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Twelve rules to shift your meetings from dreadful to successful

Written by Eric Partaker on Wednesday, 11 May 2022. Posted in Leadership, HR, People

Most people I know aren't huge fans of meetings. Too many of them and unnecessary, they'll say. While that may be partly true I don't believe it's the true driver of their frustration.

Twelve rules to shift your meetings from dreadful to successful

Most people I know aren't huge fans of meetings. Too many of them and unnecessary, they'll say. While that may be partly true I don't believe it's the true driver of their frustration.

I believe meetings are typically dreaded because of their poor execution rather than their potential efficacy.

In fact, meetings when done well, are critically important. As the late Andy Grove, former Intel Chairman and author of High Output Management, would say, meetings are the medium of management. Here are 12 simple rules I employ to run successful meetings. (Note: these rules apply more for your "ad hoc" meetings, rather than your weekly team meetings and 1-to-1s, which have a more set structure).

Share the desired outcome and agenda beforehand

Sounds simple but I've been in many meetings with no agenda. An agenda should be sent to everyone in advance. If possible, try to vary who leads each section of the agenda at the meeting to encourage more active participation. Also, schedule the meeting as the desired outcome. For example, instead of putting "Marketing meeting" in everyone's calendar name the invite "Clarify Q1 Marketing Strategy".

Delegate any pre-work

As part of the run-up to the meeting, you may want to delegate pre-work to all or some of the participants. For example, if part of the meeting will involve a financial review you may ask your Finance Manager to prepare a pack of financial information. If you plan to review a recent survey you may ask your Marketing Manager to analyze the survey results beforehand.

Set an intention

On the day of the meeting, and before it begins, set an intention for how you want the meeting to be. Ask yourself questions such as "How do I want people to feel at the start of this meeting? What tone do I want to set? What's the energy this meeting and team require? How will I show up for this meeting and how do I want to be perceived?"

Create a device party

One of the biggest distractions for an engaging meeting is phones and laptops. Have everyone drop their phone or laptop in a designated area, "the device party". This could be a small box if it's simply phones and you could request that all laptops be left in their bags or in a certain corner of the room.

Assign a note-taker

If you're facilitating the meeting then you need to keep a close eye on the time as well. Every item of the agenda should have a start and end time so you can sense where you need to speed up if needed - it's rarely ever a case of needing to slow down! I always have someone else take notes however so I can focus on the facilitation.

Agree on the meeting objectives

Even though you would have included the desired outcome as part of the agenda-setting it's always good practice to ask everyone what they hope to get out of the meeting, at the very start of the meeting. Another way to ask the question is "What would be a successful outcome for this meeting?" Note all the objectives up on the wall where they can remain visible. Refer back to them regularly throughout the meeting, with a "How are we doing?" check-in.

Discuss & debate

During the meeting, it's super critical to encourage everyone to speak their mind. Any conflicts kept under the table could lead to issues later on when it comes to execution. If you sense disagreement or differing perspectives make sure you mine for conflict and bring any issues to the surface. Healthy debate enables the team to consider multiple points of view and arrive at better answers.

Disagree & commit

The goal of the meeting isn't to reach a consensus, and you can, in fact, make this point directly. The goal is to give everyone a voice, rather than a vote, so that all angles can be considered, as per the previous point. This means that certain decisions could sit well with some people but not others. If you are the leader of the group it's your job to decide what input to act on and the ultimate decision to take. This may involve certain team members disagreeing with the approach, but nevertheless committing to support the plan, until a different decision is taken.

Take regular breaks

The maximum amount of time you should go without a 10-15 minute break is 90 minutes. Go longer than this and the thinking will become stale as the energy wanes. Breaks should be built into the agenda so participants know when to expect them. And they should be as respected as any other item on the agenda. Phones can be checked during breaks if desired.

Review actions and communications

As the meeting nears its conclusion time should be allocated to review all the actions that come out of the meeting, including the owners and deadlines for each. The team should also agree on what decisions need to be communicated following the meeting - by whom, to whom, in what form, and by what date.

Book follow-up discussion

If necessary, schedule right then and there any follow-up discussions with all or some of the participants. At this point, participants will likely need their phones to review their calendars. It's incredibly effective to book the next meeting with everyone present.

Rate the meeting 

Last but not least revisit the meeting objectives set by the team at the start of the meeting. Ask each team member to silently rate the meeting from 1-10 based on the degree to which it accomplished the objectives. Also, ask them to include at least 1 reason for their rating. Then take 5 minutes or so to go around the room and capture the ratings and reasons.

So, there you go! 12 simple rules I've followed to run successful meetings. Meetings that achieve their objectives, as defined by the participants, with active participation and the right level of energy from all!

About the Author

Eric Partaker

Eric Partaker

Eric Partaker is a high performance coach for business leaders and captains of industry, helping them and their companies to scale-up. He advised 50 CEOs while at McKinsey & Company, and was a key player in building Skype’s multi-billion-dollar success story.

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