The Two Essential Parts of Leading Productive Meetings
Leaders owe others and themselves the valuable use of time and energy. Communicating is an essential leadership skill, and meetings are a means of communicating with your team. You can meet one-on-one with team members, or you can meet with them as a group. Group meetings make sense when the same information needs to be shared to several people, decisions must be made, multiple perspectives help, and speedy coordination is necessary to success.
Poorly structured and run group meetings are costly. One consistent de-motivator, across industries and sectors, is meetings that participants see as unproductive or a waste of time. Suppose 5 people attend a useful meeting, but it unnecessarily goes 30 minutes longer than planned. The person leading the meeting has incurred a straight-line 2.5 labor cost, let alone considering the cost of potential knock-on effects. Those effects can include missed calls, missed deliveries, delayed coordination, and added hours of work putting things back in line.
In almost four decades of work, I've found the best meetings have these features in common:
- A single purpose
- A defined time and duration
- A firm agenda
- Limited attendees (just those in key roles)
- Necessary inputs (coming from who | by when) and outputs (going to who | by when)
One of the best examples of a meeting with these features I've encountered is a hospital's well-designed system of daily Stand-Up meetings. The Tier 3 Huddle for the department of surgery's pre-operative unit is held 8:50am to 8:58am, daily. A marked analog clock hangs on the wall.
The pre-operative unit leaders huddle around the white board, which reflects an agenda that focuses participants on the important and the urgent activities of daily operations, and enables coordination across the unit. Additionally, its hallway location makes the board available to the entire staff of the pre-operative unit.
The eight section heads arrive from their own daily 8:30am to 8:38am Tier 2 Huddle and update four key metrics (methods, equipment, supplies, and staffing) tied to the unit delivering on the hospital's patient-centered: every action, every day! core value. The outputs of the meeting are immediately available to everyone in the pre-operative unit, and the department head then goes prepared for the department of surgery's daily 9:10am to 9:18am Tier 4 Huddle.
Structure is part one of how you lead productive meetings. Part two is how you run them. Every communication you have with those you lead is an opportunity to inspire. Group meetings are an opportunity to increase the motivation and commitment of your team because they draw inspiration from each other, if you set the right tone.
The mechanics of running a productive meeting involve remembering the purpose, sticking to the agenda, and keeping to the schedule. You'll be most effective if you do so in a manner that shows you genuinely respect your teammates. Setting and maintaining the tone is a leader responsibility.
Three good ways to achieve this:
- Provide recognition for preparation and for valuable inputs during the meeting.
- Ensure inclusion by allowing everyone an opportunity to give their views.
- Enforce fairness by not allowing interruptions or talking over one another.
If you are like me, you've forgotten the content of most of the meetings you've ever attended but you still remember what you thought of them afterwards. Recognition, inclusion, and fairness are three elements that foster a productive tone for meetings.
- Take time to structure your meetings using the five features highlighted above adapted to your organization. Be sure to ask for feedback on how well your meetings' structures are working and refine them. You'll have meetings that work well for your team after a few iterations.
- Run your meetings by paying attention to the mechanics and to the tone. Whether people respect one another, and the person leading it respects the participants, makes the deepest impression.
You're leading a productive meeting only if participants believe it is, and is a good use of time. This depends upon how you structure you meetings and on how you run them.