Business Leadership: How to Lead an Effective Meeting


Meetings can be contentious things. Done poorly, they take time away from working hours and make participants feel as though their time isn’t valued. Worryingly, some 67% of meetings a considered a failure – with these collectively costing the economy $37b a year.

However, managed well, meetings can be a high-value endeavor. They can be a great way to share ideas, make progress on projects, oversee decision making, and bring the team together. With middle management spending some 35% of their time in meetings and upper management a huge 50%, leading effective meetings is a must for productivity and profitability.

Here’s how. 

Make Meetings Necessary

By “necessary” we don’t mean mandatory. Rather, we mean that every meeting should be justified. Meetings require people to step away from their daily tasks, so their value needs to be greater than the value of those tasks.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a “two-pizza rule” for meetings. Employees are discouraged from holding meetings that would require more than two pizzas to feed everyone.

Is the meeting something that could be done over the phone, email or Slack? Can it wait until you bump into someone at the water cooler? If so, you may be looking at an unnecessary diversion. On the other hand, if you’re looking to gauge team perspectives, foster inclusion, improve client relations or develop a client presentation, then a meeting may be the way to go.

A quick and easy way to determine whether a meeting is necessary is if there’s a particular outcome that will arise from hosting it. No goal? No meeting.

Know Who to Include

Meetings become perceived as low-value when the wrong people are included. Inviting people who don’t actually need to be there only takes away from their already limited time, so avoid doing this. You should be able to justify the participation of everyone on your list, whether it’s due to their role and responsibilities, or the input they’ll be able to provide.

Remember that you can always have people attend just the parts of the meeting that are applicable to them. Have them drop in for ten or fifteen minutes, then let them get back to work. Similarly, rather than inviting the entire design or production team, pick one representative and have them relay the meeting details to everyone else. That said, do aim for attendees who together represent a variety of viewpoints. This can help avoid groupthink.

Outline Your Goals

Oprah begins each meeting by asking three questions:

  • What is our intention for this meeting?
  • What’s important?
  • What matters?

Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve from a meeting makes it much easier to keep things on task and come away with actionable results. Always know what your goals are, and if a particular decision needs to be reached by the end of the meeting. It’s also a good idea to create a formal outline or meeting structure to follow. This prevents the meeting from being sidetracked with tangential ideas or talking points. Don’t forget to disseminate meeting materials ahead of time so that participants have time to review them. This will make for a more engaged and informed discussion.

Come prepared with a clear agenda, and you’ll be well on the way to meeting success.

Shorter is Better

Where possible, keep meetings to 30 minutes, and ideally no longer than an hour.

However, keeping a meeting on schedule requires some active time management from the meeting host. Set a hard start and stop, avoid tangents, and put a limit on questions. When outlining your agenda, assign a certain amount of time to each talking point. This will help shape expectations and will keep you on track.

Finally, “park” additional topics that arise and assign them to later meetings or one-on-one conversations. Good discussion inevitably creates more discussion, but it doesn’t need to happen all at once.

Bringing it all Together

Meetings may have a poor reputation in the workplace, but that’s because so many meetings are poorly run. By being goal-oriented, time-aware and mindful of participant involvement, you’ll be able to host and lead meetings that drive value for your company, employees and clients.

See Also:

Is Your Workplace Productive? 4 Tips to Help Boost Office Productivity

And Action! How to Give Actionable Feedback as a Leader

Building A Business Collaboration Machine: Use Teamwork to Make the Dream Work

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