Making meetings effective and productive is no easy feat — especially in the age of Zoom. To be effective, meetings need to engage the 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 arbitrary 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 meetings are a waste of time and not worth the effort it would take to fix them. And almost everyone is frustrated with the time they’re wasting on endless video meetings. (See “Video Meetings Are Killing Your Productivity” by Andrea Cannavina.)
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% 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.