Claim your title as the Most Effective Meeting Holder Ever

S.T.O.P Terrible Meetings Before They Start!

Lets be honest, when was the last time you said “WOW! That was a FANTASTIC meeting!”  Or should I say have you ever said that?  Unfortunately, too many of us leave a meeting thinking “well that was a complete waste of my time.” Or “what just happened?” Or worse yet… “Sandra went on one of her rampages and we just circled a topic but never made a decision”.   Stick with me on this article and YOU will be known as the Most Effective Meeting Holder Ever!

I loathe poorly ran meetings but, I didn’t realize I had the reputation of being the ‘Most Efficient Meeting Holder Ever’ until someone gave me the title and proceeded to tell me how much they missed me leading a recent meeting.  I do typically lead that meeting but, I was traveling that day and was not able to attend.  When I inquired about the outcomes of the meeting, who is expected to do what by when and what key decisions were made they went silent and then replied, “that’s why I missed you at the meeting”.   

I’m rarely in ineffective meetings anymore because I’m typically facilitating the meeting through my work with Stratavize (so, I better know how to lead a useful and productive meeting) or I’m hosting a meeting for a group or committee I chair – either way – after many years of participating, running or facilitating meetings I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks.  Then, several years ago I got very serious about how to run productive, useful but, yet fun meetings.  By that I mean I built a framework to use over and over again to ensure meetings are effective. There is an art to facilitating a meeting but, not all meetings require ‘facilitation’, flip charts, markers, and games.  So, don’t feel pressured to be a professional facilitator. These tips are for anyone.

Your time is valuable, everyone’s time is valuable.  Time is our most valuable and most limited resource we have.  The next time you host a meeting, think of people’s time as being charged by the hour.  For example, if there’s an executive in the room their hourly rate is $2000 or if it’s a room full of senior leaders each one with an hourly rate of $500 or $600, suddenly you have more pressure to ensure your meeting is a good use of time.  When we attach time to money, suddenly we realize our meetings better be meaningful, intentional, organized and outcome-driven.  So, what makes so many meetings just a huge waste of time?

What makes meetings so terrible?

It’s been my experience there are 4 reasons most meetings are terrible.  I’ve affectionally created the acronym STOP.  Maybe someday it will become a way to STOP terrible meetings.

  1. Structure – there is no agenda or no structure to the meeting
  2. Topics – there is no connection between what is being discussed and the expected outcomes
  3. Outcomes – there are no clear outcomes like work product, tangible deliverables, documents, charts, decisions to be made, etc.
  4. People – the wrong people are in the room

Structure –Meetings must be structured.  The agenda must have structure, and the agenda should be sent out days ahead of the meeting.  This structure should include when, where, why, what, who, flow, and next steps.  The communication should be sent days ahead of time could be as simple as:

  • When:
  • Where:
  • Why:
  • Why You:
  • Topics:
  • Expected Outcome:

It’s likely attendees already know when and where the meeting will be held but, in the ‘prep communication’ reconfirm the when and where.  Then immediately explain the WHY or the intention of the meeting.  People need to know why this meeting is being held, as that will directly impact whether they will present or not, and I don’t just mean physically present.  The WHY is the most powerful thing you can include in your prep communication.  It’s also important to kick off the meeting with the WHY or purpose. 

My opener to most meetings is very simple. I say, “The purpose of today’s meeting is ____________ and we want to accomplish ___________________ by the end.”   The way you structure the meeting includes how you connect the topics to outcomes, how you manage the time, and how you ensure all voices are included.  As I am preparing for a meeting I pull out David Sibbett’s Four Flows Model as a reminder to consider; attention, energy, information, and operations, all of which I would include in how the meeting is structured.

Lastly, the structure includes how the meeting is documented, wrapped up, followed up on afterward and how attendees are held accountable to the action items. You can have a fun and productive meeting but, if nothing happens afterwards it’s a waste of time. 

Topics – Topics answers the WHAT.  Take time to consider the topics to be covered in this meeting and in what order.  Getting clear on the what ensures there is a process to accomplishing the expected outcome.  Creating the topics in advance gives you time to reflect on how you will get what you need in the time you have.  Topic order should not be chosen at random, flow matters. When creating the topics, I’m also considering:

  • How much time will it take to cover this topic?
  • Is there something that should proceed or follow this topic?
  • What information needs to be reviewed ahead of time for this topic to accomplish the goals in the time allowed?
  • Is this topic relevant and needed in order to meet the objectives and expected outcome of this meeting?

Outcomes – When creating a meeting, it’s good to always start with the purpose or ‘why’, then immediately follow that up with the expected outcome.  The purpose of the meeting and the expected outcomes drive, who should attend, and how the meeting is structured.  Use the listed outcomes as your North Star and the agenda is your compass.  As you are navigating the meetings, you are tracking the discussion and information to ensure it aligns with the expected outcomes.  If a topic or discussion is moving you away from the North Star, adjust the compass aka the agenda to realign with the expected outcomes. 

Productive and effective meetings have accomplished outcomes.  Some of those outcomes happen at the meeting but, most are AFTER the meeting. If the next steps after a meeting aren’t clear or simply don’t happen – people will consider the meeting a complete waste of time.  What’s worse, if you’re the meeting leader, you’ll lose credibility.

People – Once it’s clear what the purpose of the meeting is and what needs to be accomplished by the end, it’s time to decide who needs to be there and what role do they play.  It’s important to have subject matter experts, decision-makers, funders, approvers, partners, and others.  It’s critical to know who is being asked what, and do they have the answer.  However, be mindful of ensuring only those that need to be in the room are there.  It’s easy to invite everyone so everyone feels “included” but, that’s not effective.  People question their role in the meeting as soon as it starts.  Pick attendees carefully.

So, now that we know why so meetings are terrible and what to do about it.  Lets talk about follow up!

As you wrap up each topic, make sure the group agrees on what’s going to happen next, when it will be done, and who will do it.  Say it out loud, write it down, and distribute it after the meeting.  But, that’s not the end.  If you are the meeting holder, you need to have a plan to keep it alive.  The first step is a summary debrief to all who attended. Here’s what I used in my follow up:

  1. Thank you for attending
  2. Overview of what was discussed
  3. Key decisions made
  4. Next Steps (what, when and who)

Next, is following up with the person responsible.  Follow up by phone or email to see how it’s going and whether they need support.   When it’s completed, have the ‘owner’ share that with the group.  If things are not getting done, it’s time to ask the team how they recommend getting it back on track.  If you’re feeling that the team is not committed to this work, it may be time to do a Top Team Model Team Assessment to assess the team’s challenges and learn ways to get them recommitted to the work.

Think about meetings as an investment and it’s your goal to get a great return on that investment.  By taking time to structure the meeting, align topics to support the expected outcomes, include the right people and have a great follow up and follow through plan you will get a return on your investment.

But.. WAIT!… Do we need that meeting at all?

I L-O-V-E this chart by Sam Bradd with Drawing Change. In his article, Things that Pretend to be Good Meetings – and what you could do instead, he gets real on things like “Roundtable Updates” is not a reason for a meeting. He also offers insights to increase engagement and participation.

Lauralee was recently considered a Top 5 Speaker at Conference in 2019.  Click here to find out how to engage her to speak at your event.  If your team is struggling to execute, then it’s time to go from ideas to action with Stratavize’s high-impact 1-day teamwork bootcamp

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