Meetings. They’re often considered to be the “necessary evil” of every organization. There’s a reason why business meetings are so often parodied. Meetings are like going to the dentist; you know you need to but you’d rather do other things.
Every organization needs to hold meetings. And by the time you’ve ascended to the executive suite, meetings make up the bulk of your precious time.
But many will agree that meetings can sometimes feel like a colossal waste of time. How often have you sat through meetings that felt like they were going nowhere, or that dragged on for longer than they should? How often have you attended meetings where people were unprepared, or you left wondering what the meeting actually accomplished?
Put those meetings behind you and create an organization that embraces meetings because they are engaging, actionable, and serve to move the needle.
Here are my rules for holding productive meetings that can actually transform your organization.
Rule #1. Every meeting needs an agenda that is distributed before the meeting. This is one rule that is commonly shared yet often ignored in companies. Many meetings are scheduled and the agendas are distributed at the beginning of the meeting. This practice allows for meetings that go nowhere and are attended by people who are not prepared. Simply refuse to attend any meeting where the agenda is not distributed prior to the meeting, and encourage the same of all your staff. Going forward, require that every meeting organizer provide an agenda prior to the meeting. (Better yet, set a minimum amount of time prior to the meeting that the agenda must be distributed, such as 1 business day.)
Rule #2. Every meeting needs a goal to work toward. Meetings can often descend into deep discussion and brainstorming sessions, with a list of deferred decisions. Although that’s not always a bad thing, it can delay the work of the organization. To help combat this, every meeting should have a goal. Goals might include: “By the end of this meeting we will have a list of new marketing strategies for the new year,” or, “By the end of this meeting we will have decided what to do with the acquisition proposal that was sent to us,” or, “By the end of this meeting we will have established a committee to research a new market to enter.” This helps to keep people on track during the meeting. It helps to illuminate times when a discussion threatens to sideline the agenda and the goal, and those different topics can be tabled for a future meeting.
Rule #3. Only the relevant people should attend. How often have you held a meeting only to have two or three key people there but the rest sat silently in the background because they didn’t have anything to contribute? Only the relevant people should be there. The rest should be doing productive work. Those who need to act on the information discussed in the meeting don’t need to attend; they just need to read the meeting notes.
Rule #4. Require more energy. Have your meetings turned into “snoozefests” so that people stock up on coffee before they show up? Prior to a meeting, remind your people to come charged up with a lot of energy. During the meeting, take control and keep it moving quickly, avoiding lulls and watching for people who are reclining and zoning out. Note who they are and bring them back into the meeting. Expect your team to have high energy—make sure you model the same in yourself.
Rule #5. Mix it up. Do you hold a meeting every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. in the conference room? Hold that meeting on Wednesday morning in a coffee shop. Do the same six managers show up every meeting? Have them bring their assistant managers with them. Does everyone usually sit during the meeting? Invite them to a meeting but surprise people by not having any chairs. Organizations tend to find a certain way of holding meetings and they stick with that whether it’s working for them or not. By mixing things up, you are not only testing the boundaries to see how to make your meetings more effective, you are also secretly breaking the sense of “this-is-the-way-it’s-always-been-done” inertia that infects companies.
Rule #6. Review your core values before the meeting and refer to them during the meeting. Core values are great but they’re not just decoration that you hang on your wall and forget about. The best core values act as a filter during decision-making to help everyone remain aligned and on-track. Before every meeting, review your core values. Then throughout the meeting, especially before finalizing key decisions, refer back to the core values to ensure that the decision supports them.
Rule #7. Use these end-of-meeting takeaways. Nothing is more frustrating than leaving a meeting knowing that only a few people have action steps, even fewer will remember what their action steps are, and most people wondering about the value of the meeting. If you don’t implement anything else from these rules, implement this one. During the meeting, everyone should write down the following things and each person needs to share them at the end of the meeting: Have every person list actions that they are going to stop doing, actions that they are going to start doing, and actions that they are going to keep doing—whatever is applicable to them. And, everyone must also list a breakthrough that they achieved in the meeting. Then, at the end of the meeting, everyone in the room needs to read out the actions that they will start, stop, and continue doing, and their breakthrough. This will help to ensure that everyone is engaged in the meeting and will also keep them accountable for the changes made from the meeting.
Bonus tip: If someone is in the meeting and doesn’t have any actions to start, stop, and keep doing, and no breakthroughs, then they shouldn’t have been at the meeting in the first place and no longer need to attend these meetings in the future.
Meetings are part of every organization and they’re needed to connect people together to get work done. However, meetings are often not as effective as they should be, and have even sometimes become viewed as a waste of time and a necessary evil.
But meetings don’t have to be that way. Meetings can be powerful times of sharing ideas and moving the needle in the organization. When you implement these seven rules for meetings in your company, you’ll change how people view and participate in meetings and, in turn, you’ll change the transformational value that meetings can have for your company.