Managing meetings


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I have been thinking about writing this post for a long time now, ever since I read this post by Karlyn Morissette a few weeks ago. One thing I hoped to learn more about in my MBA is about how to run meetings. As it is something I have been struggling for a long time now and even once tried to help somebody prepare a lecture about.

These are five of my top ideas (rules?) for running effective meetings.:

1. Everybody must come prepared. And when I say prepared I mean totally and utterly prepared. When you get to the meeting you already: read everything; made the preparations; calculated the numbers; came up with your own ideas. I spent so many meetings where people come unprepared and as a consequence half of the meeting is spent on just understanding the issue or on doing things that should have been done earlier without wasting everybody’s time. Too many people believe that they perform the best under pressure and rationalize their way into procrastination. This trend extends itself into the meetings and people say to themselves – “hey, I learn the subject while the meeting takes place”. I even got constructive feedback about the fact that I turn up to meetings too prepared. My main challenge with this rule is that it is hard to enforce and hard to create an atmosphere where preparation is the norm and not the exception.

2. Have an agenda. I think this is where Karlyn’s post makes the point better than I can:

How many meetings do you attend actually have an agenda? Better yet, a stated purpose? I learned this technique from a lady much smarter than I, Dr. Pamela Skyrme.  Pamela is a brilliant organizational coach.  She also happens to be the Director of Professional Development in my office at Dartmouth, where I’ve had the privilege of being coached by her for the last several months.  The tactic goes like this: At the beginning of each meeting make sure the group as a whole knows what they are seeking to accomplish in that meeting (if you don’t have something you’re seeking to accomplish, then you probably shouldn’t be meeting in the first place). At the end of the meeting, assess whether or not you accomplished your initial stated goals. Do this consistently and it will keep people on track and focused, since there will be some level of accountability (however minor) for not accomplishing a stated goal.

The only thing I would add is that if possible send the agenda before the meeting. The main issue I find challenging here is what happens if the group does not agree on the agenda. You can spend more time discussing the agenda then the issue.

3. Everybody speaks. If someone is at the meeting and does not talk then it is a waste of his time to have him there. Everybody has an opinion and every opinion matters. Don’t let the meeting become a shouting contest where the one who has the loudest voice or the most confidence win. There is an added bonus to this. The more people are a part of the process, the more inclined they will be to follow the decision of the group. Any challenges with this one?

4. Respect people’s time. People have short attention span. They also have busy schedule. It is important not only to start and finish a meeting on time but also to be aware of the limitations of people. If need be, take a break. If it you realize it will have to go over time, stop, acknowledge the fact out loud and discuss how you are going to approach the fact that the meeting is going to go over time and allow people to make the needed arrangements.

5. Have a clear, actionable summary. Whatever happens, you need to spend the last few minutes of the meeting assessing the conclusions, decisions and action items that are the result of the meeting. If somebody is responsible for an action item, have him write it down (it has a psychological effect). In any case, have somebody send the details to all of the relevant parties and ask them to acknowledge it was received.

Any other ideas (rules)? Any important lessons from past meetings? Thoughts about the ideas (rules) I offered? About the challenges associated with them? Waiting to hear your thoughts…



10 Responses to “Managing meetings”

  1. Irwin Says:

    Hi Elad,

    I am not sure if I would offend anyone here but it is a training in Military meetings to include all of the above. Point 1 depends the culture of organisation. If everyone slacks nobody wants to be the sore thumb or the know it all.

    I love point 2, 4 and 5 definitely think it is a must to keep everything on track.

    Point 3 is pretty tough, if someone else has a better idea it might be better to hold back and allow the team to reach consensus faster. I am not agreeable to having a most dominating player. I would love to hear everyone speak their idea tough.

    It is challenging to do in reality tough.


  2. Randy Zwitch Says:

    (The lack of) #4 is definitely my major pet peeve…every meeting at my job starts 5 minutes late. It’s institutional at this point…most people show up late, so people just show up late, and meetings end late.

    I’m not so sure about #3 either. There are plenty of meetings that are useful to me, but I don’t speak. I’d agree that if #3 is referencing a “working” meeting as opposed to a “learning” meeting, having people not participating is wasting their time.

  3. avi sabbag Says:

    My 2 cents

    1. We have too many meetings
    Meetings are regarded as a casual every day things by many organization while in actuality they are very costly. It’s pretty easy to put a price tag on a meeting, just sum up the cost of the time for all the attendants. Something you need to include international travel fees, acumination, video conference costs ext. In a big high level meeting it could easily amount to absurd sums. People tend to forget it. I propose we view a meeting as a voluble but expensive tool and use it only when it necessary – when having that many people around a single table is the only way to get a task done. So my first role is making sure a meeting is the right tool for the job.

