10 Commandments that Fix All Lousy Meetings
The responsibility for great meetings is always the responsibility of the person leading the meeting.
Great meetings create focus, clarity, decisions, and useful activity.
The people around the table can’t wait to get back to useful work.
3 reasons we hate meetings:
- The person running the meeting is inept.
- Too long. Change the rule of thumb from 60 to 30 minutes.
- Too detailed. Large groups working on details always expand irrelevant specks of dust into giant mountains of mud. Delegate details to individuals or groups of two or three, at most.
The 10 commandments of great meetings:
Law #1: Thou shalt always declare the purpose of the meeting before it happens.
The most important work of the meeting happens before the meeting. Confusion about purpose is always the result of inept leadership.
Law #2: All participants shalt understand and agree that the requirements of law #1 have been fully met.
Declaring the purpose of a meeting doesn’t mean everyone understands or aligns.
Law #3: Thou shalt meet to make decision, never to discuss.
Law #4: Everyone around the table shalt have a stake in the pie.
Law #5: The people closest to the work shalt talk the most.
Law #6: The most powerful person in the room shalt talk the least.
Law #7: Thou shalt engage in lively debate.
When law #6 is violated, law #7 won’t happen.
Law #8: The leader of the meeting shalt keep everyone focused and engaged.
Law #9: Thou shalt silence big mouths and engage quiet participants, even if it hurts someone’s feelings, .
Law #10: Thou shalt assign tasks to everyone in the room.
The person who leaves the room without something to do, shouldn’t have attended in the first place.
What happens, or doesn’t, at lousy meetings?
What commandments would you add to the list?
You summed it up Dan. 🙂 Love the end quote.
Thanks Stuart. Here’s to great meetings. 🙂
Once I was aware of the last one (from a previous post) I found that I ‘step up’ in ways I hadn’t before. Just having this in the back of my mind fuels me to press for it.
These are great tips. Thanks for sharing. I feel so much time is wasted at meetings when there isn’t a goal and no one keeps the group on task. Always starting late is my other pet peeve. I’m sharing with my colleagues. 🙂
Thanks hmh912. Hey, thanks for adding the 11th commandment. Thou shalt start on time.
I think sometimes people call for meetings to just hear themselves talk
Thanks Bob. Yup!
Great tips. I feel that one is not responsible if not starting a task on time and unreliable at that. Timing is everything to me and being on time is a huge deal to me
Thanks Constance. It’s a timely comment. 🙂
Very good! He/she who did the research and brought the information to the meeting should be the one doing the explaining. I had an idea once to speed production along. I shared the idea with lower management. He on the other hand decided to take the lead on explaining the process, no problem on my part. However in the end he had to back down and tell upper management, “You will have to talk to Ron,(that would be me) it was his idea, he can explain it better. A Glory Hound just makes a lot of noise, it never will catch it’s prey. A real hunter with a scent for the prey will.
Thanks Ron. You’re illustration is powerful support for the idea that the people closest to the work, or idea, should be the ones doing most of the talking.
I’m new to the leadership team that meets weekly for 90minutes. I’m usually the one who leaves with the most assignments or what we call “honey-do” list. How do I make sure I’m not receiving the grunt work since I’m new?
Thanks Rhonda. That’s a great question. My thought is, good for you that you are leaving meetings with the most to do. You are making yourself valuable. However, there’s a train wrecking coming down the road if it gets out of hand.
Since you’re new, I suggest you build a strong relationship with the leader of the team. Clarify with them what they want from you and where you want to go. You might have a conversation or two over coffee. After you’ve built a strong relationship, you might explore the work load and ask them about the use of your time. I’d also talk about the type of work that most suits your strengths and fits your desired career path. Just some thoughts.
Best for the journey.
Another great post. You absolutely nailed it and anyone who has wasted valuable time at useless meetings should share this everywhere!
Thanks Sarah. I hope they do. 🙂
I do think meetings can be called to discuss (dialogue with agreed-upon rules) topics- again as long as everyone knows the purpose and there is a time limit, after which a decision is made. Some organizations have people who work outside the office and may not have their ideas heard if a meeting isn’t called to discuss an idea.
Thanks aldebcc. Glad you shared your insights. Discuss to decide makes sense to me. Even talking to clarify vision statements gives me a sense that the meeting could be useful. The action item would be “chose appropriate language for our vision statement.”
Bravo!! Gonna share with everyone I know!!
Can we add commandment 11 1/2 – thou shalt also END on time? Nothing is worse than run-on meetings!
Thanks Suzanne. Great add!
As a result of a tour of duty in the Pentagon, here’s a Commandment: ” Thou shalt know what the senior officer present wants and do it.”
Great topic and post; this is a discipline passion/mission of mine too. I heard of a great additional meeting Law that was successfully implemented at a large corporation:
1 hour meetings must end 10 minutes before the end of the assigned hour (i.e. only be 50 mins long), and 30 min meetings must end 5 minutes before the end of the 30 min (25 min in actuality).
For those that often have back to back meetings (you’ve mentioned you like to cluster work/mtgs) they then have some bio break or wrap up time between meetings.
Perhaps I will gather the courage to propose this in a public platform (along with your post link of course) for our company.
Another excellent post, though I am having trouble with number ten. People may be in the meeting to provide expertise/knowledge and help with decisions, but that doesn’t mean they need to come away with an action item. I am concerned some people will take this to much to heart and the goal of every meeting will be to be sure everyone has a task when they walk out. I am curious what otehrs think.
