5 tips to hold better meetings

Here’s a five-step plan to ensure everyone leaves your meetings saying, ‘Wow, that was a great meeting!’ (No, it’s not impossible.)

Do people love your meetings?

If you’re not sure, the answer is no.

You’ll know people love a meeting when they say something like, “Wow, this was a really great meeting!”

If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking your team would never say such a thing, read on.

It’s possible to hold meetings people love to attend, but you’ll have to shift your mindset and use a few practical tools.

Foundations for meetings people love

There are two elements that will make meetings work for you and your team.

First, the meeting must be the most productive use of everyone’s time. If people could be doing something better to advance the mission, why would you take them away from that?

This is a high standard, but it’s vital to making meetings work.

Second, the purpose of every meeting is to achieve results and build relationships.

These are not mutually exclusive goals. Effective leaders simultaneously focus on relationships and results. Effective meetings build relationships and results.

With this foundation in place, it’s time to hold the meeting.

How to make meetings work

Here are five ways to make your meetings efficient and productive:

1. Be clear about how you’ll make the decision.

There are four ways to make a decision:

  • One person decides (a leader solicits input and makes the decision).
  • A team decides through a majority vote.
  • A team decides through consensus.
  • Fate decides (e.g., flip a coin, draw straws or use a random-number generator).

Those are the only four ways to make a decision. At the beginning of the meeting, clearly state how you will make the decision. This avoids hurt feelings and lets people know how they should present relevant information.

2. Be clear about the decision you have to make.

There are two decisions worth discussing in a business meeting:

  • Where are we going?
  • How will we get there?

Leaders hold unproductive meetings when they’re unclear about the decision they should discuss.

For example, if your team is discussing whether to travel to the moon, mine a nearby asteroid or send an expedition to Mars, those are separate discussions from how to do those things.

Inexperienced leaders, however, will allow the team to drift into fuzzy discussions about where to land on the moon, whether you need diamond-tipped drill bits for asteroid mining and how much freeze-dried food you’ll need to survive on Mars. These discussions frustrate everybody and waste time.

Be clear about the decision in front of you. Is it a “where” or “how” decision?

3. Stay on track.

People will inevitably go off topic. To ensure your meetings are productive, limit tangents.

Use the PAPR method:

  • Parking lot. You’ve probably been in meetings where the facilitator used a “parking lot.” This is a place to record off-topic or tangential ideas and discussion items.
  • Affirm : Acknowledge the idea’s value. For example, “Mike, your idea sounds like it can improve efficiency.”
  • Park it: For example, “We have 15 minutes left to make the decision. Joe, please record Bob’s efficiency idea in the parking lot.”
  • Refocus: For example, “We have 15 minutes left. What other input do you have for this decision?”

Now, your team is not the U.S. Congress. The parking lot is not a polite way to say, “Your idea stinks and we’ll never discuss it.” Assign responsibility to make sure you revisit parking lot ideas on future agendas.

4. Meetings produce a team agreement.

Effective meetings produce a team agreement that spells out who does what by when, and how team members will know they’ve fulfilled responsibilities.

This step reinforces accountability and ensures that you’ll never again discuss something just to get meet again in three weeks and wonder what happened. The magic is in the “How will we know?” step.

When someone completes his task, whom should he tell? Will he contact the leader, send his information to the team or share it with a teammate? Regardless of the method, bake accountability into your team agreement. Don’t end a meeting without a team agreement.

5. Be intentional about relationships.

Being effective and efficient doesn’t mean you neglect relationships. Celebrate victories. Acknowledge individual and team accomplishments. Create time for affirmations, connection and laughter. If this is difficult for you, ask a more people-oriented colleague to facilitate these activities.

When you ensure meetings are the most productive use of everyone’s time and use these five tips to build relationships and achieve results, you’ll vastly increase your team’s productivity.

One day you might even overhear, “I loved that meeting!”

David M. Dye is the author of “The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say” and president of Trailblaze. He tweets from @davidmdye and welcomes your LinkedIn invitation. A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBrief‘s SmartBlog on Leadership.


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