    2. Time
    I agree with Elad’s rule 1. Meeting are usually scheduled in advance and if are truly necessary should end up with a clear summary (Elsd’s rule 5). It’s really hard to get any were if 90% of the meeting in invested (wasted on explaining and many time re-explaining the basics of an issue). Any body who’s been a part of a big, extended project can relate to by note. Does it seem logical to spend 1/2 a meeting re-presenting an issue every time a new guy joins the forum? In big organization it might happen very month.

    3. Knowing when to shut up
    I don’t thing everybody should necessarily speak in every meetings. Too many meeting gat dragged because too many people are in love with the sound of their voices but and absolutely nothing to add. People should speak if what they say will contribute to the meeting. I also don’t agree that if someone doesn’t speak he is expendable. Sometimes you just agree with what was said previously, other time your opinion/position has become irrelevant during a dynamic meeting. An I could think of more examples but then again the point here is to know when to shut up…

    4. One man runs the show
    The only way to make sure a meeting gets anywhere is to actively push and stir it on. That person (more commonly people in his behalf) is in charge of selecting and inviting the attendees, preparing and sending the agenda (I do think there must be one) and ultimately managing the meeting. This needs to be established early on at the beginning of a meeting or it will become a pissing contest. This person should constantly strive to keep the meeting focused and efficient. If a point was already made clear he may delicately and tactfully stop an over zealous speaker. He may directly and deliberately address a person that hasn’t spoken if he thinks his opinion is important. He might need to encourage a short focused debate in order to get to a more mature and well though decision. It an art form and requires both sensitivity, assertiveness and in depth knowledge of the issue and the attendees. If you’ve seen a good meeting manger you know he can make all the difference.

    5. Summery
    A meeting without a clear summery is an absolute waste of time. It is the measure of the successes of a meeting. The manager need to strive to conclude as many issues (preferably everything that was on the agenda). Eventually what gets summarized on the approved meeting summery is the result of the meeting. From that point on it is what happened on the meeting. Writing such a summery is yet another art form. Do it right and you no meetings will go the “wrong” way. Just trend lightly there…


  4. Grant Says:

    This article on meetings comes from the NY times

    In my experience agenda is a must. Include allocated time for topics because it is then easier to stop the inevitable waffle that comes after the pithy points. Everyone needs to be prepared. However, avoid over preparation if you want to be innovative. If you want to build ideas as a group, you don’t want to have people come with their ideas nailed down.

  5. sherfelad Says:

    Wow everybody thanks a lot for all your responses. I have learned a lot. I see that point number 3 was not taken well. I think I did not explain it as well as I should. Please wait for another post on this subject.
    Really appreciate your participation here.

  6. Randy Zwitch Says:

    Avi, I’m right there with you on #1. There are people at work we call “time pirates”. You’ve got time, they want what you’ve got.

    As an example, someone scheduled a 30 minute meeting with me. I had a conflicting meeting (too many meetings!), so I wrote back an answer to what I assumed the meeting was about. The person thanked me, and said that’s what they were looking for.

    So the question is, why steal 30 minutes of my time, when I could guess over email and tell you the answer? To what purpose would taking up 1/16th of my workday for one question serve?

  7. KO Says:

    Preparation: Too much preparation can be a downside, leading to people coming in with pre concieved ideas and already solved problems. Basic preparation is a must though, to understand the key facts etc. but I’ve found too much preparation can hold back a discussion.

    It depends on how people do preparation – to get up to speed on the issues, or to make up their minds before hand – so that’s something which has to be managed, and people can be trained to do so – considering how many meetings business ppl do, it’s strange how few companies “train” people on meetings. (though thats changing now)

  8. Jonathan Blackwell Says:

    Sometimes I come to meetings entirely prepared, sometimes I don’t. When I’m fully prepared I can run the risk of dominating the conversation as mentioned in 3. Everybody Speaks. When I’m less prepared I listen more and may benefit from other people’s input more than I would have before.

    I don’t want to waste people’s time, and I don’t think my opinion is always right. I believe “everything in moderation” is a healthy lifestyle, and that goes for meetings and preparation for them. I could be more methodical about what meetings to prepare for and what meetings to allow to be freeform, but it all depends on what else is going on in my life at the time.

    Thanks for you structured beginning to this conversation Elad.

  9. Patricio Says:

    Hi Elad,

    I completely agree with all the points you’ve mentioned, but I think there is a thin line between coming prepared for a meeting and coming with THE solution. I think it’s very important to be open to new ideas and avoid selling your solution. The attitude that you have when you go to a meeting is crucial.


  10. More on managing meetings « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] on managing meetings October 24, 2009 — sherfelad A week and a half ago I wrote here about my most important concepts for managing meetings. I got many comments on this post, many of […]

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