Published here November 2019


Musings Index

Making Meetings More Effective - Part 2

Last month we described David DiSalvo's list of ten reasons why your brain hates long business meetings. But now, a lady by the name of J. Elise Keith has come to the rescue with her answer: in a piece entitled: "Five Ways to Make Meetings Effective".[1] Here they are, but first she explains the challenge.

High-performance organizations have the process stability they need in order to run conclusive experiments that continuously improve their meeting practices. So, every organization has to figure out how to make meetings productive. It's a complex challenge.

To be effective, each meeting needs to engage the individual talents of the people involved. They must work to achieve the organization's specific goals for the moment, and do so in a way that is both culturally relevant and contextually sensitive to the world around it. Not an easy feat.

It can be tempting to shy away from the task. Instead of embracing this complexity, many leaders fall back on simple blanket rules that no one really follows - Like the leader that declared all meetings in the company must last no more than 20 minutes. Others delegate responsibility for success to others, even though they themselves are the most frequent meeting attendees. Many leaders claim that meetings are a waste of time, and therefore not worth the effort it would take for the organization to make them work well.

These are common traps that keep an organization locked in a cycle of underperforming meetings and endemic mediocrity.

Here are 5 ways high-performing organizations avoid that fate:

1.   Train everyone.

Leaders spend up to 80% of their workday in meetings, and yet many have never received meeting training. Meetings at work aren't just conversations with lots of people; there are skills and techniques to learn that can radically improve meeting results.

High-performance organizations provide skills training to people leading meetings. They also train everyone how to participate in the meetings defined as "the way" to get their job done. Meetings represent an enormous collective time investment, and high-performance organizations ensure their people get a good return on that investment.

2.   Set clear expectations for all meetings.

Meeting norms, ground rules, guidelines - these set the foundation for building an effective meeting habit. They often include things like use of an agenda and keeping meetings on time. Whatever your rules, the leadership team must follow them. The way the leadership group meets sets the real standard everyone else follows.

3.   Document and share meeting results.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) compels people to attend meetings they shouldn't. Organizers don't want to leave people out, so they invite everyone who might possibly want to weigh in. Having irrelevant people in the room de-energizes the conversation and disrupts productivity.

Documented meeting results are the fastest and easiest way to combat FOMO. Before the meeting, document the meeting purpose and desired outcomes clearly. Then, send out written meeting results afterwards. When people can see in advance what a meeting is for, and then see afterwards what happened, they can then decide whether they need to attend the next one. This keeps meetings more focused, and it keeps everyone more productive.

4.   Define "The Way" to meet for all core processes.

There are multiple different types of business meetings, and each has a purpose. A regular team meeting is good for reporting progress, coordination, identifying problems, and planning the next steps. However, it's a lousy place to make a big decision. Big decisions demand a dedicated decision-making meeting. Similarly, the initial meeting with a prospective client (or funder) should look very different from the meeting where you ink the deal. Each of these pivotal meetings can be optimized to drive the results your organization needs.

High-performance organizations know the type of meetings they need to run and how to run each one well. Each meeting gets a name and becomes "the way" that kind of work gets done. For example, the team's check-in meeting becomes "the huddle", a project's regular meeting is called a "progress meeting". A meeting to impress prospective clients early in a sales cycle becomes a "services briefing." In other words, anything just called a "meeting" isn't specific enough.

5.   ABL: Always be learning!

Once they have established "the way" to meet, the organization can experiment. What happens when we meet on Monday instead of Wednesday? If we tweak the process, can we make the discussion more effective and decisions faster? And so on.

J. Elise Keith concludes:

Bad meetings are not inevitable — Quite the opposite. Meetings can be a powerful embodiment of your company's culture and a driver of performance, when designed and run with that intention. And the best news: you get to learn from the examples set by high-performance organizations that have already conquered this design challenge. When it comes to meeting design, the adage holds true: Well-stolen is half done!

According to Buckminster Fuller: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

1. J. Elise Keith is the co-founder of Lucid Meetings and the author of Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization. For more information, please visit, or connect with her on Twitter, @EliseID8.
Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page