8 Ways to Create Great Meetings
Poorly run meetings start in the wrong place and end up rushed before they’re done.
Leave inconsequential items for the end. Deal with big items at the beginning. I’m tempted to check off a few quick agenda items before digging into the meat of meetings. It’s seductive but ineffective and inefficient.
Don’t prioritize insignificant agenda items by placing them first.
Starting with insignificant issues raises their significance. Trivial items frequently take longer than expected. Additionally, you’re wasting your best moments on least important issues.
Better to rush through less consequential items – at the end – than substantive issues.
The top item on your agenda should be:
- Biggest problem.
- Best opportunity.
- Grandest goal.
- Greatest issue.
Meetings are dangerous because talking feels like action but it isn’t. Effective meetings result in decisions and action. If actions or decisions aren’t required, send an email, make a call, or post a report on the company’s intranet.
What if biggest problems can’t be fully solved? Take the biggest step toward best available solutions. Hit it again next time.
What if best opportunities can’t be fully leveraged? Take the best available action.
What if grandest goals can’t be immediately reached? Take the grandest steps possible.
The best action at meetings is assigning actions.
8 ways to run great meetings:
- Short agendas are better than long.
- Allow ample time to discuss substantive issues.
- Rush through trivial items at the end.
- Press for decisions.
- Create immediate, short-term action items.
- Set short-term incremental deadlines. If it’s due in six months it won’t be started for five unless you set clear, impending milestones.
- Identify champions – people who own action items.
- Follow-up with participants in between meetings. Ask, “How’s your projecting coming?”
What tips or strategies create great meetings?
As usual, you make a great deal of sense! My life is run by meetings. I am off to put this in to practice. I will let you know how I get on!
I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.
Management holds way too many meetings. Hold one when it makes sense. When you do have one, have a specific end game in mind with people assigned to action items including dates and deliverables.
Thanks for your comment. I hear you saying don’t meet for the sake of meeting… 🙂 Bingo.
my best tip would be “Prepare, prepare, prepare”, particulary if you are chairing the meeting and it includes difficult issues. One tip I have picked up is to prepare an annotated agenda for yourself, so that you keep on track and ensure that you remember everything that you wanted to say. Also keep space for notes for contributors’ comments.
all best, Avril
Thanks for the reminder about preparation. I don’t remember who said ” Failure to prepare is really preparing to fail.”
Thanks for your tip re: annotated agenda. Great idea.
Someone suggesting writing verbs when taking notes. It keeps the meeting and the minutes action oriented.
I would share my experience about meetings. Besides agendas, leadership create environment where discussion related to agendas takes place.They should ensure that meeting is not polarized. They should also know and understand the limitation of people and system. When decision is taken, proper accountability with deadlines should be assigned. In the next meeting, feedback and further corrective measure should be taken. The whole process create culture of confidence among people that meetings are useful.
When leaders call meetings just for the sake of meeting, people know it beforehand. So, leadership actions, decision and more than effective execution of decision taken create good meetings. Leaders should take stand when they feel so. It is not necessary to always take decision based on consensus. When leader has gut to take decision that people feel of. he should address pros and cons and take self responsibility.
I’m thankful you consistently add value to the conversation.
I’m jumping on one small but important suggestion you offered. Ask others for agenda items. Let the team help you create useful agendas. It helps you know where they are and creates buy in.
Best to you,
Excellent advice. I would only add #9 Summarise meeting. 🙂
Stuart, agreed. I get great feedback when I send meeting summaries to participants.
Great stuff from the post and the comments.
I try as much as possible to have single-item meetings. The invitation can then include a problem statement and some supporting data.
Steve says management has way too many meetings, and he’s right. That happens because it’s the most effective way for them to get work done. Most don’t understand that meetings are only 100% effective for the person who called it and set the agenda. A role of thumb I use: never invite anyone for whom less than two thirds of the meeting will be effective.
We all hate meetings, but sometimes there’s no substitute for getting everyone face to face and just getting things hashed out. But Dan, you’re dead on that any meeting that doesn’t result in action was most likely a waste of time.
Thanks for the good word!
Your “one item agenda” is brilliant and gutsy! LOVE it.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
1) Never hold a meeting just because it’s on the calendar; if you don’t need to meet, cancel and give people back the precious time.
2) New leaders can learn a lot if you rotate responsibility for leading the meeting; different leaders are assigned different weeks, and are responsible for the agenda and facilitation.
3) If action items get assigned, make sure someone is taking notes so that everyone knows who owns what.
All 3 ideas are quite good and worth practicing. Giving an opportunity of leading to others is fine for routine type meetings.
