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6 Recommendations to Improve Your Meetings

In my career of over 30 years, I’ve participated in more than 10 thousand meetings. Over the last month I’ve averaged 12 meetings a week. These meetings typically last between 75 and 120 minutes. Likely 60% of the more than 10 thousand meetings I’ve participated in, have been run inefficiently and aimlessly. Sadly, I’ve led a number of those meetings. Maybe you can relate. 

Meetings are crucial to the health of our businesses and organizations. They can pioneer innovative approaches to complex problems, establish courageous vision, determine bold strategic priorities, align tasks, track progress, and build dynamic teams. They can also waste time, delay projects, produce tension, and create division. 

Over the years, I’ve watched some leaders engage teams thoughtfully and with ease. You leave the meeting energized rather than drained and are poised for next steps. I’m sure you’ve participated in meetings like this and you leave determined to emulate those leaders. 

Like most of you, I’ve searched for ways to create more effective and purposeful meetings. Five of the resources I’ve found most helpful include:

  • Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni at The Table Group. They offer a four-fold meeting strategy that includes: a daily check-in, a weekly tactical staff meeting, a monthly adhoc topical meeting, and a quarterly off-site review. Death by Meeting has guided some of the principles I’ve applied to staff meetings over the years. 
  • The Imperfect Board Member by Jim Brown at OrgHealth. Jim offers an insightful formula for governance excellence which includes the following seven disciplines: directing and protecting organizational performance, respecting owner expectations, reflecting on organizational results, selecting your prominent leadership, expecting great board-management interaction, and connecting for healthy board relations.

The Imperfect Board Member has influenced how I’ve chaired and participated in various boards. (To learn more about The Imperfect Board Member take a look at this Governance Article). 

  • Working Genius by Patrick Lencioni at The Table Group. WG explains that the ‘Three Stages of Work’ are Ideation, Activation, and Implementation. Solving any problem starts with the first Genius of Wonder, moving through the process until the team reaches Tenacity, thus completing the task. Reflecting on what stage of work you are at is critical in establishing the purpose of your meeting and its agenda (To learn more about WG take a look at the WG Summary Article I wrote). 
  • Meetings That Work by ICA. This course tackles the levels of both participation and decision-making as well as planning an agenda and designing meetings. They’ve developed a helpful approach to organizing and facilitating meetings that I’ve deeply appreciated. 
  • Leading Dynamic Teams by ICA. In this course, ICA walks participants through the components of effective teams, creating a project charter and overcoming blocks to team effectiveness. 

In coaching a variety of leaders toward best practices regarding the way they lead both teams and meetings, I’ve learned some helpful techniques and lessons. Most importantly, I’ve grown to appreciate that leaders have a unique set of experiences, skills and strengths, along with some distinct personality traits that they bring with them. Here are 6 recommendations any leader can use to make your meetings more meaningful:

1. Be Acquainted with Your Team. Each team you lead will bring a wealth of experience, passion, and expertise that you should not only be aware of but also leverage, allowing the team to thrive. As a team you should discuss the experiences, passions, and expertise every person brings. Using Working Geniuses will help you understand the geniuses and frustrations of each team member as well as the team as a whole. Creating a skills matrix allows you to maximize each team member’s gifts. Every time a new team member is introduced to the team, the team needs to become re-acquainted with each other. When a new member joins a team, the dynamics of that team are changed. You need to become acquainted with the newly formed team. 

2. Know Yourself. This is critical to your success in leading meetings. Know how you’re wired. Are you energized by meetings or drained? Are you naturally talkative or more reserved? Are you strongly opinionated, or do you gravitate to listening to the opinions of others? Knowing both the strengths and obstacles you bring to meetings is a necessary skill to leading great meetings. Being both opinionated and talkative meant that I needed to develop tactics that encouraged others to share their valuable ideas and thoughts. I also found a daily team check-in was mostly unnecessary as I preferred to go from office to office to check-in with each staff person for 2-3 minutes. When we were involved in larger projects that necessitated the entire team’s attention, we would check-in more frequently. Knowing how you are wired allows you to lead better meetings. 

3. Be Clear and Focused. Everyone should know why they are at each meeting and what you’re hoping to accomplish. Allow enough breathing room in your schedule to reflect on the purpose of every upcoming meeting. One of the mistakes organizations make is meeting for meetings sake. This means that meetings can vary in length. Although everyone should set aside the time required for your weekly staff meeting, when you require less time…end early. Don’t fill the time unnecessarily. At the onset of the meeting let the team know why this meeting is required and what you plan to accomplish. Be clear and focused during each meeting. 

4. Set a (flexible) Agenda. Each meeting should have an agenda that every team member receives. Create a culture where between meetings team members can approach you to add an item for the next agenda. Consider your organization’s priorities one week out, one month out and six months out so that your agenda reflects the tasks and responsibilities the team needs to prepare for. Establish your agenda based on input from others and the team’s upcoming responsibilities. Some teams work on one project at a time while others work on various projects simultaneously. Each of these projects may be at a different stage of work. Assign a time for each agenda item. Send the agenda out ahead of time (the day prior for the weekly staff meeting) and at the meeting ask if there is anything missing. Adjust the agenda based on the feedback you receive at the start of each meeting. Be flexible. 

5. Encourage Genitive Conversations. Genitive conversations can energize a team. Most teams infrequently schedule times for robust dialogue. At your retreat this time is often given to new initiatives for the organization. At your weekly staff meeting this time is often given to areas where your organization is facing obstacles. Facilitating a conversation where some team members need time to process, and others come up with their best ideas in the moment is challenging but there are many tools to help you. One of the techniques I’ve learned to help navigate that tension is to begin the meeting with a brainstorming session where team members have 5 minutes to write down their answers to a strategic question. They then turn to one team member and share their ideas with each other before sharing with the whole team. This allows those who need some time to process a few minutes to gather their thoughts. 

6. Remind the Team of Big Wins. Record times when your team has overcome an obstacle or paved a new way forward that has positively impacted the organization. Remind teams of those moments. Not every meeting is going to be equally energizing. Sharing moments of success will inspire the team to push forward. Remind them that these meetings are necessary because through our gathering together we shape the future of the organization. 

Meetings are crucial to the health of our businesses and organizations. They can unleash the solution to a complex obstacle, create a courageous vision, move your organization forward, build a vibrant team and establish your organization as an industry leader. May we work diligently to lead meetings more effectively and with greater purpose, capitalizing and leveraging the experience, passion, and expertise of the entire team. 

If you would like some coaching in ways you can improve how you lead and facilitate meetings you can DM me on LinkedIn or schedule a Discovery Call. I’d be delighted to pass on what I’ve learned.

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