How to Run Great Meetings

Spend less time in meetings while dramatically increasing their value. Great Meetings are organized, focused, fast, positive, participative, and proactive. Participants come prepared and leave energized. Great Meetings result in decisions and action. Download the Great Meetings PDF.

Why Have Great Meetings?

Most companies have too many meetings, with too many people, taking too much time, and delivering too little value. Meetings that waste time, drain energy, lead to conflict, and impede progress. However, Great Meetings eliminate this waste, motivate people, and accelerate progress.

What Are Great Meetings?

Great Meetings drive change. They leverage small groups of people to make decisions and transform those decisions into concrete actions. They stand in stark contrast to typical meetings, which are often talking shops ruled by personality with few substantive outcomes.

Word cloud with attributes of Bad vs Great meetings.
Are your meetings “red” or “green”? Is there room for improvement?

How to Have the Best Meetings

Before the Meeting

Create An Effective Agenda

There are five elements to an effective meeting agenda:

ObjectiveA clearly written statement of the meeting goal. This is NOT a “topic” or “subject”. It is a specific desired outcome. A meeting’s success can be measured against its objective. For best results, keep the objective simple and focused.
ParticipantsSmaller meetings are better. Relentlessly pare back. Only include people with valuable insights or a strong stake in the outcome.
Time-BoxParticipants appreciate a strictly enforced start time and end time. Nothing maintains focus like an enforced deadline.
ContextWhy this meeting is important, what will be debated, and what people currently think. When appropriate includes a proposed decision (a starting point for discussion).
PreparationRequired preparation for the meeting. If a participant doesn’t have time to prepare, they shouldn’t have time to attend.

Prepare Your Team

The leader and participants have a shared commitment. The leader commits to providing the smallest possible, most clearly written set of preparation materials that support the objective. The participants commit to carefully reviewing those materials before the meeting.

During the Meeting

Stay Focused

Great Meetings stay tightly focused on delivering the objective. Tangents and circular debates are quickly identified and stopped.

Move Fast

Great Meetings start on time, end on time, and move quickly. Start by framing the objective and set the tone by getting right down to business.

Be Positive

Great Meetings are positive and motivating. They are an arena of ideas. The focus is on the idea – not the person advocating the idea. People leave excited and committed.

Elicit Participation

Great Meetings are active. Everyone participates. Otherwise – why are they there? People are free to decline an invite if they will not add value. People are free to leave if they are not adding value.

Be Proactive

Great Meetings have a strong bias to action. Minutes (what happened) are deemphasized. Actions (what will happen) are emphasized. The meeting closes with a concise recap of the decision and actions.

After the Meeting

Distribute Action Plan

The leader distributes an Action Plan – a summary of the decision and supporting actions. Each action has an owner and a due date. The due date is proposed and “owned” by the action owner.

Confirm Completion

The leader owns the Action Plan and follows-up to ensure that all actions are delivered successfully and on time.

Template filled out with information about how to conduct a great meeting.
Download step-by-step PDF instructions for creating a meeting template in Outlook, and a two-page form with fill-in-the-blanks Agenda and Action Plan.
Blank template to fill out with information about how to conduct a great meeting.
Download step-by-step PDF instructions for creating a meeting template in Outlook, and a two-page form with fill-in-the-blanks Agenda and Action Plan.

Benefits of Great Meetings

In the short term, Great Meetings result in fewer and better meetings.

In the long term, Great Meetings create an entirely new meeting culture – one focused on accelerating decisions and actions.

Team Member Roles

Great Meetings involves the following roles:

LeaderCreates Agenda. Ensures preparation is easy. Ensures meetings are focused, fast, positive, participative, and proactive. Coaches participants. Follows-up on Action Plan.
Note TakerRecords decision and actions (i.e., the Action Plan draft). This is usually a different person than the Leader.
ParticipantComes prepared. Honors meeting guidelines. Delivers actions.
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Key Insights

Recognize Meeting Variants

Great Meetings leverage small groups of people to make decisions and accelerate progress. Learn to recognize other types of meetings.

