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How to chair an effective meeting

Updated on November 1, 2013

What is your feeling when you think on this week quite important meeting? Either you are invited to participate in the meeting or you chair the meeting, according to the statistics most probably you won’t be too much happy. It seems that majority of meetings are very ineffective and in many cases even basically wast of time. Someone might can say that meetings are "not so important", but if we have in mind how much of their time executives spend in meetings, rather it would be one of the basic managerial skills.

Although effectiveness of the meeting and especially realization of agreed tasks depend rather on organizational culture and climate in the firm than on the skills of the person running the meeting, chair it on the right way makes things going better.

According to the studied literature about theory of management and my own experience, I summerised the knowledge about chairing the meeting into five rules.

Five steps towards an effective meeting

  1. The meeting should be organised only when necessary. If the same result can be achieved in any other way (written notification, telephone conversation,...), a meeting should not be convened. Peter Drucker even said, in one of his book, that in an “ideally designed structure there would be no meetings”, adding “which in a changing world is of course only a dream”.
  2. It must be fully clear what is a purpose of the meeting. Either it will be information sharing, decision making, or something else, every participant has to be aware of it.
  3. The meeting should last no longer than 90 minutes, otherwise it becomes counterproductive. In case of longer meetings participants lose concentration, the likelihood for a conflict increases, poor decision are made because participants act so as to finish meeting as soon as possible. Except taking care of duration of the meeting, it is also very rewarding to announce the meeting expected duration in advance.
  4. The meeting should finish with precise and action-oriented proposals that are derived as a result of the constructive discussion. This is worth for majority of cases, exception could be meetings of informal type and the like.
  5. As soon as possible after the meeting, a concise and accurate meeting minutes should be sent to all participants. While the level of minutes formality depend on the meeting type, it is always better that minutes are as short as possible.


Typical problems

Running the meeting in the described manner is not so easy, especially because there are many possible disturbances. A list of most common problems, from my experience and according to the books as well, follows. When chairing the meeting we have to have these facts in mind and tend to prevent them to happen.

Meeting is an event where we tend to save minutes but we lose hours.

  1. The group often forgotten goal of the meeting. There is a tendency that more time is spent on trivial rather than the truly important things.
  2. Some individuals speak more than the others. These could be the most dominant individuals, but often not the most qualified for the topic.
  3. The more heterogeneous a group, including several different professions, the more different ideas and viewpoints will appear. However, such a group will be more conflict prone and will be harder to reach an agreement.
  4. The meetings are faced with numerous obstacles (delays, participants leaving the meeting and coming back, the phone ringing,...).
  5. The pressure towards conformism is usually very strong in the group. One who represents the opposite opinion of the propagate one usually meets with resistance of group regardless of whether it is right or not.

I could not recommend some specific book about meetings since related books usually partially cover this subject. Instead I would like to mention two authors about management whose books helped me a lot. These are P. Drucker and S.Covey, and I am so amazed with some their titles that I get back to them from time to time to find inspiration.

The 5 points of we discussed above, in my opinion are essential for a successful meeting. Of course, there are some another useful tips, so for the end I chose a video in order to illustrate these basic facts as well as to give you some practical advices.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials)
The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (Harperbusiness Essentials)

According to this book, in a "perfect organization" there is no need for meetings – because everybody knows what is his task. :-) One of the best (the most useful) book I've ever read, with many inspirational examples from real world to learn from. The book is far away of "typical managerial book" since it tell us how to manage with ourselves.



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