September 15


Leadership hack 009 – running a good meeting

Meetings are the bane of the modern world.  They are unsexy, and often very, very dull.  Many of us have so many meetings that we struggle to get any ‘real’ work done.

One way to claw back time is to get rid of meetings.  While this nuclear option has its advocates (see here and here), unless you are a CEO or in a startup, this approach is unlikely to wash with your colleagues.  As a result, you will need to make meetings work.

There are several ways to improve a meeting:

  1. Ask – do you need a meeting?
  2. Get the environment right
  3. Process is critical
  4. People – only invite people who can take or inform a decision

Do you need a meeting?  If you just need to share information, a meeting is a very inefficient – just send an email.  If you need to create an agreement or alignment (see here for more), then it is probably better to have a meeting.

Process. Having a clear process before and during the meeting can save a lot of wasted effort.  Before the meeting, you need to let everyone know what the meeting is for.  POA (see below) is a great tool for this.  You also need to make explicit any preparation that is needed.  For example, what people need to have read, or what data need to be presented.

POA (Purpose, Objectives, Agenda) is a great tool to help you define what the meeting is for, and for communicating to other what you want to achieve.

Purpose.  What are you trying to achieve?  This should be a single sentence, and you should put it in the meeting calendar invite.

Outcomes.  What needs to change and how?  If you choose not to make a decision, you need to make it clear under what conditions the decision needs to be revisited.

Agenda.  What are we going to discuss and for how long?  Keep it brief, and make sure that there is an owner for each item on the agenda.

People.  You need the right people in the room and no more.  The ideal meeting size is between five and seven people (see here), any more and you start to loose effectiveness.  However, without the right people in the room, you often miss vital information.

Environment.  Often overlooked, you need to make sure people everyone is not so comfortable that the meeting drags on, but not so uncomfortable that they cannot focus.  Standing meetings tend to reduce waffle without impacting the quality of the discussion.  Distractions can quickly scupper a meeting, consider leaving mobile phones outside the room so that people need to leave the room to check them.  For longer meetings, make sure people are fed and watered and get breaks, making decisions while hungry or tired has been repeatedly shown to lead to poor decision-making quality.

Meetings are terrible, and while these steps are unlikely to result in perfect, enjoyable meetings, they may just make you a little more effective and the meetings a little less painful for everyone involved.