How to Love Your Next Meeting in 5 Easy Steps
Meetings are like the ugly duckling in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. They are easy to hate and hard to love. Few see the underlying beauty that awaits.
We hate meetings, because frequently they are time-wasting, energy-sapping experiences where:
- Nothing gets done
- My voice doesn’t count
- My work suffers
- Time is wasted
- The right people are not present
Want to transform your meeting from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan?
Here are five steps that will make your meeting easy to love.
Step 1. Create a compelling purpose for your meeting. Ask what you want to be different or what you want to create because this group met?
Step 2. Make sure the right people are present—those with information, authority, and who will be impacted by the meeting’s results.
Step 3. Take a ride in the “Meeting Canoe.” Experience the six steps to creating powerful meetings:
- Welcome participants
- Connect People to Each Other and the Task
- Discover the Way Things Are
- Elicit People’s Dreams
- Decide on Next Steps
- Attend to the End
Step 4. Become a meeting investor instead of a meeting bystander. Ask yourself what you can give to make sure the meeting is a success, and what you need from this meeting to support your work?
Step 5. Make sure your meeting contains at least one of the following:
- Work worth doing
- A challenge
- The potential to learn something new
- The ability for participants to influence the meeting
- Foster connection between participants and the task
The more of the above things that are present, the more there is to love about your meeting.
By following these five steps, your ugly duckling meeting transforms into an easy-to-love experience.
What happens at lousy meetings?
What happens at great meetings?
This is a guest post by:
Dick & Emily Axelrod
Dick and Emily Axelrod have a combined 60+ years in working with businesses and non-profits. They are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change, and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981.
Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers, and co-authors. Their latest book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014).
Good reminders of how to turn meetings into a success. I remember growing up my Dad would say “the only good thing that comes out of meetings is people”. It’s all in the attitude to make things better.
One of the programs that I organize has a timeline with the details of what needs to be accomplished each month – that has been very helpful to use for the focus of the monthly meetings & it keeps everyone on track of the monthly goals. I attach the timeline along with the agenda to the monthly email reminders for all of the meetings.
I love exploring the topic of effective meetings! I facilitate a lot of meetings in my work and I strive to make them meaningful, but I know I am guilty of missing the mark. I truly hate wasting people’s times so this topic interests me.
How to love your next meeting? Design it so will be at meeting you would actually love to sit through. Make the design of the meeting through the eyes of those who have to participate in it.
Simple and yet profound info. How many meetings to we attend without purpose. This post is a great reminder on how it should be done.
Great article. Thanks.
Slow death by teleconference is painful. Having a purpose with an agenda really helps everyone get on the same page. I especially like the idea of participants being “meeting investors” instead of bystanders. This is next level good.
So appreciate these points. Planning my team meeting for next week. I know the time invested in planning reflects in the quality of the meeting. Throwing together an agenda will not support a meeting with substance.
Thank you for this strategic guide for a successful meeting. I just had a meeting last week that these very tips would have changed the tone of the of meeting. Steps 2 and 4 would have been viable in the outcome of our meeting. Most people have the belief that “we meet to meet”, which results in attendees who are not focused, withdrawn, lack communication and overall just bored and feel the meeting was useless. Implementing at least one or two components of step 5 would have resulted in a more cohesive meeting. Be assured it will be at the next meeting! Using these steps will definitely become the road map for my future meetings! Great post!
Cant wait to read this ! My staff need tips on how to do this better !
We tend to make the meeting’s what they are, have a plan and execute, more importantly “be prepared with the meetings intent”, stay the course, often times meeting run astray because we allow them too, we need to control the meeting with it’s intent.
Granted if you want dialogue with all parties inviting participants, then we are changing more to an open discussion event, its no longer a controlled meeting. “Still falls back on intent! Whats the message? Who has the plan? How do we get there?
Great reminders. I try to keep purpose as my guiding principle but somehow it doesn’t always lead to the outcome, or type of meeting, I was striving to lead. I’ve certainly increased my focus on engaging those present and transferring ‘ownership’ of the objective to them. Sometimes that means getting out of their way!
God I need this book. The tail is wagging the dog. There are so many meetings and no time to actually accomplish anything. It is like walking the green mile, time after time after time
I really enjoyed this post. In a society were the mantra is death by meeting this is refreshing. The information is so simple yet it invokes hope. I am going to share this post with the leaders I coach.
