Seven Steps to Leading Better Meetings

Workplace meetings are an essential part of our professional lives. There are short ones, long ones, important ones, not-so-important ones, exciting ones, and boring ones – meetings are an aspect of how we get things done in organizations.

Unfortunately, we can become desensitized to the real dynamic importance that our meetings should represent. We sometimes drift through them simply as necessary evils. Let’s stop doing that.

When leading a meeting, whether routine or marking a significant development, there are seven important steps that you can take to ensure its relevance and success. While these steps may seem obvious, they are too often ignored.

These seven steps will make your meetings more effective and garner solid contribution from the participants.

Step One – Ensure that the meeting, even if routine, has value – have a clear answer as to why you are meeting. Meetings must have purpose and direction. Make it apparent why you have gathered the group and what you expect to accomplish. This step is sometimes ignored and can give the impression that a leader calls a meeting simply because they can. Nothing kills the mood like hubris.

Step Two – Have a meeting agenda and follow it. Meeting discipline is first established with the agenda – make it matter by using it. A good agenda is the meeting map that first draws people in and provides the framework to “see” the events and anticipate the topical progress. A written agenda may not be necessary for established routine sessions, but it still can add value if provided.

Step Three – Ensure that only necessary participants are in attendance.   Keep the meeting to the core group that is required to address the agenda – remember that everyone’s time is valuable. There is little benefit in having someone attend to simply observe, unless it is viewed as a training or growth opportunity. “Back-benching” can be necessary and helpful but use it thoughtfully – there is a potential to waste a lot of talented people’s time.

Step Four – Ensure that everyone contributes. Solicit participation from all attendees – if you don’t, perhaps they shouldn’t be there. Building on Step 3, those at the table should be expected to add value, participate, and be better for attending. Foster inclusion and contribution. Work to have people leave the meeting feeling that their time was respected and well spent.

Step Five – Ensure that everyone is aware of the time limit – set a “hard stop”. Help people manage their time and expectations. Meetings should start and stop on time – this discipline gains support for meeting as participants can better plan their day. Make sure that the session avoids the dreaded run-on ending – the long goodbye. Any after-meeting chatter should be optional.

Step Six – Ensure that the meeting remains focused – attention drift and topic creep happen all the time – reign it in. Work to be clear, concise, and compelling in the conduct of the meeting. As famously said, brevity is the soul of wit – stay on point. This focus will garner more enthusiasm for subsequent meetings.

Step Seven – Ensure that someone is keeping a “parking lot” of issues or topics that emerge in the meeting but cannot be addressed at that time. A robust meeting will likely reveal other matters of interest that need to be tracked. Capture these issues and ideas for later consideration – there may be some golden nuggets that will inform your next good meeting.

In addition to these seven steps, consider following-up non-routine meetings with a thanks and a brief summary, separate from any meeting minutes, so that the attendees understand your appreciation for their time and contribution. This thoughtfulness goes a long way to emphasizing the relevance of the meeting and your expectation that it was meaningful.

Meetings may be a large and necessary part of our professional lives, but they certainly don’t need to be drudgery. Lead meetings that engage people and garner value – today, tomorrow, and always. Alright, I have to go – I have a meeting. 

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

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