I may add one more point that meetings need to have less number of participants [8-10]. Larger the number the meeting becomes more of a ritual, fun, controversy or grouping. Sticking to time to start and end meeting is also quite important. One can even avoid entertaining tea/snacks in between for the internal staff.
The prior agenda is a must and all participating members need to come prepared. The meeting needs to be minuted and action plans drawn by assigning the required tasks with deadlines to complete.
Dear Dr. Asher,
Love the idea of fewer rather than more participants. Meetings are expensive. Adding up the salaries of everyone involved plus lost productivity and you start to see the issue.
Running a lot of meetings for my own clients, I’ve found that a well-run meeting is invaluable. Often it’s me who needs the information from them so I’m only penalizing myself if time runs out before I get to the meat of the agenda.
I love this concept of putting the biggest and most important items at the beginning of the meeting that way you have more time for discussion. I have found that with our current way I run meetings we sometimes rush through the most important items because they were at the end of the agenda. Love this! I’m going to implement this at our next meeting. Thanks!
Oh, how I love this post! So many great suggestions.
I also love javawithjae’s comment:
“Never hold a meeting just because it is on the calendar; if you don’t need to meet, cancel and give people back their precious time.
Hooray for you javawithjae!
It is the action that follows the effective meeting that matters.
I once sat in a meeting in which I was the only person not surfing on my technology device. I swear an hour was wasted while people compared different things they were looking at on their smart phones. Not a smart way to have a meeting.
I really appreciate how you have prioritized what should consist of a meeting’s first portion to concentrate on the most important items and be the most productive.
What are your thoughts on creating a meeting that “hopscotches” between big and important items to smaller “transitional” items? Do you feel that might be effective?
The advice regarding the right order to have with your agenda items is spot on and will ensure that the key reasons for holding the meeting get adequate attention before time pressures result in poor decision making or deferral of the agenda item to a later meeting.
Given the high costs of conducting meetings anything that can help to make them more time and cost effective should be rigorously be persued.
For those wanting the best advice around to improve their meetings, check out the curated articles at http://business-improvement.rhodan.com.au/?q=meetings where I have added this great article to the collection.
Great advice. I would add two items to it – 1. send out agenda at least 3 days in advance so people can come prepared. 2. Send out minutes with action items and champions within 24 hours of the meeting. This helps keep people focused on what needs to happen during and after the meeting.
Great topic and terrific readers’ comments. I’d like to add another tip: I run training workshops on the area of planning and designing engaging virtual meetings, which often have a way of sending participants straight to email, web-surfing and God-knows-what, if we don’t keep people engaged,
One tip I give to clients: As part of your virtual meeting design, embed opportunities for multi-tasking ON TASK. That is, acknowledge that participants are hard-wired to multitask anyway, so we might as well tap into the craving to multitask by intentionally creating opportunities for people to do so, while contributing to the goals of the meeting.
Examples: Have people brainstorm responses or ideas into an electronic whiteboard at various junctures. Ask people to write down a one-sentence summary of X on a paper in front of them, and then go around the virtual table to hear responses. Use hands-up or quick polls every now and then. Enable a chat or notes function when appropriate.In short, give them something productive and interesting to do with their itchy fingers as an integral part of your meeting design.
One more tip: Follw the 80/20 rule. Virtual meetings need to be at least 80% interactive and 20% (at best) passive to keep people engaged and focused. So forget about showing slide decks and reviewing documents during your virtual meetings. Post them or send them in advance so people can be ready for a stimulating discussion instead of one more opportunity to catch up on emails.
Would be interested to hear about other tips for virtual meetings in particular.
Dan – Good piece and the comment thread is fantastic. A few things that I have found effective: shorter agendas are preferred; shorter meetings with clearly defined follow up workstreams is better than a longer meeting; I have been know to call standing meetings (no chairs), that gets us on task effectively. I really like someone’s suggestion of capturing all followups as verbs.
Great points – thanks for sharing!
Just about to start being responsible for running meetings. All this advice is great. Thank you all for sharing and wish me luck 🙂 I will try not to waste people’s time, I will have agendas with important items first, I will ask others for agenda items and I will cancel if I don’t need a meeting…
Thanks Elizabeth. Congratulations on being trusted with running meetings. You have an opportunity to make a positive difference in your organization.
Identify champions. Love that one as it recognizes and values talent.
Send the agenda out ahead of time. Give participants in the meeting enough information in the agenda to come prepared. For example, instead of simply listing “Old Business,” specify the topics to be re-visited, along with potential decision points that will need to be hammered out.