Yes most frustrating elements of our business meetings which just are circular or leave everyone with more questions than answers. Too little emphasis on action plans which lead to dread about future meetings .
Meetings seem like all we do sometimes. Meeting to plan the next meeting! Looking forward to reading to see if I can make changes.
I have a meeting I am dreading today. I will be trying to maintain a more positive attitude. I am a “lets get the job done and get out” meeting guy.
Great tips, I too think meetings are just draining. I am going to try these.
I like the “discover people’s dreams” step! Thanks for a useful blog.
Meetings have to also be prompt, recap the decisions and tell audience what you want them to do with the meeting conclusion.
I find unproductive meetings so frustrating. I work to have meaning and outcomes in the meetings I facilitate. If I don’t have a goal, I don’t have a meeting. These are great reminders I’m going to share with my peers.
I like the idea of investing in a meeting, Due to the nature of my role I spend about 25 hours a week in meetings and its easy to go onto autopilot and not always be fully present.
Great article! Although meetings are certainly necessary, they too can become burdensome when nothing is accomplished. Too often I feel that meetings are great for identifying problems but not so good on planning and implementing a solution and seeing it through to the end. Thanks for the tips! Certainly important reminders when planning an agenda and leading a meeting.
Looking forward to what this book has inside!
Great article, appreciate the strategic tips. I strive to improve each meeting to make it more productive by being prepared and always having a clear agenda and follow up with minutes/action items. Aiming to engage the technical audiences of which are of multiple generations and of diversity always keeps me on my toes. I’m sure this book will have some great tips and tricks for improvement that I can learn from. Thank you for a great blog.
I love meetings. I enjoy leading them, facilitating others leading them, and just attending them. I get a greater sense of the whole organization when I sit with colleagues from other departments. I appreciate the steps in this leadership post as I see how they can create a more efficient/ purposeful meeting. Thanks for this!
Looking forward to reading the book and seeing how we can change our meeting processes.
I like that comment – that people should leave a meeting with an action item. That would be a good focus for the meeting – what needs to get accomplished and to identify your action item.
If I remember right Dan, in one of you recent BLOG post’s you said “if people don’t leave the meeting with an action item, do they need to be there?” That resonates with today’s post, how often do we just have the wrong people in meetings?
How about those conference call meetings? Rather than death by meeting, it’s purgatory by meeting. Come on holograms!
I’ve always joked that we should issue email and meeting tokens throughout the company. Once the tokens are used up, the specter of wasted time in meetings and frivolous email disappears. But relevant, engaging, purposeful meetings are another thing altogether. Under Shelly’s meeting guidelines, we still might need tokens — only now to limit how many can attend them rather than as a device to avoid them. We should be the master of our meetings, not vice versa!
Great post — useful reminders about increasing energy of meeting participants. Book would be a useful addition to our Leadership Library.
love the 5 step process. Something I want our entire team to start incorporating.
I would also add, start the meeting on time. If you do that enough, people will know to not be late to your meetings.
I def could use some help loving my meetings.
So true; meeting just to meet is something we just don’t have time for. Changing the way our organizations think about and use meetings is such a need. I really appreciate incorporating “mini-meetings” (under an hour) that get to the heart of the matter and produce action and solutions into my week.
Meetings are the necessary bane of our business existence. They should be empowering, uplifting, and educating. Instead they are boring, annoying, and a waste of productivity.
Thank you for enlightening us on how to excel at meetings!
You must have attended my meeting yesterday. I didn’t leave knowing anything more than when I entered. I left frustrated and annoyed. I look forward to reading this book and as always, this blog reminds me why I need to lead the way I do. Thank you.
Working in IT, meetings are seen more as an evil than a necessity. Ideas to get more engagement, acknowledged value, and reach everyone in the room are always welcomed. I find that without a purpose or agenda it is more difficult to get the people to show. Love how engaging people’s dreams is a possibility. It would make meetings so much more enjoyable and valuable for all.
I think meetings are important when they are well planned and focused. I find them much more effective than strings of emails with people “talking” in linear fashion. Would love to read the book — ineffective meetings are the bane of our office!
Thank you for this artice. As a school administrator, I’m learning the importance of having the right people in meetings. Also, you have to know who you’re meeting with; check-ins are just as effective.
We have too many meetings at our company. Meetings about meetings. This information is helpful to pre-plan the meetings that I facilitate and hopefully others will follow the lead.
