Ahh meetings—the “cooking,” if you will, of the work world. When done well, you leave feeling nourished, inspired and motivated. However, when not done well, you could literally end up with a burnt pile of nothing.
We’ve all at some point ended up with a burnt pile of nothing. To avoid that moving forward and help you create the perfect work dish, here are our top recommendations for running an effective meeting.
1. Always Have an Objective to Your Meeting
We throw meetings on the calendar when we have something we'd like to discuss or work through. And, in doing so, we usually have a basic understanding of what it is we want to accomplish. However, it’s critical to the success of your meeting that you have a very clear understanding of your objective(s).
When planning each meeting, ask yourself, “What will success look like at the end of this meeting?” For me, there are two important categories that I always taken into consideration when it comes to defining success: needs and experience.
Needs: What information do I need by the end of this meeting?
- What decisions need to be made?
- What ideas need to be generated?
- What information needs to be shared?
- What updates need to be provided?
Experience: What experience do I want the people in the room to have?
- Do I want them to feel informed?
- Do I want them to feel involved?
- Should they be sharing their ideas on a topic that matters to them?
- Do I want them to feel connected?
After you’ve defined what success looks like, share those objectives with your meeting participants (before the actual meeting).
2. Create a Meeting Agenda
Once you have your objectives, you’ll need a plan for achieving them. Enter the mighty agenda or, as I sometimes like to call it, the Google Map for your meeting.
At minimum, every agenda should include the date, times and topics you need to cover in the meeting. Consider numbering or categorizing different topics in your agenda. For instance:
Sample Meeting Agenda
Agenda: Budget for Q2 / April 16, 2018 / 2-3:30pm
2:00 – 2:10pm Review Meeting Objectives + Agenda
2:10 – 2:30pm Budget Part 1: Context + Background
2:30 – 3:00pm Budget Part 2: Goals for the year broken down by Quarter
3:00 – 3:20pm Budget Part 3: Spending Estimates for Q2 + Q3
3:20 – 3:30pm Now what: Next Steps + Scheduling next meeting
I worked at an organization where if you received a meeting invite without an agenda, you didn’t have to accept the meeting. It might seem harsh but it pushed everyone to always have an agenda. Softer ways to do this in organizations that don’t have this custom could be to reply as “tentative” to the invite and ask, “Can you send me the agenda to make sure I know if I should be there and how to prepare?”
3. Establish Basic Meeting Guidelines or Agreements
Ok, so you’ve got your goals and your agenda, next up are suggestions for how the humans in the room should behave or conduct themselves so that you can actually accomplish your meeting goals.
There are two approaches you can take when setting meeting guidelines or agreements: You can ask the group what guidelines work for them. Or, you can offer some suggestions to get the conversation started.
My go-to guidelines are being present, tracking time, assigning roles and adopting the right mindset.
Being present: What does that mean for this group? It might be counter culture, but I’ve had groups “coat check” their technology outside of the room for some meetings because they needed to eliminate distractions and that was the meeting guideline.
Tracking time: In every meeting, I set an expectation to track time publically and make sure everyone is aware of it—timer on a screen, clock with a buzzer, tablet countdown clock.
Assigning roles: Does everyone know what they need to be doing at different parts of the meeting? Clarifying roles before or during certain topics can help a meeting be more productive. More on that below!
Adopting the right mindset: Mindset refers to the attitude participants should have during the meeting. For instance, if I know the group is going to be skeptical with the content of the meeting, I’ll ask them upfront to have an open mindset and to suspend judgment until the end of the meeting.
I then ask people if they’re okay following these guidelines for the duration of the meeting. With their agreement, I can (and they can) try to hold everyone accountable to these guidelines.
4. Make Sure You Have the Right People in the Room
In the age of increased collaboration bias, I see a lot of “invitation inflation”—where the meeting creator doesn’t fully think through the audience for the meeting. And I’ve been guilty of it too!
What then ends up happening is you have people sitting around and not participating, people simply doing other work while in the room, people unsure why they’re there, people holding back because they didn’t think it was their place to say anything, people asserting their opinion when it’s actually not their place at all…sound familiar?
Over time and with more experience in management and meeting facilitation, I’ve become more focused on impact and respect. I want have the right people in the room and design the right meeting for those people.
Think of your meeting as a play and you its director. Who are the characters needed to make stage magic happen?
5. Assign Meeting Roles
No matter the role, meetings are a team sport. And here’s my typical starting line up:
The facilitator is focused on objectives, human dynamics and truth telling. Your role is to help participants get unstuck.
The timer is focused on respecting the time allotted to accomplish the goal. You can make the time the room’s responsibility—put a countdown on the clock, set timers on your phones, hold up a piece of paper reminding people how much time is left, etc.
The documenter is focused on capturing the most important decisions made and key next steps from the meeting. A good rule in documenting is less is more—but, easier said than done! Generally, try to leave time after your meeting to review and reflect on the notes you took. Circulate quickly and file them appropriately for future reference.
The Present and Aware Contributor
The present and aware contributor is focused on being self-aware and contributing to the progress of the meeting. Being a meeting contributor requires you to be fully present and willing to participate in the meeting. Contributors in meetings need to be their best selves, assume good intentions of others and focus on moving their group forward with a positive attitude and engaged body language.
These roles can (and should) change hands during your meeting. One person might hold more than one role at the same time. And ultimately, it really doesn’t matter who does what. What's critical for running an effective meeting is that everyone in the room is clear on what’s expected of them during that meeting.
6. Make Meetings Human-Centered
The more you focus on the humans in the room and design a meeting around their needs, the better your meeting will go and the more likely it is you’ll achieve your goals. Some easy ways to make your meetings more human-centered:
Make people feel comfortable.
Be the best dinner party host you know. Consider appropriate seating plans, nametags, topics that shouldn’t be brought up or topics that need to be on the table.
Breaks + movement
For longer meetings, plan 10-15 minute breaks at least every 90 minutes. Plan some kind of activity that prompts physical movement at least every 60 minutes, even if it’s just standing up and changing seats. And have energizing activities ready to slip into your meeting when the group’s energy dips.
Food. Food. Food.
Humans have been bonding over food since the beginning of time! Have snacks on hand or leave time for people to get food. Keep the group hydrated.
Start on time + end early.
Arrive early to set up your physical or virtual room in advance—you need to be ready to rock when everyone shows up. And, whenever possible, try to end early. No one has ever been mad that a meeting ended early or right on time. If you do have to go over the time (sometimes you do, but don’t make it habit), make sure the group is involved in making that decision and you’re not the one holding them captive.
Humans, especially adults, do their best learning when they have time to reflect back on what they are doing, saying, hearing and thinking. Make space—even if it’s brief and shallow—to pause and ask what the information covered means and why it matters. A simple framework for reflection at the end of the meeting could be, “What are the results of this meeting? What did we learn? What do we need to do next?”
When it comes to meeting management, remember, like cooking, there’s a science to it. With the above tools and techniques—the protein, sides and seasoning for your creation—you’ll be on track to making the perfect dish (and running a really great meeting!).