Why Do We Have Meetings?
There are a number of reasons, of course, but chief among them are:
- To discuss problems
- To find solutions to those problems
- To connect with others and strengthen our relationships with them
- To brainstorm (intentionally get outside of the box and stay there for a while)
- To tell people things they need to know about something that just happened
Regardless of the purpose of the meeting, most would agree that the meeting itself has a much higher probability of being successful if it is thoughtfully organized and executed. As a leader, you need to invest the time necessary to ensure your meeting has a reasonable probability of achieving that success.
Why Are Efficient Meetings Important?
Most of us are already busy. We have things to do that people are expecting based on commitments we have made. Many times meetings take us away from doing those things. In the spirit of that reality, there is a universal need for meetings to be “better.” In large part, “better” translates to increased efficiency.
Think of it this way. If you were asked to make an important presentation at a well-attended conference on best practices you and your team had uncovered while working on a high-visibility project of importance, how much time and mental energy would you dedicate to ensuring that the presentation was both efficient and well-received? How much more efficient could the meetings you are currently responsible for leading be if you prepared for them with a similar amount of rigor?
How to Run an Effective Meeting
As a leader, you determine the value of the meetings you conduct with your team. As a matter of fact, meetings are one of the most visible indications others have in determining the value you provide in your role. The following paragraphs contain suggestions for your consideration in that regard.
Determine Your Goals and Prepare a Detailed Agenda
Alice in Wonderland! The Cheshire cat is perched in a tree as Alice approaches a fork in the road at the base of the tree and seeks advice from the cat:
Alice: “Which Road should I take?”
Cat: “Where are you going?”
Alice: “I’m not really sure.”
Cat: “Then take any road!”
This is such sage advice! And so very applicable to effective meeting management! As a leader, you need well-formed and articulated goals. This is “The What” of your meeting. You also need a path or a flow for your meeting (an agenda). The agenda is “The How” of your meeting. There is a direct correlation between the time you take formulating your “What and How” and the success of your meeting.
Schedule the Meeting With the Right People and Communicate Details Before the Meeting
Of equal importance in the scheduling phase of a meeting is to give active thought to who really needs to be there and to make communication with those targeted attendees a priority.
As a rule of thumb, the “right people” translates to the stakeholders that have authority to share a perspective and represent the interests of others. Meetings can also be a great place for comparatively novice employees to gain much-needed experience. But if that is the case, their role should be both positioned and treated as such.
Additionally, the more you can prepare those in attendance to be active participants in service of the meetings goals, the better! Think like a marketer! Marketing professionals know all too well that you need to get your message in front of your targeted prospects multiple times and in a variety of formats.
There are undoubtedly limits to how often you can communicate with meeting attendees based on your competing priorities. But realize e-mailing the intent and agenda for a meeting 5 minutes before it kicks off definitely puts your outcomes at risk.
Encourage Involvement and Discussion
There are some meetings that are dedicated to the dissemination of information. The reason people are in the room is to hear what you have to say and ask you (as the leader) questions if they are unclear on what you have shared and what they need to do as a result.
But for the most part, meetings are the place where perspectives are shared and alignment is pursued. As such, it is critical that you, as the leader, ensure that:
- Every voice is heard
- One voice doesn’t dominate the discussion to the exclusion of others
- Purpose-driven progress is made
Note Comments, Ideas and Questions
Since follow-up, pull-through and next steps are key factors in the relative success of any meeting, accurately capturing comments, ideas and questions during the meeting itself is critical.
As the leader of the meeting, you need to determine if this is a role you can execute effectively or if you need someone else in attendance to fulfill that responsibility. Depending upon a number of factors, facilitating an exchange between stakeholders with conflicting perspectives can be an all-encompassing role in and of itself.
Respect Each Employee’s Time
One of the biggest time wasters during meetings is the “bunny trail.” That’s where somebody in attendance feels the need to exercise their personality and take the group on an excursion that has nothing to do with the goal or objective. This can happen at any time, and usually, the hijacker will tip their hand by saying something like:
- “This is really off topic but …”
- “I know this has nothing to do with what we’re talking about but …”
- “Before we get going here, has anybody seen the latest …”
As the leader of the meeting, you need to determine if a diversion contributes to a positive tone (because it increases the willingness of everyone to contribute) or serves as a distraction and disrespects the sacrifice other attendees have made to attend.
The manner in which a meeting ends is critical and, typically, entails thoughtful effort on the part of the leader in two ways:
- Articulating “who needs to do what and by when” as per discussion during the meeting: The leader needs to clearly communicate those particulars and make a special effort to distinguish between “ideas” that were considered, and “action items” that will form expectations for the path forward.
- Providing a written recap of the action items and next steps for all attendees: This documentation serves to remind attendees “who is doing what by when,” and also establishes a starting point for the goals and objectives of the next meeting.
Improve Your Communication Skills and Boost Your Confidence
One thing we know for certain about leadership—leaders are judged! That’s why so many people opt to stay in the background and “let somebody else do it.” But for those who aspire to be leaders, leading a meeting is a great place to start! In addition to all that has been mentioned thus far (goals, agenda, scheduling, etc.), leading a meeting is the perfect place to practice and perfect your communication skills.
In a meeting, the leader has a speaking role! If nothing else, they call the meeting to order, review the objectives and facilitate discussion. When you think about it, during each meeting, the leader will probably use a number of different communication/leadership styles from start to finish (i.e., guidance, participation, empowerment).
To that point, an additional responsibility a meeting leader has is to determine and troubleshoot the technology that will be necessary to ensure active participation by each attendee.
Lead More Effective Meetings With Improved Leadership Skills
The Center for Leadership Studies is the global home of the Situational Leadership® Model. This model has been helping leaders, around the world and across industries, effectively influence others for over 50 years. It has always been “a follower-driven model.” And we wholeheartedly believe that is the primary reason the Situational Leadership® approach is more relevant today than ever before!
In keeping with this article, we have designed our flagship offerings (Situational Leadership® Essentials and Situational Performance Ownership™) to provide leaders at all levels of an organization with the necessary skills to effectively respond to the challenges and opportunities they encounter on an ever-recurring basis. And leading an effective meeting is most certainly one of those challenges/opportunities!
Leadership has never been something you do to other people—it is something you do with them! And the Situational Leadership® framework continues to help leaders at all levels do just that!