BrainstormingGreat Meetings are about decisions. Making those decisions reduces the universe of options. Brainstorming is the opposite. The deliverable is an expanded universe of options.
Work SessionWork Sessions are about efficiently completing work with a small team. The deliverable is completed work (e.g., mapping a manufacturing process).
TrainingTraining is about efficiently conveying information and reliably building skills. The deliverable is transferred skills.
InfomercialMany meetings are infomercials in disguise. There are far more efficient ways to disseminate information (e.g., a well-crafted email). Eliminate this type of meeting.

Consider the Option of No Meeting

Most companies have far too many meetings. So think once, twice, and thrice before organizing a meeting. Ask yourself: “How do I resolve this without a meeting?” Consider a series of informal conversations or email exchanges as an alternative. Reserve meetings for situations where a decision needs to be rigorously tested.

Meetings Are the ‘D’ in IDA

IDA is an outstanding framework for transforming information into results.

  • Information provides the foundation for making effective decisions.
  • Decision is the process of making effective decisions.
  • Action transforms those decisions into results.

Great Meetings deliver focus. They are the pivot between Information and Action. Information is discussed and a course of action is decided.

Win the Meeting

A well-crafted meeting objective captures the essence of a win. Deliver the objective and win the meeting. Use the goal of winning the meeting to motivate and energize participants.

Raise the Tangent Flag

Tangents kill momentum. Agree in advance that any participant can raise their hand to alert participants that the meeting is heading off on a tangent and should be refocused on the objective. We call it raising the “tangent flag” and it is an amazingly effective tool.

Better or Different

Before proposing a new approach during a meeting ask yourself – is the new approach genuinely better or is it simply different? Let go of ideas that are simply different and focus on ideas that add significant new value.

Prefer Short Meetings

Strive for meetings that are 30 minutes (or less). Keep on track by asking the note taker to announce when the time is halfway complete and nearly complete. You will be amazed at the energy and focus that can be sustained in short meetings.

The Arena of Ideas

Great Meetings are a venue for healthy debate that tests, refines, and firms decisions. It is important for that debate to focus on ideas, not on the people presenting those ideas. Carefully watch for instances where personalities are injected into the debate. Recognize instances of “I” and “You” that personalize the debate. Coach participants to say things like “That idea has a lot of merit” instead of “I like that idea”.

Seek Underlying Concerns

When participants raise an objection, it is often a symptom of a deeper concern. The only way to truly address the objection is to root out the deeper concern. A prime example is when someone objects to something, not because of what is on the table today, but because of something that happened in the past. Seek out and address the underlying concern to successfully move meetings forward.

Say No to No

Negativity can crush a meeting. Here are tips for managing negativity:

  • Establish expectations upfront with simple ground rules for behavior.
  • As a leader, always inject a strong dose of positive into meetings.
  • Don’t meet negativity with negativity – it simply “escalates the bad”.
  • Acknowledge concerns and reframe the conversation to the objective.

Level and Difficulty

The Level is Foundation. Great Meetings drive progress. They increase the pace and quality of decisions and actions. They are a catalyst for change.

The Difficulty is Moderate. Developing skilled meeting leaders takes time, as does establishing new habits and behaviors for participants.

Rate Your Meetings

Do you have Great Meetings? Answer ten simple questions to see how close you are to a model implementation.

1. Do meetings have a simple, focused and “winnable” objective?
2. Are meetings small – pared down to a minimum?
3. Is preparation easy and do people come prepared?
4. Are meetings short and do they end on time?
5. Are tangents quickly identified and stopped?
6. Is discussion ruled by and focused on ideas – not people?
7. Are meetings positive, energetic, and motivating?
8. Do all attendees actively participate?
9. Is a strong focus kept on delivering (winning) the objective?
10. Are decisions and actions published and followed to completion?

Comments or Questions?

We welcome your comments and questions. Contact us at: [email protected].

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