An important aspect of my leadership training is watching my clients interact at meetings they lead. This practice is a very effective technique for coaching, and allows me to provide my clients with quick feedback.
In watching my clients’ meetings, I am exposed to an array of meeting styles. I am often surprised by how ineffectively and inadequately their meetings are managed (yes, even some my clients can run bad meetings..). It’s not surprising that our people make complaints about meetings: they’re monotonous, the boss continuously drones, nothing is accomplished, etc.
If you follow three basic concepts, you’ll be practically guaranteed to lead a productive meeting. You can aid your team in achieving larger goals, resolving and preventing conflict, and promoting teamwork.
Similar to many other things in life, the rule of 80/20 applies: utilize these three principles in meetings (20%) and you can resolve 80% of common meeting dysfunctions.
Before I explain these three principles, I must stress one thing: only host a meeting if two-way communication is necessary. If all you need to do is provide information, think about other forms of communication, email perhaps.
Set Outcome Goals to Agenda Items
Make a habit of identifying outcome goals with the team at the beginning of the meeting. Begin agenda items with this sentence: “The goal of this conversation is…”
Here are phrases I hear often that do NOT qualify as outcome goals:
‘Have a conversation about…’
‘Discuss more of…’
‘Tell you about…’
Here are great outcome goals:
‘Develop a plan for…’
‘Brainstorm and create ideas for …’
‘Get support on the idea of…’
‘Get input on…’
‘Get questions answered for…’
By making yourself determine the outcome goal, you can clarify for everyone the purpose of the meeting and why it is worthy of their time.
Shed Light on Your Decision Making Process
Clarify how you are going to make decisions during a meeting before making them. I have seen numerous cases in which leaders failed to communicate how their decisions were to be made, which led to frustrations in the team.
Consider this classic scenario: a leader only wants the team to give input, but she has already decided for herself to make the decision she wants after hearing what her team has to say. Her team has the power to consult and influence, but not the power to make any decisions. The team is allowed to believe they have the power to make decisions (perhaps in a vote) and then are surprised when the leader ends the meeting by declaring that she is going to announce her decision the following week.
To side-step all this frustration, the leader should have clarified at the start of the meeting: ‘I am going to decide in the next couple days after hearing all opinions today.’ She could have also said ‘This decision will be made by a majority vote,” or ‘Everyone needs to agree 100% with what we decide. So, the decision will be made by consensus.’
Communicate your process of decision making at the beginning! This will avoid any frustration and misunderstanding!
Make Decisions, Accountability and Your Next Steps Clear
Most people don’t like meetings because there is a belief that nothing will be decided or accomplished. Never lead a meeting like that.
Your job as the meeting leader is to ensure that your team understands the decision that was made during the meeting, what needs to be done next, who will be doing it, and when it is due.
Once the decision has been made, ask your team to paraphrase what they believe was decided upon. You might be surprised by how a simple exercise like this brings forth misunderstandings over decisions you thought were set!
Don’t write out the minutes – take down the decisions, timelines, ownership, and action items. After the discussion, send small notes to everyone in on the team.
These notes could look like this:
By September 2019, hire someone for our department’s unfilled position
Before the next meeting, partner with HR to compose job ad. Email to everyone. Finish at next meeting.
Joe, Marketing Director
Email ad to everyone by next meeting.
Remember to bring and discuss the notes at the following meeting. Start that meeting by reviewing the unfinished action items left from the previous meeting. You might be surprised by how productive your team was when there is public accountability. If there isn’t progress, use some time to find out why and remove obstacles, if needed.