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Good Meetings Are Simple. Really.

We’ve all been there.

We have all been in terrible meetings or run terrible meetings. I know I have. I catch myself even now doing a poor job at planning and managing a discussion well.

It’s so simple to do it well. Why don’t we do it more often? Why do I forget the basics sometimes?

Here’s a reminder for me, myself, I, and you too.

What’s the Goal?

Have a clear goal going into the discussion. Is it a decision or set of decisions you want to come out with? Is it to communicate status?

Make sure the goal is clear to everyone, and that the goal is stated in such a way that you know when you’ve acheived it.

This is why an agenda is so important, even if it’s just a few lines of text in the calendar item or in an email. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it does have to clearly communicate the goal(s) clearly.

Respect People’s Time

Schedule meetings to be 15 or 30 minutes by default. Most scheduling software automatically defaults to an hour. Change the defaults.

Limiting yourself to shorter meetings will keep them more focused and productive. I would rather have 2 30-minute meetings than a single 1-hour meetings if it makes sense. Sometimes that can be a good strategy, especially when it’s a decision-making discussion. Expect actions and follow-up activity to come out of the first discussion, and get finalized in the second.

Shorter meetings also makes it easier for youto keep the group on track. If someone gets off topic, you can steer them back by interjecting “we only have a few minutes left for this discussion, so let’s table that topic for now and deal with it individually or in a new meeting.”

If you are scheduled for 30 minutes and you acheive the goal in 10 minutes, declare victory and get the heck out of there. Get everyone back to moving your project forward.

Additionally, start the meeting on time. Waiting around for 5 minutes for other people to arrive is pretty painful for everyone. In some cases you have to wait…if so, try to get some cheerful banter going at least…otherwise it’s just boring silence.

Follow Up

If there are actions from the meeting, follow up on them. Make sure other people are as well.

Sending out meeting minutes is a great way to 1) ensure people know their responsibilities, 2) you remember who you are expecting updates from, and 3) help ensure understanding by re-stating the decisions in your own summary.

What ineffective behaviors do you catch yourself or others doing that give you a headache?

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11 Comments

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Stephen Peteritas

With meetings I really think someone has to be the guy or gal that focuses and refocuses the meeting. Naturally people want to talk about a million things but someone has to step up and be the fun police sometimes to get things back on track. It’s not fun but it’s productive.

Mary F. Tobin, Ph. D

Hmmm… these are all good and important points. However, the article make the assumption that no one in the meeting has a different agenda going on. Think the person running the meeting also has to keep an eye out for folks who won’t talk up, won’t put themselves on the line, undercut others and so on. And then have the skills and a backup plan to handle unproductive behavior. Or else have someone else in the meeting who can perform this role.

Bill Brantley

Not doing your homework. Ever been to a meeting where you had some material to read in preparation of the meeting? You did your homework and so did everyone else except for a couple of folks. So now we have to catch those people up to speed on the material. This usually eats up half the meeting time if you are lucky.

Josh Nankivel

Good one @Bill! We should all take a pledge now….the next time that happens when the expectation was clearly set, we should get up and inform everyone we need to postpone the meeting until Joe and Jane are ready to go.

If you get a reputation for doing that, people may think twice before coming to your meetings unprepared.

Allison Merkley

If it’s a meeting where group concensus is crucial (I’m a Lean Six Green Belt, a lot of these meetings come up) then I also make a point to meet with all the key stakeholders individually before the group meeting (usually takes 10-15 minutes a piece). Ensuring that all parties actually read your handouts before the meeting and had the chance to synthesize what you are referring to is key to having meaningful (but BRIEF) discussions.

Eric Melton

@ Stephen – the Lean Six Sigma method of using a sheet/board labeled “parking lot” to capture off-topic or out-of-scope items mentioned can help keep things focused, while still capturing ideas and comments for later/offline discussion.