August 28, 2018

Get the most out of meetings with these tips from top leaders

Everyone loves to hate meetings

It’s not hard to see why.  Meetings often pull us away from essential tasks and when subject to grandstanding, meandering tangents and other mind-numbing discussion, they can suck the energy out of the day.

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And yet, collaboration and consensus are key for many decisions in business today.  Managed properly, meetings can be a wonderful source of creative inspiration, effective decision making and forward momentum in the workplace.  Fortunately, the universal nature of meetings means leaders are often asked to share their favorite meeting strategies.  Try the ideas below, and watch your team thrive.

Set a clear direction

Every meeting needs a clear purpose.  This is common advice, and yet meetings to catch up, touch base or otherwise connect without an obvious need are all too frequent in some organizations.

Leaders like Annette Catino live by agendas.  Catino says she walks out if she finds herself in a meeting without an agenda.  “If I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting,” she tells New York Times columnist Adam Bryant.  Others, such as Marcela Sapone, say meetings must be boiled down to a clear goal.  Sapone tells Fast Company’s Pavithra Mohan that all her company’s meeting invitations and documents all start by outlining the goal.

Whether your team prefers an agenda or a simple goal statement, everyone needs to know the intent of the meeting in advance, so they can come prepared, stay focused and finish on time.

Crowdsource the agenda

Anand Iyer invites attendees to contribute to the agenda in advance, but requires them to take ownership of their contributions, including estimating how long a given item will take.  Iyer then plays the role of “time cop” to keep things moving forward.

Set a positive tone

Certain types of meetings are ripe for sharing successes.  That’s how Jeff Weiner recommends kicking off.  He says asking everyone to share a recent personal victory and professional achievement contributes positive energy to the meeting.

Keep it short and small

Marissa Mayer, who refined her approach to meetings at Google and Yahoo, encouraged people to reserve “micro-meetings” as short as 10 minutes.  Consider the benefits of a mini-meeting – when someone is forced to discuss a topic in a short period of time, they may more effectively boil ideas down to the essentials.

Similarly, the late Steve Jobs of Apple was known for keeping meetings small, preferably in the single digits, and he even declined a meeting invitation from President Barack Obama because he felt the list of attendees was too long.  And Jeff Bezos requires that meetings be small enough that everyone can be fed with just two pizzas.

Meetings should not be a spectator sport.  If someone doesn’t need to be there, let them get back to work.

Stay on – or ahead of – schedule

Setting a clear purpose, giving your team a chance to contribute to the agenda and keeping the guest list small are some key strategies for staying on schedule, but others are often needed.  Rambling speeches and a tendency to move off topic can derail any meeting, so you’ll need a strategy to bring the conversation back on track.   Organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz advocates a direct approach, such as “OK, Bob, you’re absolutely right and is it OK if we talk about that later?”

Did you book an hour yet run through the agenda in 15 minutes?  End the meeting early, says Sheryl Sandberg.

Schedule time for follow-up work

A well-planned and implemented meeting will end with attendees taking away tasks and action items.  As the leader, you may own some of those action items yourself, but whether you do or not, you WILL need to do some reflection.  Take time to get feedback from others who attended the meeting, and see what they think.  Schedule time each week to actually review your notes from key meetings.  And if you took action items away from the meeting, hard-calendar time to actually follow up on the tasks you committed to.  Michael Hyatt’s new book No Fail Meetings is a great resource for thinking about these and other steps to improve the value and impact of meetings in your life.

How do you make meetings work?

Please share in the comments the difficulties you face as well as any favorite tools and tricks for getting the most out of meetings.

Last updated August 28, 2018