How to Lead a Great Meeting
Facebook status update: “Long day with lots of meetings.”
- Comment #1: “I’m so sorry!”
- Comment #2: “Where can I send a sympathy card?”
- Comment #3: “Just kill yourself and get it over with—ha!”
- Comment #4: “Boooooorrrrrriiiiinnnnngggg”
- Comment #5: “Hope you were able to play Angry Birds to pass the time.”
These responses aren't too uncommon, are they? It seems as if there is a general disdain of meetings. But that’s not how I look at meetings. I often find meetings to be the most productive moments of my week. It is a time I can connect with people I enjoy, talk about things I’m passionate about, and make progress that will have real impact on real people.
But I’ve also been in many meetings that couldn’t end soon enough. Sometimes it was because the leader wasn’t prepared, or the wrong people were in the room, or no one was clear about why we were meeting.
Here are some things I’ve found helpful in making sure meetings stay useful—and relatively painless—for everyone:
Don’t overpack your agenda, and don’t underestimate the importance of relational connection time. While you shouldn’t chase down every topic that is spontaneously brought up in the meeting, healthy teams allow meetings to be sidetracked on occasion. Sometimes the highest priority of the moment is experiencing community.
CLEAR GAME PLAN
The most productive meetings happen when you know who is leading the meeting and what you are planning to accomplish by the time you adjourn. Write your goal(s) for the meeting on the top of the agenda. For a thirteen-hour, senior team meeting (two full days) I held at Granger, I published the goals at the beginning of the first day. None of us thought we’d be able to accomplish them within two days. Yet by keeping the goals in front of us and reviewing them every few hours, we kept focused, avoided rabbit-trail conversations, and accomplished every single goal by the end of the second day.
When possible, send the agenda out ahead of time. Give people a chance to contribute. If they don’t give you something for the agenda before the meeting, then you should rarely let them bring it up during the meeting. Just say, “That’s a great topic. Let’s discuss it off-line and consider adding it to next week’s agenda.” That said, don’t put everything on the agenda that is submitted. Some items really aren’t worth the time for the entire group to discuss. Get used to saying, “Let’s discuss that off-line,” or “You should get with Jane and Bob and come back with a recommendation.”
End the meeting with a “who will do what by when” list and distribute this immediately following the meeting. Use this printed list to start your next meeting.
STACKED MEETING DAYS
Consider stacking your meetings. I tried to stack all my meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. When I arrived on those days, I knew it was a meeting day. I didn’t have to fret that I was not getting my to-do list done. Likewise, on Mondays or Fridays I could be a productivity machine since I had very few meetings. And make sure to prioritize. Put the big rocks in first. Make sure your most important meetings are given priority on your schedule, and if other small-pebble meetings can fit around the big rocks, great. But if not, don’t schedule them.
RUN WITH IT
If you find a meeting to be a waste of time, yet you aren’t the leader, then start leading up. I’ve been in that situation many times and have asked permission to come alongside a positional leader to help with preparing for the meeting, establishing the agenda, or running point to keep the meeting productive. Likewise, if you are running the meeting for your boss, be sure to get his or her input in advance of the meeting to make sure your boss’s concerns are scheduled for discussion.
In 2006, I attended the Drive Conference at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia. Andy Stanley shared some great thoughts on leading meetings:
- Pull members into the discussion.
- Don’t interrupt a debate—listen. Some of you are peacemakers and try to smooth everything over. This doesn’t help. Fan the flame of conflict. If you have great leaders on your team, they will be highly opinionated and very persuasive. You need to have an environment where things can be debated and you are fine with it.
- Don’t attempt to resolve tension—it won’t really be resolved.
- Don’t allow team members to interrupt each other.
- When you sense someone isn’t listening but only waiting to talk, address it.
- Keep the discussion focused.
- When a sensitive subject is going to be discussed, give those who may feel threatened a heads-up.
Here is the bottom line: if you are in a culture where meetings feel like a waste of time, change the culture. How? One meeting at a time.