Leading More Effective Meetings

We often hear, and sometimes say, we hate meetings.  To be clearer – we hate bad meetings.  Even good leaders sometimes have bad meetings.  How can you lead a more effective meeting?

Make your meetings:
  • Short – start and stop on time
  • Meaningful – have a purpose and declare it up front
  • Have an output or outcome related to the purpose
According to Henry Evans of Dynamic Results, you can make a big difference by using the language of accountability.
Henry is an internationally known expert on the subjects of “Creating High Accountability Cultures” and “Emotionally Intelligent Leadership,” and teaches MBA students worldwide.

Henry believes that, to deliver results, a firm must invest in the “language of commitment” and the language of accountability.  He taught his accountability methods on Tuesday to some MBA students, and they are already blogging about the way those methods are improving their meetings.

There are at least three types of meetings –

  • information sharing
  • working
  • decision making

What is it about a bad meeting that makes it bad?  One is, a meeting will be bad if it lacks conflict or drama.

You can thus “mine for conflict” by remembering who has differing opinions.  If I ask for comments in a meeting and there’s silence, I can ask, “Jim and Bob, you have different opinions on this – would you share those?”  This can get the conversation flowing.

This “terminal politeness” may be caused by fear.  The number one deliverable of the leader is to create a sense of safety so people are able to open up and contribute.

Best Practices for Better Meetings

You invited each person for a reason.  If any of them is silent, then they are not contributing – which can prompt you to call on those folks.  When I run a meeting, I make a map of the room with each person’s first name, arranged in the order they are sitting around the room.  As each one talks, I make a mark next to their name, and maybe write a few words to capture their comment.

Circulate an attendee list and an agenda in advance.

Start the meeting by declaring both the purpose of the meeting, and which decision method will be used (democratic, autocratic, or consensus).

Then share the impact that this meeting will have on the organization.

Next, share briefly each person’s best recent experience, maybe the highlight of their weekend.

Meetings will go better when you assign roles:
Timekeeper – ensures we are staying on time
Taskmaster – ensures we are discussing the issue we are supposed to be discussing
Notetaker – captures major points
Facilitator – runs the meeting – you might rotate who runs each meeting, so everyone gets a shot

Start and end on time.  If the meeting is not really finished, stop it anyway. That will be so painful, people will very quickly learn to use the meeting time more effectively.

Any accountable statement of commitment includes:

  1. a clear visual expectation of the result
  2. a specific due date and time including time zone
  3. ownership – this is one human being, even if they are supported by a team
  4. share – at least one other human being knows about it

This is a lot like the “Standard Goal Language” described by Jim Grew: “Who will do What by When.”

When you make this level of commitment and share it with others, you’ll feel a sense of “gravity” around having shared it.  That increases the odds you will make it happen.

How can you make a meeting impactful?

Pretend someone is leaving your company today, and they will return after the decision is made.  Will they see, hear, feel or sense anything different when they return?  If not, it may not have been an impactful decision.

What are the results of adopting this sort of language use in meetings?  Henry and his team was invited to the international sales meeting of a client, a 52-year-old company, and the client leader literally had a spotlight shine down on the team’s table.  The leader said they would not have doubled their sales over the past two years if it were not for Henry and his team.

Ultimately you have to “be the change you want to see” – you have to model the behavior you desire in others.  If you want people not to interrupt you, then you need to not interrupt them.  If you want good meetings, hold good meetings.  If you want accountability from others, show accountability yourself.

Henry adds, listen for vague words from “the glossary of failure” like “soon” and “try” and replace them with words that are highly specific, like dates and times and “will.”  You will see a difference immediately.

My second expert was Jim Smith of Jimpact Enterprises.  He’s a highly effective leader of presentations and he coaches those who must lead seminars and meetings.

Jim suggests that the best meetings are made good by preparation.  The “meeting before the meeting” is a key.

Jim teaches the “ICE” Method – Inspire, Connect, and Empower.

Get each person to participate.  Give each person something to do.  If they are only listening, then in 8-10 minutes they will mentally check out.  Overcome that tendency by giving them things to do, whether it’s offer an opinion or something else.

Set the expectation before the meeting, and again at the start, what you will need from each person.

Prepare an agenda.  Begin with the end in mind.  What do I want people Thinking Feeling Knowing and Doing at the end that they were not before?

Each person should take away from the meeting some personal, specific call to action.  And they should share it.

It will take more time to prepare a meeting this way.  It’s worth it.  We have to make the time to prepare, because to do any less is to waste my time in the meeting – and waste the time of everyone else in the meeting.

I might have a meeting where, by the end, I want people Knowing the new product strategy, Feeling good about it, and Doing the communication with clients about the new product strategy, through phone calls and emails.  That’s starting to be specific enough to allow me to really prepare for the meeting.

For such a meeting, I would need to prepare materials to really communicate the new product strategy well, so they Know it.  I would need to find or research some true story to inspire them, so they Feel good.  And I need to have a specific call to action to prompt them to go out and Do the things I want them to do.

Jim also suggests some specifics:
The entry should be in the back of the room
The screen if any is off to one side and the speaker is in the center
The room needs to allow some interaction

Jim encourages leaders to speak to people’s hearts and heads, both.

Show some vulnerability.  Ask for help.

Be responsive to people’s styles.  Some folks need to talk in order to think, and others need to think in order to talk.

The first type will think it through by talking it through aloud.  They can eat up a lot of meeting time.  You might want to engage them in advance of the meeting and let them talk the issue through in advance so they can discover what they think.

The second type will need time to think and reflect, and may be silent for most of the meeting.  You may want to call on the explicitly, or have a “two minute warning” where you allocate time for “those we haven’t heard from yet.”

A vital skill for leaders in meetings is to tell stories in a compelling and memorable way.  That may mean you take a class or get a coach to help you learn to tell stories effectively.  The most memorable and impactful way to convey a message is in the form of a story.  Don’t tell self-glorifying stories about your brilliance and your victories.  Tell more gory stories that involve your mistakes and learnings.

By the end of the meeting, call for commitment.  “Are you just interested, or are you committed?”

Ultimately you need the mindset that will spark the behavior of leading more effective meetings.  Start there, Jim believes, and the rest will flow.

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