people don’t exist in your organization. (I’ve worked with many boards that are not comprised of people who have the interest or background to provide governance. Nice people. Not the right people.)

Bonus Item:

7. A Larger Strategic Purpose

It’s difficult to have a focused, high-value meeting in the context of ambiguity or leadership-by-crisis. An organization that has a clear and well-defined goal and an understood strategy has provided an organizing framework: “This is what we are about this year.”

Then your meetings should be designed around bringing that purpose to fruition.

Your Next Steps to Lead High-Value Meetings: You probably have a meeting coming up that you need to prepare for. Print this article out and think through these steps.

Prepare work through each of these steps in your next meeting. If you find yourself stuck on one that’s a great area to recognize.

You’ll probably find significant, personal growth in being able to work through that point. It’ll help make your meetings high-value meetings!

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