Meetings That Matter
If you are already a manager, or are about to become one, then odds are that you will be spending most of the rest of your life huddled in physical or virtual meetings. You have an obligation to engineer your meetings for success regardless of the topic at hand. To become respected as a person that runs meetings that matter, you should optimize what happens before, during, and after the meeting.
Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting
As discussed in the chapter on “Taking Charge”, you must make it your practice to pre-syndicate ideas with the key influencers and decision makers that will be in your meetings. Yes, this does mean that you will enter the realm of the ridiculous with meetings about meetings. But, elieve me, it is time well spent since you will achieve the goal of always walking into a meeting where you have reasonable certainty regarding the outcome. The amount of time that you spend on this process, of course, depends on the magnitude of the decision at hand and on the amount of time that you and your team have.
There will be times when key decision makers are simply not available. When that happens, it pays to spend time thinking about how they will react in your meeting. Start by understanding their root motivations. Those motivations will typically be tied to both personal objectives and business objectives, so make sure to explore both. Once you frame their motivations, someone on your team should role play the individual and poke as many holes as possible in your pitch. Though you will not be able to defend against an armor piercing bullet, you can at least sleep well the night before in Kevlar pajamas.
Start and end your meetings on time
Advice to start and end your meetings on time may seem too obvious to commit to ink and paper. However, ask yourself when the last time was that you actually attended a meeting that met this objective. In my experience, most meetings start five or ten minutes late and run over by the same amount.
By starting meetings on time, you show respect for the participants. You will rapidly develop a reputation for starting on time. In doing so, you will initiate a virtuous cycle whereby others will make sure they are on time for your meetings. In the early days, you may need to inform people in advance that your meeting will begin promptly. A more aggressive stance is to start your meetings on time no matter what without backtracking to recap for stragglers. That will send a clear message. Also, set up any presentations or handouts in advance.
Of the two sins, running over is the greater one. Chances are, participants have back to back meetings and you will be the one responsible for making them late for their next appointment. Needless to say, that is not an endearing quality. Moreover, when time is up, you can pretty much guarantee that you have lost people’s attention. To end on time, you need to anticipate the likely arc and outcomes of the meeting. As a best practice, reserve at least five minutes at the end of a half hour meeting and at least ten minutes at the end of an hour long meeting to define next steps. Never, ever fall into the amateur trap of rushing a meeting at the end.
Inform participants of the meeting purpose, people, and process
The three “P’s” of meetings that matter are purpose, process, and people. Among the three, process is the most important. You should make it a habit to start every meeting by identifying precisely what outcome you expect to achieve by the end. For example, you might state, “By the end of today’s meeting, we will decide which new product to launch next quarter.” Your mission is to give participants a clear and unambiguous picture of what success looks like so everyone can work together toward a common goal.
The second “P”, process, establishes the structure of the meeting. Will the meeting format be brainstorming, discussion followed by questions and answers, or an interactive session? People that attend your meetings will appreciate being given a mental model for when and how to participate.
The final “P”, people, is important but often abused. The key is to make sure that people know each other and understand why others are in the room. In smaller meetings of no more than five people, a quick round of introductions may be warranted. The abuse comes in larger meetings. I have no doubt that you have attended a meeting with ten or fifteen minutes wasted on round robin introductions. By the time the last person basks in their verbal resume, most people have already forgotten about everyone else not to mention the meeting objective. In this situation, you have two choices. If time permits, then get everyone together a few minutes early to conduct social niceties and exchange business cards. If time does not, then dive into the meeting. People’s roles and responsibilities, as well as what they have to offer, will become rapidly clear.
Communicate progress and follow through on next steps
In truth, no one ever runs through the halls screaming, “Wow, Emma just ran an AWESOME meeting!!!” Instead, they gradually develop a subconscious awareness that “I respect Emma because she gets things done.”
Follow through is the real measure of a manager that is great at running meetings that matter. At the end of every gathering, you should have captured and communicated a set of next steps. Ideally, these next steps should have well defined individual owners and objectives. After the meeting, it is your job to monitor open action items and report back to the group on progress and ultimate completion.
Here are the concepts you can immediately apply to become adept at running meetings that matter:
- Pre-syndicate your ideas with key players BEFORE you get to the meeting
- Start and end your meetings on time
- Inform participants of the meeting purpose, people, and process
- Communicate progress and follow through on next steps