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Making Meetings Work

Updated on November 28, 2014

Meetings are like huddles in football games

I have taught adult accelerated business courses for many years. On the first day, I ask the students to raise their hands if they have attended a mandatory meeting at work recently which had no clear agenda or purpose. Nearly every hand goes up.

Face-to-face communication is the richest kind, and meetings are where it's done. Imagine a football game with no huddles: nobody would know the next play. Good meetings help keep things simple so everyone has clear expectations and stays focused despite a changing world. If good communication happens in meetings, you become more effective as a leader.

Here are some essential meeting facilitation tips learned from running thousands of meetings over a 30-year period:

Create interest and urgency!

1. State the Meeting Purpose: Don't ever schedule a meeting without a written reason. Make the meeting relate to only two good reasons: What are we doing next and how are we going to do it? Motivate with a clear and simple action-oriented purpose that make people say "Wow!" Write it big and diplay it! If you can't do this, you're wasting everyone's time. Cancel the meeting if it doesn't have a compelling purpose!

2. Make meetings fast and action oriented: Short huddles for teams that are going on the sales or production floor need only take 10-15 minutes at most each shift. Weekly meetings for management teams can be done standing up rather than sitting, and they should only be 20 minutes or so. If you have to, remove the chairs. Quarterly meetings or board meetings, if they must be longer, should be cut into 20-minute segments that change format from visual presentation to discussion, to brainstorming, etc.. Otherwise, after 20 minutes, attention drifts.

The only exception would be annual strategic planning and budgeting sessions which can take 2 -3 days, but they should still be cut into shorter, manageable sections. And, to make the projections doable, cut each year into two six-month planning periods. People rarely remember a year of planning details, nor do they want to, because they know things will change. Six-month time frames create a sense of urgency because people feel in control. SemcoSA in Brazil has been using six-month performance contracts for decades with increased profits each year.

3. Create a standing agenda: List new business, old business, actions, and adjourn. Make it written, clearly stated, and visual, where everyone can see it. Give everybody permission to keep the meeting on track or leave if it's not.

4. Create a list of meeting courtesies that move things along, such as: 1-2-3: Anyone who brings a problem to the meeting must also bring at least two causes and three solutions. This shuts down attention-seeking "Negative Nellies," who like to complain but disappear when the dreaded four-letter word "work" appears. Your key producers will add energy by offering solutions, but only if you protect them by enforcing the meeting courtesies.

5. Keep it positive! Build a system that rewards people for doing the right thing. Recognition creates energy and excitement. (If you must punish somebody, it's unprofessional to do it in a meeting.)

Meeting Facilitation


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