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The Friday Five

Five Ways to Make Meetings Matter

Another meeting leaves you feeling beaten down — can you turn it around?

By Elise Keith

Making meetings effective and productive is no easy feat. To be effective, meetings need to engage the various talents of the people involved, work to achieve the group’s specific goals for the moment and do so in a way that’s contextually sensitive to the world around it.

Many leaders fall back on simple blanket rules that no one really follows — like the leader who declared all meetings in the company could last no more than 20 minutes. Some delegate responsibility for success to others, even though they themselves are the most frequent meeting attendees. Others claim that meetings are a waste of time and not worth the effort it would take for the organization to make them work well.

Bad Meetings Are Not Inevitable

Those common traps can keep you locked in a cycle of underperforming meetings and endemic mediocrity. Here are five ways high-performing organizations avoid that fate.

1. 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.

2. Address “FOMO” by Documenting and Sharing 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 meeting FOMO. Before the meeting, clearly document its purpose and desired outcomes. Then after the meeting, send out written meeting results. When people can see in advance what a meeting is for, then see what happened afterward, they can decide whether they need to attend coming meetings. This keeps meetings more focused, and it keeps everyone more productive.

3. Define “The Way” to Meet for Core Processes and Purposes

There are 16 different types of business meetings, and each has a purpose. (Here’s the list, along with my “periodic chart” of meetings.) For example, a regular team meeting is good for confirming progress and identifying problems, but 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 should look very different from the meeting where they sign an engagement agreement. Each of these pivotal meetings can be designed to drive the results you need.

High-performance organizations know the types 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 client team’s check-in meeting becomes “the huddle.” The meeting to impress prospective clients early in the sales cycle becomes a “services briefing.” Anything called a “meeting” isn’t specific enough.

4. Train Everyone

Meetings represent an enormous investment in time. Understandably, those who measure billable time in tiny increments view most meetings as a waste of their time and a potential loss of income — they especially resent poorly run meetings.

Leaders can spend up to 80 percent of their workday in meetings, and yet many have never received meeting training. Meetings aren’t just conversations with lots of people at work; there are skills and techniques to learn that radically improve meeting results. High-performance organizations provide training to people leading meetings — and they train people how to participate in meetings to get their job done.

5. Always Be Learning

Once you’ve figured out “the way” to meet, you can experiment: What happens when we meet on Monday instead of Wednesday? If we tweak the process, can we make decisions faster? High-performance organizations have the process stability they need in order to run conclusive experiments and continuously improve their meeting practices.

Bad meetings are not inevitable. Quite the opposite: Meetings can be a powerful embodiment of your firm’s culture and a driver of performance.

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Elise Keith Elise Keith

Elise Keith is co-founder of Lucid Meetings where she leads research, publication and product management efforts, constantly seeking ways to make it easy for people to enjoy meetings that get work done. She is the author of the book Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization. For more information, visit www.lucidmeetings.com and connect with Elise on Twitter @EliseID8.

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