Want to be a Better Leader? Run a Better MeetingPosted on October 19th, 2015
BY BRIAN CLAPP, CAREER PARTNERS INTERNATIONAL – PHILADELPHIA
Running a meeting is an exercise in leadership. Whether leaders realize it or not, meeting management skills impact attendees’ perception of their strength as a leader. Meeting effectiveness has a direct impact on the productivity and job satisfaction of meeting attendees.
By that measure, most leaders do not demonstrate impressive leadership skills. Studies indicate that most professionals believe that 25-50% of meeting time is wasted. 91% admitting to daydreaming in a meeting and 39% say they have actually fallen asleep. The biggest causes of meeting frustration are meetings that start late, lack structure, and run long. Psychological studies confirm what we all know: long droning meetings are a waste of time.
Leaders can positively impact attendee perception of meeting effectiveness (and by extension, their leadership effectiveness) simply by starting and ending the meeting on time and structuring the meeting so the agenda is well defined and the meeting is kept on task.
Whether it’s a one-on-one meeting or a large group session, the formula for success is simple and consistent: short + focused + real = positive and productive outcome.
Keep it Short
Shorter is better. 20-45 minutes seems to be the ideal length for a meeting but some situations and topics require a more time. Since the average person can pay attention in a meeting for approximately 20 minutes before becoming fidgety or starting to daydream, a change in speaker, topic, or a shift in format will help refocus participants. There is a marked deterioration in attention and participation after 90 minutes so the maximum time spent in a meeting without a break should never exceed that time.
Research shows that the other key to meeting effectiveness is minimizing time spent structuring the conversation. The leader’s introductory remarks outside the agenda items should only last a minute or two. As a general rule, attendees are most receptive and participatory at the beginning of the meeting. Spending too much valuable meeting time on long winded preambles designed to set the stage or provide meeting context is counterproductive.
Keep it Focused
Define the agenda and desired meeting outcomes. Write it down. Can the all the agenda items be covered and the meeting outcomes achieved in the allotted meeting time? If not, reduce and refine the agenda.
Send the agenda in advance of the meeting so attendees are clear about what is to be covered and what is expected so they can therefore prepare accordingly.
Start the meeting on time. Begin by quickly reiterating the purpose and expectation of the session then quickly engage the group in dialog and interaction.
As the meeting wears on, focus wanes which increases the likelihood that unrelated or partially relevant issues capture people’s attention and drive off-topic conversations. Stick to the agenda and manage off-topic issues by acknowledging them and capturing the points so they can be addressed or discussed as follow-up to the meeting rather than derailing the purpose of the current forum.
End the meeting on time. Adjust the cadence and scope of discussion to honor your time constraint. A disciplined meeting always ends early. Participants notice and appreciate and the courtesy and respect for their time. Meetings that run long are a symptom of lazy meeting management that reflects poorly on the leader.
Keep it Real
A meeting without follow-up action is a failed meeting. If no actions were taken by participants as a result of the meeting, the meeting had no purpose or the wrong people were in attendance.
During the meeting, take notes that capture key points, assignments, and tabled issues. At meeting end, recap these items to clarify and confirm expected actions and next steps. Everyone in attendance should be clear about who is expected to do what and when.
Follow-up to ensure that each agreed upon action was taken and commitments were met. Inevitably, situations change, priorities shift, and distractions occur. Continue to track and follow-up on meeting action items to ensure that they are completed as planned, re-prioritized, or adjusted to meet the underlying organizational goal.
The Ten Anchors of Good Meeting Management
- Keep meetings as short as possible.
- Have an agenda that corresponds with the defined length of the meeting.
- Always start a meeting on time, regardless of people who are late.
- At the beginning of the meeting, ensure the desired outcome(s) are clearly stated.
- If people arrive late, keep the meeting moving. Do not stop to do a recap or review of what they missed.
- Invite fewer people to the meeting. Productivity goes down with increasing numbers of participants.
- Prohibit laptops, tablet, and phone use during the session. No multi-tasking.
- Document the decisions and task assignments. Recap to ensure everyone is clear on who is expected to do what and when.
- End the meeting at, or before, the agreed upon time even if the agenda is not finished.
- Follow-up to confirm that all agreed upon actions were taken.