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Leadership Advantage: How to have successful meetings

May 5, 2021 -  By
Virtual meeting (Photo: fizkes/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Photo: fizkes/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

It’s easy to criticize meetings. “Boring” or “a waste of time” are not uncommon characterizations, but meetings are a necessary part of business. We need to make decisions, create plans, share information, change behaviors, teach, learn and create accountability. And, by the way, we need to develop, grow and sustain relationships and have fun. Meetings provide an efficient format for these things.

Standing meetings vs. special meetings

Certain meetings should occur on a repetitive cadence with the same team every week.

The sales meeting, production meeting, staff meeting and leadership meeting are all gatherings that occur on a regular, repeating basis, such as every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Having a regular cadence for these meetings creates order and accountability. Other meetings may be around specific, short-term issues or projects. Setting the meetings ensures these issues get resolved and the projects move along.

These are good meetings if everyone shows up on time, everyone talks and people leave with clarity about what to do. On the other hand, if different people regularly miss the meeting, one person does most of the talking and it drags on without clear, actionable follow-ups, it’s not a good meeting. Time and energy are wasted. Here are the keys to good meetings:

The structure

Have an agenda. The agenda describes what to talk about. It may include time blocks. The agenda limits the conversation to specific topics. Circulate the agenda in advance. For a meeting like the standing weekly sales meeting, it may have the same content every week. Without structure (an agenda), the meeting will almost certainly last too long while not getting much done.

It’s OK if the team gets involved in discussions that are not on the agenda. If it’s important (or fun), then take advantage of the fact that everyone is together and go ahead and talk about it. However, it’s the leader’s job to reel it back in when appropriate.

The report out

The meeting participants need to come prepared to report. For example, in sales meetings, salespeople need to report on their activity, pipeline, sold vs. budget, status of pending sales, current challenges and future opportunities. It’s the leader’s job to frame what the report should include, keep the discussion on track and provide feedback. If the salesperson had a successful week, acknowledge and celebrate it. If not, press for what can be done differently to change the results.

The epitome of a boring meeting is when the leader comes in with a stack of reports no one else has seen and provides commentary on them. It is so much more engaging when the participants bring their reports and present their results to their peers and the boss. There inevitably will be someone whose delivery is weak or whose performance is poor. It’s the boss’s job to assess the future potential of the participant and determine if coaching and guidance can get the person on the right track or if he or she might do better at a different position.

The summary

Keep in mind the purpose of meetings: to make decisions, create plans, share information, change behaviors, teach, learn and create accountability. As reports are completed or topics discussed, it’s great to have the leader provide a summary comment or two about the plan, decision, next steps, behavioral expectations or deliverables, including specifics like who and when.

The pace

It’s the leader’s job to start and end meetings on time and move the conversation along. People will generally tolerate it if the meeting starts five minutes late, but it’s not a great example or use of time to allow tardiness. Keep the meeting moving. Leaders may need to practice speeding up the pace. Talk faster, and use short sentences. Everyone will be grateful.

Leaders also need to be prepared to cut off or cut in on long-winded commentary. This needs to be done politely and professionally, but again, everyone will be grateful. If the meeting goes 15 minutes over time, people probably won’t get upset, but more than that and attention wanders, people get fidgety and stop paying attention. Bring it to a close. Summarize. Dismiss. See you next time.

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