4 Tools to Keep Meetings On Track
Smart people have lousy meetings. Keeping meetings on track is like organizing a barrel of hummingbirds.
The only thing worse than low-participation meetings is one exploding with ideas that ends in confusion. Add a bloviator or two and you’re doomed. And don’t forget the genius who brings up flying pigs when the topic is purple giraffes.
Meetings spiral into oblivion when ideas and perspectives cause paralysis.
4 tools to keep meetings on track:
#1. Anticipate derailment factors:
- Incompetence at the head of the table. The person at the head of the table is responsible for the quality of the meeting.
- Poor planning.
- Generic agendas.
- Insecure barrier builders who imagine bizarre obstacles.
- Intentional distractors with hidden agendas.
- Genius scatter brains.
- Political manipulators.
#2. Declare specific outcomes.
You can’t keep meetings on track when there is no track. Please don’t have meetings to explore an issue or discuss a topic.
You convene to generate five ways to meet next week’s deadline, not to explore an issue. ‘Explore’ and ‘discussion’ invite random conversations.
#3. Leverage the “dog in the fight” rule.
Invite people who have a dog in the fight, no one else. Anyone who consistently leaves without a task should not be invited to the meeting.
#4. Use fill in the blank statements.
The room is filled with smart people. Keep meetings on track by asking people to complete a sentence.
- My suggestion for meeting next week’s deadline is ____________.
- The next three steps on this project are ___________.
- My recommendation is ____________.
- The objective of this project is ____________.
- One of our best opportunities right now is ____________.
- One reason this won’t work is ______________. (Use when searching for potential obstacles.)
- One way I can contribute to this project is __________.
Begin with answers. No stories. No long explanations. Gently interrupt people who avoid the question.
Which of the above ideas seems most actionable for you?
How do you keep meetings on track?
16 Simple Ways You Can Lead Engaging Meetings
3 Words that Make Meetings Great
6 Meeting Saboteurs Every Leader Meets
10 Tactics to Keep Your Meeting on Track (hbr.org)
Ayyaye Dan sometimes your comments really hit home! I sure am guilty of one or more (or, deep breath, all) of the above during my career. Though i.must admit the team seem to appreciate explanation (clarity) or discussion (I listen and learn). I’ll be using your questions at 9am today to thank you for perfect timing!
*SO thank you for perfect timing!
Thanks Cazzaroonie. (love your ID) Yes, sometimes people don’t have enough information to offer a cogent response. I wish you well this morning. I’ve found the technique of “complete this sentence” provides quick useful input. We still have to choose which option and then find next steps, but it’s a tool.
Years ago, someone set up a website that had a taxi meter for meetings: enter the salaries of everyone in the room and hit start. It was a real eye-opener about how much time was being wasted with discussions and exploration of topics. I’m not sure if that website is still around. But with all the apps around these days, you may be able to find someone who knows how to set something similar up for you.
Thanks Jennifer. Here’s a website that tracks salary cost of meetings. https://www.range.co/tools/meeting-cost-calculator. Of course it doesn’t include opportunity costs when meetings waste time. And you need to remember to include the cost of benefits, etc.
All common sense, but excellent reminders. I’ve been told that I am intimidating because I start my meetings on time and will redirect when we get off topic. Meetings tend to be expensive and being a good steward of time and expense is part of our jobs, that is sometimes lost.
Thanks BMO. Knowing how to be kind and direct is difficult to navigate. When I prepared for this post, I thought about ways to soften language and still be direct. I left that stuff out, but it can be done. Having said that, you are exactly right, good stewardship is part of the job.
I like and used #2.
When I ran meeting my agenda listed four items.
Agenda item–Desired Outcome–Timeframe (9;00-to-9:15) and Who’s Responsible to lead the discussion
“Desired Outcome” kept everyone focused on the goal. Assigning different agenda items to specific staff members (Who’s Responsible) kept them more involved.
The meeting leader needs to use a combination of directing and facilitating to keep the meeting on track and make sure everyone contributes.
Thanks Paul. I’m delighted you added the use of multiple people to lead meetings. At the least it increases engagement. More than that, shared leadership develops others and expands potential.
BTW, I think people are surprised to learn how quickly 15 minutes goes by.