Six Steps To Make Your Meetings More Effective

In this week’s post, I offer six approaches you should consider in making your meetings more commitment driven.

1. Before planning an agenda, ask yourself the key questions that will allow you to make your meeting meaningful.

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • Who should attend the meeting in order to accomplish what we intend?
  • What do we want people to leave the meeting with?
  • What could we do during the meeting to achieve the desired objectives?
  • How much time do we need in order to achieve the objectives?

2. If appropriate, include a cross-section of individuals who will be attending the meeting in the agenda-planning phase. Getting these folks involved from the start will ensure important input up front and gain buy-in for outcomes ahead of time.

3. At the beginning of the meeting, review the intended outcomes and ensure people are there to achieve those objectives. If appropriate — and only if there is flexibility in the schedule and the willingness to do so — ask people whether there are other objectives that would make a difference, and include those if possible.

4. Once the meeting starts, manage toward outcomes, not time allocations. If 30 minutes is allocated to come to agreement for how the team members are going to implement Project X, and the members are agreed in 20 minutes, move on to the next topic. If the conversation is not complete in 30 minutes, but good progress is being made, allocate another few minutes and get closure. Completing the topic will create energy and momentum to address the next item on the agenda.

5. Keep the discussion focused. If the conversation wanders to another topic, and that topic is not part of the intended outcome of the meeting, ask people whether the objective this topic addresses should preempt one of the topics agreed upon at the outset of the meeting. If not, park it. If yes, move forward and pursue the new conversation.

6. At the end of the meeting, review the commitments made — who will do what, and by when? These commitments should be what the minutes of the meeting capture, rather than detailing all the topics discussed.

Why Agenda Driven Meetings Don’t Work

A key principle of generating total alignment and engagement is ensuring that you are always working backward from a deliberate, desired future — rather than merely extrapolating or perpetrating business as usual. When it comes to meetings — which consume enormous amounts of most managers’ time — this principle can make the difference between meetings that make a big impact, and those that waste valuable time.

To begin with, most meetings are designed backwards. The agenda planning starts with the questions:
How much time do we have? and What do people think we should talk about?

The reason we say these meetings are designed backwards is because the time allocated for the meeting should be determined instead by answers to the more useful questions:

  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What do we want people to leave the meeting with?
  • What could we do during the meeting to achieve the desired objectives?

The answers to these questions will determine whether the meeting is worth having, who should attend, what should be covered and how much time it should take.

Once the purpose and agenda are agreed upon, and the meeting commences, the agenda should also be managed to produce the agreed outcomes, rather than having success determined by whether the planned schedule was adhered to. We have repeatedly seen meaningful, productive conversations interrupted by a timekeeper who thought his or her job was to play the role of the agenda police.

This orientation around time rather than outcomes means discussions that may have served their purpose might be extended unnecessarily, while other conversations that are yielding unexpected fruits might be shut down once the time allocated to them has been exceeded.