As leaders it is important to be conscientious about everyone’s best use of time. My meetings are consist of sharing good things at the beginning as a way to get the human side of team and appreciate what they may be going through at the moment. Department highlights/goals, a leadership accomplishment of the week and a leadership goal for the upcoming week. I leave them with a leadership quote to analyze and reflect on how it relates to their experiences as leaders. Thank you!
I apologize for not reading before submitting…delete the *are* after meetings 🙂
Great article..meetings can be such time wasters
I like the philosophy especially when working on a committee to only do what you are willing and wish to do; if you can’t fit the meetings into your schedule & it is not mandatory to attend – that is fine. Choose what part you want to do; and do as little or as much as you wish. It is important to communicate what your contribution will be – which may not include attending all the meetings.
One organization I was in always said “A good meeting is one that ends early.” In some ways it was a cynical comment, by those who hated meetings. But really, if you’re efficient, you can accomplish a lot in very little time. I’m often pointing out how much time people can waste sending hundreds of emails for something that could be resolved with a 5-minute conversation. Used properly, meetings can save time!
I meet with many volunteers in my job. This will really help me create meetings that make them feel valued rather than wasted. Thank you for your thoughts!
Good article with a simple framework to follow for more impactful meetings. Looks like a great book!
One of the best meeting ideas I experienced was the daily 5-minute morning update…. our IT department was a 24×7 shop and before the night crew left in the morning, they would update the day team with system status and project updates. The same thing happened at the end of the day during the next shift change. I would love to read how Dick and Emily Axelrod run purposeful meetings.
I think holding effective meetings is a lifetime struggle. Sometimes they go well and sometimes they don’t. I have found providing material which can be reviewed before the meeting on certain topics can be helpful.
Thank you for the suggestion on clarifying the role/interests of the participants!
I run a lot of meetings and try to be very conscious of my staff’s time and not wasting it, but also covering important items and having discussions that need to be had. It can be a delicate balance & I am always looking for ideas and advice!
This is a great read! It is so important to ensure your meetings have a purpose and a direction driven by a well thought out agenda. I like to end a meeting with a review of the action items and who is responsible for achieving the goals.
At our Agency we just standardized our Meeting Format and it hits on most of what you’re noted above. It requires the meeting to start on time (respect), acknowledge the people there, state the problem we intend to solve as a result of the meeting (goal/purpose of the meeting), state how it will benefit us when we succeed (the WIIFM explanation), details the discussion, lists the homework required by each person there (with a deadline), and ends on time (there’s that respect again!). After using this format you can begin to see results and begin to see if the right people are at the meeting. If someone attends meetings and never has to ‘do’ something to move towards the solution — then we need to rethink why they were invited — or worse, whether if they are capable of fulfilling their role if they are the appropriate person to invite. What we need is not more meetings, but more solution-oriented meetings with documentable results.
One of the keys is being willing to shut someone down who feels the need to talk endlessly, often off-topic. Prep is also important for all involved.
Great points about meetings! I’ve found a purpose for the meeting and having the right players at the meeting are essential. Everyone at the meeting needs to be engaged! I hate it when the boss or others are preoccupied with with their email and social media . . . rather than focused on the content of the meeting! Really people, be respectful or don’t come to the meeting!
Everything is better when there’s purpose to it — life, work, family, even meetings! Meetings are hard to take when it’s a data-dump or all-directive; they’re much more engaging and create buy-in when at least some part of it is CO-created, when everyone can have a say.
I’d like to read more about effective meetings.
Great points on how to make meetings better for everyone. For me the first step is asking if a meeting is necessary in the first place or are other communication tools available that would be just as effective.
I’ve incorporated most of these ideas into my meetings but for some reason I just can’t seem to get my mid level leadership to care or really invest. Very frustrating. Any other ideas or suggestions from the book I could try? Does anyone have any ideas that have worked for them besides firing them? Appreciate any help I can get. Thank you!
Good stuff, was just in a meeting yesterday that took an hour of travel and waiting for four staff, and the meeting lasted 5 minutes, couldn’t we have just done this over email? Sometimes it works out that way, hopefully not moving forward. Looking forward to more insight.
Lousy meeting usually contain individuals with lousy attitudes.
Thanks for sharing. The personal connections discussed bring a lot of value if done right.
These are some great tips with good timing to boot! We’re kicking out a big project that impacts my team and a few other departments while building, and eventually everyone once it gets rolled out! I’d love to hear even more tips to try to get them incorporated throughout our organization. One of our biggest challenges is too many people get invited to the meeting, so we need to be ok with declining meetings if the information is not relevant to us or our input is not needed.
