If you’re still in a job and looking to get out working for yourself, one of the best things you can do is to start running better meetings.

In almost every company someone can call a meeting with 10 people that costs over $1,000/hour but would never actually spend $1,000 of company money. Then on top of having way too many people at a meeting, they let the meeting drag on in unproductive ways. What’s worse, in most cases the meeting produces nothing and didn’t need to be called in the first place.

Here’s how to run an effective meeting.

Small meetings with your boss or coworkers

When you’re meeting with only one other person then you should begin preparing a few days before the meeting. You need to send them over the three most important things you need to talk about during the meeting and the single decision that you want to be made by the end of the meeting.

You should also ask for the three things the other person wants to talk about, and the single decision they think needs to be made by the end of the meeting.

Quite often you’ll find that the single decision you think needs to be made and the single decision your boss/coworker thinks needs to be made differ. If so, you’re not ready to have a meeting. Don’t have a meeting about a meeting — that’s just a waste of everyone’s time, and recursive.

Prepare in advance, and use a few emails to agree on the single question that needs to be answered by the end of your scheduled meeting.

Then when it’s time to have the meeting, start with the other person’s top concern. Remember to listen and ask good questions. Your goal should be to re-state the opinion of the other person as effectively as you can. If you can’t do that, then you don’t understand them yet. It’s not about arguing your side, it’s about understanding it from both sides so that you both can come to the best decision for the company by the end of the meeting.

Once you understand the position of the other person, you can move on to what you have to say. Seeing the time you’ve put into understanding them, most people are more than happy to sit and listen and question deeply so that they understand your position.

Then make the decision and move on.

Group meetings

Once a meeting involves more than two people you need to do more pre-work to make the meeting effective. You should have an agenda and a single decision to make by the end.

The biggest reason that group meetings fail is that there has been little or no work done beforehand to make sure the meeting is awesome. There are two key areas you need to cover up front.

First you need to cut as many people as possible out of the meeting. Stop playing office politics and only invite the people that need to be there. The more people you can cut from a meeting the more likely it is to end with success, and on time.

Second, you need to cut the scope of decisions that can come out of the meeting. You can do this up front by getting some consensus via email about the truly viable options. Only those options that have been agreed to via email should be on the table during the meeting. Leave the others off and if someone brings them up, just say no.

Ending meetings

If you’ve run an on-point meeting up to the end, you’re only about 20% of the way to making a meeting effective. The end is not the time to just stop the meeting and let everyone go their own way. It’s time to do the following four things.

First, you need to make sure that if there are tasks to be accomplished out of a meeting they have names attached to them. Before everyone goes, make sure you go over which tasks each person is responsible for and make sure that they acknowledge their responsibility.

Second, put a timeline on those tasks. Way too often the tasks just walk off never to be seen again. You shouldn’t be playing a game of Where’s Waldo? with things that need to get done.

[Tweet “Don’t play a game of Where’s Waldo? with things that need to get done.”]

Third, make sure that each person with a task knows who they need to follow up with when the task is done. Often that’s going to be the meeting organizer, but don’t assume people will follow up. Make it clear. Clear enough that you can always just ask them who they’re reporting to when the task is done and get them to say it.

Finally, go over all the tasks that need to get done. Clarify the timelines they’re on, and who is getting reports of tasks done. Do this via an email to the people that were in a meeting. Taking this extra step to make sure things are written down is going to help ensure the tasks really get done and that everyone knows they’re done. Don’t let that follow-up stop with a single email either, but follow up on the due dates and make sure things are going according to plan. If you can, follow up before the due date to make sure that things are not getting off track.

What if…

Almost every office has that one person who always has objections to any idea. Quite often they get thought of as the ‘realist’ in the group, but way more often they’re the person who helps maintain the status quo. They don’t like risk and will do everything in their power to make sure that no one sticks their head up and takes any risks at all.

If at all possible, don’t invite this person to your meetings. Let them weigh in via email and take a look at the objections they bring up during the meeting, but don’t let them come. Keeping to the status quo is what average businesses do, and no one wakes up hoping that they’re merely average.

The other person you shouldn’t invite to your meetings is the person who doesn’t really engage in the work up front to narrow the focus of the meeting. When they show up they ask a bunch of questions that were answered in email and bring forward ideas that were already pulled off the table prior to the meeting. If you have one of those people in the meeting you need to talk to them privately afterward. Let them know that not doing the work up front to engage with the topics is wasting everyone’s time and they won’t be invited to future meetings if they don’t do the work.

What if someone brings up a great idea that should be talked about? Of course talk about it, but give it a time limit and seriously discuss which of the other ideas should be removed from the agenda because it’s of the lowest value. Don’t let people just endlessly add new ideas to the table (unless you’re running a meeting to generate a wealth of ideas). Not every idea is good and you need to start saying no to more of them.

Sometimes you get into a meeting and you can’t make that single decision. There may be new information, or maybe you didn’t do great work up front to make sure everyone was aware of the options. Even if you can’t make that single decision you need to make sure that people leave with the responsibility for obtaining the required information that will allow you to make the decision you need to make. Still do all the follow-up and plan the next meeting ensuring that you’ll have the information required.

If you want to be an awesome consultant, start at your job by running awesome meetings. Increasing the productivity of a meeting and decreasing the time they take will make you much more valuable to your current employer, and will mean that you run awesome meetings when you’re out running your own business.

photo credit: bobsfever cc

One response to “How to start running effective meetings today”

  1. Patricia Shetler Avatar

    We often put the “bright idea” discussion in the area of the parking lot. It is discussed in a future meeting if the idea is worth investigating and will not pull the project off track.
    You cannot un-invite people from project meetings in the corporate world. They may be your assigned resource. So…you have to have the discussion about respect and get to the bottom of why they are behaving the way they are.