12 Steps to Lead Effective Meetings

12 steps to lead effective meetings Meetings are inevitable.  They are important to get the team members aligned and leverage their talents.  

But do there have to be so many?  Some business leaders look at their calendar and realize that most of their week is spent in meetings.  There is nothing worse than going to a meeting and wondering why you are there or thinking that your time could have been better spent elsewhere.  

As the lead for your team, it is important that you train those who report to you on how to run effective meetings.  

Like it or not, an unacknowledged recommendation for promotion is the ability to lead meetings effectively.  Those who run meetings well are viewed as credible, capable and respectable.  Those who don’t are typically viewed as incapable, uncaring, disorganized, or incompetent.  

Here are some on how to lead meetings well:

  • Structure the meeting.

Everyone needs to get on the same page. It is important that participants know why they are attending the meeting and how to focus their contributions.  A simple structure that is effective for getting the team aligned includes:

      • What is the purpose of the meeting?
      • What are the objectives and goals?
      • What are we going to walk away from the meeting with?
  • Send out Request for Input.

Once you have the structure, send it out to the participants at least one day ahead and ask for any agenda items that are relevant, given the structure.  Let them know that they have until X day and time to get those agenda items in, so you can evaluate which ones to go with and send out the agenda to the entire team.

This Request for Input will help the participants to start thinking about the meeting.  It will clue them in on how to prepare.

It will help you to gain insights on what is brewing in each individual’s mind and in their various departments.  

  • Determine the agenda, time allotments and attendees.

Few agenda items should be focused on the desired action that will be taken. (Don’t use meeting time to review or share information.  That should happen in the pre-read.)

Make sure that the agenda flows according to your priority.  Don’t try to please everyone.  It is not going to happen.  Go with the best that you received for the greater good of the company and team.  (Show each participant that they are valuable even if others are given more time or accolades.)

For each item:

  • Determine start and stop time.
  • State the goal for that agenda item.
  • List who is the Presenter/Owner.

Make sure the Presenter/Owner is clear on what they are presenting.

Be sure to get their goals and objectives for their section so that you can send it out in the official agenda.

Leave time in each section for open discussion.

  • Prep the meeting locale.

If possible, change up the meeting locale just to give the team different experiences.  

(For shorter meetings, try doing stand-up meetings where all participants are standing.)

Make sure the room is equipped with what you need (whiteboard, markers, whiteboard eraser, projectors, screens).

On your calendar, set an appointment for yourself before the meeting to make sure that the room is set up as desired.

  • Disseminate pre-meeting prep.

Determine what pre-reads are absolutely necessary to make decisions.  This can include any supporting documents such as reports, surveys, etc.  If helpful, highlight the key points to make it easier for participants to scan those documents, in case they haven’t had time to do a thorough pre-read.

Also, have in mind which participants would be best for key roles, such as:

      • The Note taker- They are responsible for:
        • Action items, noting who is responsible and by when it will be accomplished.
        • Key decisions.
        • Issues that came up.
        • What needs to be discussed in the future.
        • Preparing all of the above in a template.
        • (Note: They are not to take notes on the discussion itself, only the decisions.)
      • The Time Tracker- They:
        • Have permission to interrupt, with countdowns of when that topic is to be completed.
        • If the leader says that more time is necessary, the time tracker needs to know how many more minutes is worth giving to that section.
      • The Option Generator:
        • This person is responsible for ensuring that at least three options for resolving a decision are generated (even if quickly dismissed).
  • Set up rules for meeting success.

As the facilitator of the meeting, it’s your call if a tangent is useful or not.  Keep in mind that tangents that generate ideas, or suggest solutions are typically valuable, but tangents that involve complaining, blame-shifting, minimizing responsibility, or rationalizing a mistake, typically are not.

Let the team know that you are going to risk hurting feelings for the sake of the team, and in the future there should be fewer negative tangents.

Let the team know that if one member starts to discuss a topic that is not germane to the goals of this meeting, you will ask the note taker to write that topic down for a future meeting.

Encourage everyone to speak, because even “dumb things can spark ideas in someone else’s mind, which the team would not have heard otherwise.

Also, let them know that in the interests of respecting everyone’s time, and to encourage each person to grow in their ability to contribute meaningfully, you will be ending the meeting on time (see below for exception).

  • Once starting the meeting:
    • Thank everyone for participating in the meeting.
    • Share what is going to happen in the meeting.
    • Share the desired outcomes.
  • Facilitate keeping the structure while still allowing for flexibility:
    • Know what stage you are in:
      • When it is time to brainstorm, let others know and make sure to stress that there is to be no judgment during this phase.
      • When it is time to evaluate options, let the others know that brainstorming has ended.
      • When it is time to make decisions, let them know that the evaluation of options has ended.

Spell out key action items framed in SMART format, decisions made, steps to follow-up, and future issues to consider so that the Note Taker has them

Use humor effectively to make meetings more fun

Make sure to add a flexible portion to the meeting towards the end.  It is important to give some open-ended time.

Don’t be afraid to chuck a part of the agenda if it is clear that the flow of the meeting is going in a different direction.

  • Radical idea- Always end the meeting on time.

Some participants can get really detailed.  Sometimes the details are important, but in order to help them and the others to be sharper and more focused, end the meeting on time, regardless of where you are.

At first, this may frustrate some people, but you as the agenda setter will learn how much time a meeting actually needs, and the participants will learn to be sharper and more succinct when they need to be.

If you let them know at the beginning of the meeting, that will help them as they go through the meeting.

The exception: if it looks like something major is about to happen, then just ask for 10mins to complete it, but the idea is to get the team used to working within a specific time frame, and no longer.

  • Close the meeting with action steps.

Summarize what was accomplished.

Ask the Note Taker to read the action items:

  • Make sure it is clear
  • Frame as much as possible in a SMART format
  • This creates team accountability

State that notes will be disseminated within 24 hours.

Ask for progress emails to be sent at critical intervals.

  • Do not hold meetings to discuss progress; that is expensive.
  • Only request follow up meetings if there are more decisions that need to be made.
  • Send out thank you’s with the meeting minutes within 24 hours of the meeting
  • Thank the participants for their contribution and time.
  • Clearly list action items, who is responsible for them, and the deadlines.
  • If not clear from the action items list, state what other things were decided.
  • Do not share what was discussed.
  • Refine, refine, refine.

Leave time after the meeting to ask yourself:

      • What were the highlights of the meeting?
      • What should I keep doing?
      • If I could wave a magic wand, what would I do differently?
      • What should I start doing?

Following a template like the one above will simplify facilitation and will give your team a routine to follow that everyone can get in to.  Be sure to refine the template as you go.  

Chew On This:

  • What would it be like if everyone on your team could run effective meetings?

Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.