Thanks, Dan. There is something to be also said about standing meetings to keep the participants engaged(the last time I checked, it is not easy to bury your head in a laptop while standing); keep points short and drive productive outcomes.
There needs to be planning for meetings to be effective. It’s disrespectful and inefficient to bring people together without being organized. Most of the information presented was not new but a worthwhile reminder. Although, I’m not clear on what is meant by “elicit people’s dreams” in Step 3.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Great book – would love to have a copy.
Pondering – After the meeting is the info shared with people who need to know updates from the meeting, but aren’t invited to the meeting? If there is nothing worth sharing from the meeting was it worthwhile to have?
Great information! I run weekly meetings and would love ideas on how to empower my team and make meetings meaningful.
I like the “Meeting Canoe”.
It has a couple more items in it than I am used to. More specifically:
• Connect People to Each Other and the Task
• Elicit People’s Dreams
I’ve always been part of meetings, and invited people who need to be informed, because they might have something to add. Maybe they don’t need to be there, or have the option of not attending and being informed after the meeting via the minutes or a summary.
The other point of Eliciting People’s Dreams. I never thought of it this way. Sure I connected to a “purpose” of the meeting. I’ll admit I never did it from a “let’s get fired up and excited” motivation perspective. Attaching the work to the dreams’ of the people. It makes sense. We think of this as a way to help motivate people in their regular teams and roles. Why stop it when they become part of a “team” in a meeting?
Interesting. I’ll get some practice in motivating people in every meeting. I’m sure there is some common grounds of success that can be discovered and use to drive purpose and passion.
This is a great summary of what makes a meeting great. We’re striving for this on a daily basis and appreciate the reminder!
I like the idea of changing it from a “meeting” to a gathering or something along that lines. I love that we can make sure that all participants have a role and be an active participant. Thank you for these great bullet points and reminders!
Great tips. When hosting a meeting I always spend time on the front end answering the following three questions in detail
1. What do I want the participants to think as a result of the meeting
2. What do I want to have them feel…
3. What do I want them to do…
This helps me to stay focused on the outputs of the meeting
Another thought…remember the core purpose of calling a meeting and ensure that it is always at the core of the meeting. When I first started chairing one committee as a new employee it was 3 hours long…now it’s down to 1/2 hour and not surprisingly, it’s better attended and has more engaged participants.
This post is incredibly timely! We are revisiting several of our team meeting structures in order to make them add value to our work. I’d love some more tips!
I am growing as a leader and this is an awesome template to help me be effective and grow!
YES! Yes! Yes! Yes! What a huge difference there are in meetings that have no clear purpose or challenge vs. ones that are engaging and there is a clear target that everyone can work together on. Awesome! I can’t wait to read this book.
A meaningful agenda that is adhered to by the facilitator is a must for an effective meeting. otherwise, you spend an inordinate amount of time going down “rabbit trails”, which only serve to waste everyone’s time.
Great ideas. Thank you!
I was taught that there are three essential elements to a meeting: an agenda, assignments, and follow-up on previous assignments. In the absence of these, just send an email.
Of course, facilitating meetings is a fine art. I am reading this post instead of sitting in a faculty meeting right now because the facilitator doesn’t make the meeting worth our while (even with free lunch).
Great post! Meetings that are poorly planned and led are a plague in my organization. There’s nothing more demoralizing than wasting three hours in a meeting that you didn’t contribute to or take anything away from.
Sounds like some great ideas. I will have to look for a copy of this book.
Definitely good reminders! My dad always told me that it takes a GREAT meeting to beat no meeting at all. I do my best to ensure each meeting has a purpose and only runs long enough to meet the goals set for it. I never want my meetings to be labeled as “It should have been a memo” meeting.
The converse of Step 2 is also key. Don’t just make sure that the right people are present, but also make sure that the “wrong” (non-impacted) people are NOT there. This leads to Step 4 – make sure the meeting has PARTICIPANTS and not ATTENDEES.
Great post. Meetings can be productivity zappers if done poorly. I love the suggestion to make sure there is a compelling purpose for the meeting. I have been in organizations that had meetings for the sake of the meeting. Meetings can be, and should be, an effective way to communicate to a group or interact in synergistic problem solving.
