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8 Tips for More Effective Meetings

Dear Justin,

In our organization we are meeting more than ever but our meeting effectiveness is down dramatically. The issues we see include:

  • No clear direction
  • Too much time spent ranting or venting
  • Less listening and more talking
  • Stuff not getting done

How do we get to effective and efficient meetings while also caring for the emotional needs of teammates?

Mishandled Meetings

Dear Mishandled Meetings,

I sympathize. Bad meetings are one of my least favorite things in the entire world. And I’m not alone in that feeling. Humorist Dave Barry once said, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

Now, I don’t fully agree with Barry. Great meetings can be the impetus for amazing action. But when your time is scarce, it’s frustrating to see it wasted. You’d rather put your head down and crank out real work.

But some meetings are very necessary, and they can be effective. They go well when the people who show up to them have effective dialogue and productivity skills. So here are a few to get you started. I challenge you to pick two and try them in your next meeting or share them with the person who will lead the meeting.

1. Don’t accept meeting requests that don’t have clear agendas.

This may sound extreme but doing this can completely shift the way meetings are handled. Decline meeting requests (with an explanation) that lack these key points:

  • The desired outcome of the meeting
  • The topic(s) to be discussed
  • The reason YOU need to attend

Put the onus back on the meeting organizer. If they want your time and attention, they should show they value both. And you should do the same for others. If you’re the manager or meeting organizer, provide a clear agenda in the invitation.

2. Assign someone to document next actions.

During meetings, assignments are often given but rarely documented or reviewed. As a result, few of them get completed. If they do get completed, it’s often not in the way or according to the timeline that people expected. Spend the last three minutes of every meeting to clarify what the next actions are, who is responsible for them, and when you’ll follow-up. The very next meeting MUST begin with a review of those actions. If you don’t do this, your meetings are activity without achievement.

3. Make time for people to rant and vent.

If you find that people are taking precious time away from a project meeting to vent their frustrations, then organize a separate meeting where venting is welcome. I’m not saying we should encourage UNPRODUCTIVE venting, but if people want to share concerns, you should make time to hear them. So, organize a separate meeting, or partition your meeting so people know there’s a time for talking deadlines and a time to share concerns.

4. Define the meeting.

Let people know what kind of meeting it is and how decisions will be made. Is the topic a matter of consensus where you’ll debate and discuss until everyone is on board? Or will you consult with team members, listen to their viewpoints, but make the decision in the end? Let those in attendance know at the outset.

5. Interrupt the interrupters.

When you see a pattern of someone cutting others off, respectfully call it out and invite those who have been interrupted to share their thoughts. What you permit, you promote. If you let interrupting persist, it will become a meeting norm.

6. Go to the top.

If you’re not the manager, chat with your manager about the natural consequences that follow ineffective meetings. Does she or he see the negative effects? How are these meetings affecting the productivity or culture of the team? See if you can point this out to your manager.

7. Don’t anchor the discussion.

Behavioral economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein suggest one major bias affects decision-making in meetings: anchoring. When leaders share their opinions before hearing others’, they inadvertently “anchor” the discussion, causing others to sway to the opinion of the boss. So, if you’re the boss seeking input, hold your tongue until after your team members have spoken.

8. Start anew.

If you plan to implement some of these behaviors and rules, let people know up front. Set a new expectation first, then hold yourself and others to it.

Best of luck,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

2 thoughts on “8 Tips for More Effective Meetings”

  1. Connnie

    I totally agree with #3! It gets angst out of the way, and you’ll be surprised by the potential agenda items that need to be added to the current/future meetings. I scheduled it for the first 5 minutes, and if you were late, you missed out. I called it ‘beemer’, BMW for b@#$%, moan, whine. The humor took the edge off.

  2. JeffFox

    People respond to clarity. You don’t always have to be right when organizing meetings (or training) but you do have to be responsible. Good outcomes seldom happen by chance. 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration.

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