Dan, your post on meetings is important for at least two reasons. You can see by your response most leaders grapple with their meetings being meaningful, productive, effective, and perhaps inspiring. The other reason is without meetings a leader would have to individually inform a multitude number of persons of new directions, for example.
I would only add to your list this. I believe a meeting should be made personal. Tell the meeting attendees, generally, what they have been doing RIGHT. Then pick out two or three different “individuals” (at each meeting) and specify their excellent performance and their leadership quality and traits. Use that introduction to lead you into the crux of your meeting agenda.
Names and specifics persons can relate to pique interest.
“..thou shalt be accountable”
whatever tasks/actions were assigned at the last meeting are reported – hopefully closed – at the following meeting.
Close loops rather than leave them open.
I’d add that the one item toward the end of the agenda should be a group evaluation of the meeting. What went well & should continue. What didn’t go well & might be done differently next meeting.
I would add: Thou shallt provide all relevant documentation well in advance of the meeting. Law #7 will otherwise not happen and #9 will be difficult to accomplish (since quiet people need time to prepare).
Thanks for another great post. I work in an academic library and was recently promoted in the last year or so. I’m finishing my MLIS and hope to have a leadership position moving forward in my career. Your tips are great for someone like myself who’s beginning to think about leading and managing!
Thou shalt feel free to depart if your time is being wasted. 😉
You have covered the critical aspects of lousy meetings. I would add some more commandments here. First of all, practices of conducting regular meetings are generally based on seeking attention superiors. I am not against meeting, but hidden intention behind the meeting is baleful. When meetings really energize people to work more, align more and perform more, it is great. but meetings hardly produced better results unless led well with good intentions.
I appreciate your comment that most important talks start before meetings. People have lot of ideas, but somewhere either they do not feel to share expecting nothing will change based on their experience or meetings are polarized. Many times, power game starts in the meetings. Meetings could be made better, if agenda are circulated before, everyone is encouraged to talk, and leaders create high level of trust. Additionally, ideas should be appreciated and implemented in time, if any. This will provide example for others to participate and provide more ideas. And of course time should be taken into account. It should be concise and not too frequently.
Nine of your laws resonate with me, Dan,
‘Law #3: Thou shalt meet to make decision, never to discuss’ does not. Meetings to make decisions are necessary, so are meetings when the explicit to explore, to reflect. Sometimes we must slow down to speed up.
Great post…meetings have become time consuming; especially when the laws above are not followed.
Unfortunately Law #3 is impractical/illegal in a public/government setting where actual open meeting laws exist. Public bodies must often “discuss” important matters for lengthy periods of time at posted meetings. They cannot legally in many states meet privately or use phone or electronic means to circumvent these open meeting laws and “deliberate” matters outside of the formal meeting process.
Great set of rules. The problem is “Rule Zero”:
“Thou shalt have meetings of this type, at this time, every week and all shalt attend, whether they havest interest or stake”.
This is the kicker. We are required to have a weekly (weakly? 😀 ) meeting with a fixed, unchanging agenda, with everyone attending. The buy-in is poor, the output is weak, essentially nobody has an action against them when they leave, but orders are orders.
Mitch, I absolutely agree. Rule Zero does more to retard productivity in our college than anything else anyone has tried. But the people in charge don’t get it.
I like the approach but how do you discuss topics without a meeting? Random soundbites (e-mail, Twitter) cannot take the place of thoughtful inquiry and learning.
Any concrete suggestions on silencing the VPs in the room that insisted on beign in attendance yet are too distant to offer concrete specific “how to’s” without derailing the meeting and energy of the participants?
Sounds like another “Rule Zero” kind of thing. It’s very difficult because these are the people who make rules about meetings in the organisation. There’s more concern with form than output.
Great post Dan. I like them all except #3. I’m going to suggest an amendment.
“Law #3: No agenda item shall be closed until their is a decision made or action assigned.”
This will put an end to the long rambling discussions and also discourage agenda items with no purpose.
Great to see you strongly encourage a meeting purpose (Law #1), but why no requirement for an agenda? In my experience, building a great agenda that is timely, relevant and focussed is a leadership skill that helps managers to run great meetings.
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Sorry for the spelling error. Obviously should be
“Law #3: No agenda item shall be closed until there is a decision made or action assigned”
How is it that #3 and #7 are not in conflict? I’m just not seeing what the difference is.
Thanks Barry. Great question. The lively debate #7 is done to make good decisions #3.
Having said that, I received an email asking the same question. Looks like I could have been clearer.
It’s a shame that an estimated $37 billion is wasted on unnecessary meetings every year.
I put together a series of videos to share some meeting hacks and strategies I have learned over my career.
I hope they will help – http://www.leanmeetingmastery.com
Thanks for all you do in the leadership space!
Great tips Dan and a good reminder too.
I heard the phrase, “disagree and commit” recently. I’ve not used it in a meeting, but it sounds like it might be a good way to keep momentum with a majority.
Any thoughts on that?
Interesting thoughts Dan, does there need to be a caveat re:
Law #5: The people closest to the work shalt talk the most.
Law #6: The most powerful person in the room shalt talk the least… unless that person is one of those closest to the work.
Thanks Ian. Love where you took this. Much appreciated.
I would add that if it can be covered in an email or newsletter, then there’s no reason to have a meeting. If people aren’t reading such messages, calling a meeting is only a bandaid for a different issue.