I love the simplicity of the suggestions, that are so simple and in front of our eyes, how can we zips them… Even more. How can we “hint” them to our superiors perhaps…? That would be my personal challenge
Thanks to everyone for your great comments. As you experiment with these ideas let us know what worked and what didn’t work. We are always working on improving the model and would love to hear from you.
One of our clients has what they call weekend updates for their Monday staff meeting. You can also ask people what they need to do or say so that they can be fully present at the meeting. You can also ask people to discuss the purpose of the meeting and what they want to be different because this group is meeting.
Very enlightening. How do you connect people to each other and to the task??
Never underestimate the power of an ‘icebreaker’ in meetings. This is usually the person that cracks a silly joke, often about themselves, has everyone laughing and creates an instant sense of camaraderie. They make look like fools, but they are essential to any purposeful meeting in which people need to work together. I learnt this in Hairdressers 101, after attending many stuffy seminars. 😉
We’ve found that a quick review of decisions made and next steps helps. In addition we use a simple 30 second Meeting Survey. It asks, Was This Meeting Time Well Spent on a Strongly agree to Strongly disagree scale and asks what went well in todays meeting and what can we do to improve our meeting next time we meet.
Attend to the End is so important, we often ask that people Be Present. Trying to compete with emails and text messages makes accomplishing the purpose of the meeting hard.
The more I’ve learned about SCRUM, and already having a penchant for punchy, effective meetings, I’ve been able to merge some elements when a task calls for weekly gatherings. Don’t lose the camaraderie that you gain by having thorough dialog, but don’t get muddled so far into the weeds that everyone in the room feels disconnected. And never, NEVER, make a regular meeting that lasts more than 45-60 min!
I like meetings where you are getting work done towards a priority that is already on your desk. The collaboration gets you started or inspires you, but those topics tend to get crowded out from all of the informative explanations of #change that seem to be coming at all of us at lightspeed. #changefatigue Love to win the book and make the most of getting team members together. – Heather
I have to conduct meetings at least once a month for this service organization. I usually dread it myself. I’m interested in how to make them more relevant to all.
Involve the group in the purpose discussion and then work together to design the meeting so that it achieves its purpose.
The 10 minute morning leardership standup that we learned about from Patrick Lencioni’s “Death by Meeting” helped transform a 35 person consulting firm in 2007 to now over 150 employees. Looking forward to a new take on this topic with the Axelrod’s book. #standupsarelikecorporatepushups
I love standup meetings for sharing info and coordinating at the beginning of a day or shift.
Two questions I ask myself before I go to a meeting is what can I contribute and what do I need to get to support my work. That helps me focus.
A meeting is lousy when you leave the meeting but you are not assigned any work. You talk for a long time (wasted) and then leave. Social interaction is valuable but even that does not get accomplished effectively in lousy meetings. After a great meeting you feel energized and affirmed about what you do and who you work with.
Meeting are a challenge, so important and so wasted, informed, usable input would be appreciated.
I start to “use my time wisely” in meetings I am attending if I do not find the information pertinent. I will catch up on email or start planning agendas for my next event/meeting. Not ideal, but at least I don’t feel like I am wasting time.
Also, teleconferences are hard for me to run simply because I like to look at the people I am meeting with. What are your favorite tips & tricks to make sure the the attendees on the phone are as engaged as the ones in the room?
Too many meetings are a waste of time, energy and intelligence. Know the goal of the meeting. Work toward that goal. Get it done efficiently so that these key people can get back to the business of doing the business.
Too many meetings without a focused agenda and then they just go “free form” and everybody wants to put in their 2 cents without holding anyone accountable for a due date or point person.
What a thoughtful way to approach meetings. I will be keeping these key things in mind as I am planning future meetings.
in a time of change and restructure in my office, meetings become the strategic necessity. Making them all purposeful is hard. This helps so much.
This sounds like one of the most useful books that any professional could have. I can’t wait to read it.
We have been trying various meeting formats here at istafrica.com, I’m an avid follower of LF and would love to get my hands on a copy of this book. One the challenges we face is that we need to schedule meetings in order to ensure time is made, and in our leadership meetings we are trying to differentiate between task focused meetings and big-picture strategic meetings, however, tasks always press in as they become time sensitive. In The Advantage (Patrick Lencioni) says the two meeting should be held separately.
How do others manage the regular schedule of meetings, particularly of more time is required to achieve an outcome or make a decision?
How do others manage tasks vs strategic meetings?