How can I run better meetings?

by Sam on October 21, 2009


00:10 Answer: The person most responsible for the efficiency and the effectiveness of a meeting is the leader. When you sit at the head of the table how many of the best practices given below characterize your behavior? Conversely, which represent opportunities for improved group leadership?

Please accept this personal challenge. Find your three “oranges” on the list; that is, your three best meeting leadership practices. Next, admit to your three “lemons”: the trio that are not up to the quality of the rest.

1. Start. I’m a no-nonsense meeting leader who arrives ahead of time to set up A/V, lighting, refreshments, tables and chairs, and proper room temperature. I begin the meeting on time (at least within five minutes of the published start) and insist, in no uncertain terms, that others are there as well.

2. Ground Rules. For groups with life beyond just one meeting I ensure that we clarify our expectations of each other at the outset of our work together and publish them. These are the requirements for behavior we will hold ourselves accountable to throughout our tenure. (See “Team Charter” in the May 2009 archives.) More on this in the November 4th ASK.

3. Agenda. I prepare an agenda stating where we’ll meet, the date, when we’ll start and stop, who is expected to be there, and what items we’ll address. Participants have opportunity to contribute agenda items, and the agenda is circulated to them in advance of the actual meeting.

4. Agenda Expectations. We establish our expectations of agenda items before we address them. We agree on exactly where we intend to be—the outcomes—at the end of each one. We set time limits for each item.

5. Progress. I keep the meeting on track and moving ahead. If we’re running behind or not staying on task I redirect the discussion. (“Pat, let me ask you to hold that point for when we get to agenda item #3.”)

6. Parking lot. When matters being raised don’t contribute to progress, yet are important, I have them recorded for future action. We empty as much of this “parking lot” as possible at the end of the meeting or use it as input to future agendas.

7. Miscommunication. When one member’s response to another indicates misunderstanding, I step in to foster clarification. (“Jan by virtue of your response to Rick, we apparently didn’t hear him the same way. Rick, could you restate your point?”)

8. No Plops. I make certain all ideas get a complete hearing and that team members build on each other’s ideas rather than merely engage in a series of disassociated statements. (“Maria, I’m going to interrupt you until we gather reactions from the team on the point that Jason just made.”)

9. Groupthink. I make certain that we challenge each other’s assumptions, statements, and ideas when there’s a chance we’ve reached an untested conclusion. To avoid “groupthink” I might appoint a devil’s advocate at the meeting, hold a second chance meeting to rethink tentative decisions, or bring in outsiders to dispute our findings. I might alternatively encourage us to search for the potential weaknesses in our conclusions before meeting’s end. (“Before we leave the room with this decision, let’s go around the table to hear from each person one possible reason why it might not work as expected.”)

10. Conflict. While I encourage people to confront each other’s ideas, I tackle destructive interpersonal quarreling. If it can’t be addressed at the meeting, I work off-line with the antagonists to facilitate a resolution. (Check out the four-part series on interpersonal conflict in the June and July, 2009 archives.)

11. Criticism. I ensure that criticism is honestly expressed when I suspect it’s being withheld. (“Lou, I wonder if you’re really in full agreement with Anna’s position as she just stated it.”) I ensure that when criticism is expressed, it’s constructive. (See the constructive criticism Ask in the July, 2009 archives.)

12. Non-Contributors. When people appear to be holding back I draw them into the conversation without embarrassing them. (“Dianne, I believe you have ideas and expertise that would really benefit the current discussion.”)

13. Listening. I consume less than 25% of the air time. My main focus is on what I hear so I can help the group achieve its objectives.

14. Decision Neutral. I steer clear of making content judgments as much as is practicable so that the groups I lead reach their fullest potential. I influence people to achieve better outcomes far more than I influence the outcomes, themselves.

15. Closure. At the end of a meeting I confirm with members that we each agree about the decisions that were made and the assignment of tasks yet to be performed.

16. Ending Time. I am so realistic about how long it takes to achieve our goals and so active on the process points above that running over the scheduled end time is an anomaly. We finish early more often than we finish late.

17. Minutes. Whenever it’s appropriate to publish minutes—most of the time!—I see that they get out within 48 hours of the meeting, and often within 24.

18. Feedback. From time to time I ask the group to evaluate our progress and process and then suggest ways to get better. I make certain that responsive action is taken to advance our efficiency and our effectiveness.

Application: Congratulations on your oranges—nice work! Now, what will you do about your lemons? Are there vows you’ll make to the people you lead? Besides assessing yourself on the criteria above, consider other uses for them. They lay groundwork for meeting leader training. You can also ask the group you lead to perform the same “lemons” and “oranges” evaluation of your leadership that you performed on yourself for confirmation of your self-perception. Persuade other meeting leaders in your organization to do the same.

Aphorism: Had God sent the Israelites a committee instead of Moses, they would still be in Egypt. ~Author unknown

Approaching: An email request will bring you a sneak preview of your choice among these “coming attractions.”

11/4: What should be our rules of engagement at meetings?

11/18: How can we get employees to provide world class service to customers?

12/2: How can we get employees to provide world class service to each other?

12/16: What should I have on my list of goals for personal achievement?

12/30: What is the essence of emotional competence?

1/13: What can I do about a coworker who’s driving me crazy?

1/27: What is the explanation for my greatest frustration in life?

2/10: How can we best handle our disgruntled customers?

Action (yours)
Do you have an Ask for Sam about leadership, team building or communications? Email that question to him at He will respond to you either by email or telephone. Please include your telephone number with your Ask.

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