Seven Rules for More Effective Meetings

Earlier this week, I attended a very productive meeting. It was long, but we accomplished what we set out to do. We made significant decisions, established accountabilities, and left the meeting knowing exactly what was expected of us. I think everyone left feeling that it was a good use of time.

Business Meeting with Depth of Field - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sandoclr, Image #77653

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/sandoclr

Unfortunately, too many corporate meetings don’t go this well. Often, they are a complete waste of time. But the good news is that they can be substantially improved by observing a few simple rules. Here is my list of seven rules for more effective meetings.

  1. Establish hard edges. Good meetings start and end on time. When you start late, you inadvertently penalize the punctual and reward the tardy. This only make the problem worse rather than better. People get “trained” to come late because they know nothing significant will happen until well after the announced start time.

    When you finish late, you also frustrate participants. People are busy. Meetings that finish late cascade into other meetings which must then also start late. Instead, we have to be as disciplined about our ending times as our beginning times. It’s amazing how much you can cover if you know you absolutely must finish on time.

  2. Create an agenda. I don’t think any meeting should proceed without an agenda. If it’s not important enough to create a written agenda, then it’s not important enough to attend. Leaders must set the example here.

    They need to think about the topics to be covered and how the meeting should flow. I always like to start the meeting with a review of the minutes from the previous meeting (more about this in a minute). I like to end every meeting with two items: a review of the agreed-upon action items and setting—or confirming—the date for the next meeting. Agendas should always be circulated in advance of the meeting, so that people know what to expect and how to prepare.

  3. State the desired outcome. If you are the leader, it is important to know exactly what outcome you want from the meeting. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you have arrived?

    I would suggest that you state the desired outcome in the meeting invitation and then re-state it as you begin the meeting. For example, “the purpose of our meeting is to report on the results of our latest market research and give you a chance to ask questions.” Or “the purpose of our meeting is to evaluate prospective titles for John Maxwell’s new book and decide which one we are going to recommend to the author.” Or “the purpose of our meeting is to review the company’s Q3 operating results and provide a progress report on our five strategic initiatives.”

    By stating the outcome, the participants can work together to achieve it and keep the meeting from wandering off-track.

  4. Review the minutes and action items. The first thing I do in any meeting is to review the minutes and action items from the previous meeting. This gives the participants context and gives those that were absent an opportunity to get up-to-speed.

    You also want to get a progress report on each action item from the person responsible for it. If you make a habit of always doing this, people will soon learn that you expect them to complete their assignments. If they have to give an account in front of their peers, so much the better. This may give them the added “incentive” to complete their assignments, so that they are not embarrassed in front of their colleagues.

  5. Take written minutes. Someone should take minutes, even if the meeting only has two participants. However, detailed notes that chronicle the discussion as it unfolds are usually—in fact, almost always—unnecessary. In most meetings, recording the key decisions and action items are sufficient.

    You want to document decisions, so there is no misunderstanding later. You want to document action items, so that you can hold people accountable and track progress. Beyond that, you’re probably just engaging in busy work. You should distribute minutes as soon after the meeting as possible, so that participants can review the key items while they are fresh in their memory as well as review what is expected of them.

  6. Clarify action items. At the end of the meeting, the person recording the minutes should read off the action items. It is particularly important that these be stated in a specific format.
    • Start each action item with a verb. For example, “Review Milford contract with the agent” or “Call Jim and get latest turnover figures.”
    • Specify the deliverable. What exactly do you expect the person completing the action to do. It must be an observable behavior with a specific end-point. It may be a phone call, a written report, or a presentation. It should not be a process.
    • Assign a single owner to each action. No action should have more than one owner. You want one person to blame if the action isn’t completed.
    • Agree on a due date. Get a commitment from the person responsible. Be realistic but put it in writing. This is a commitment and should be treated as such.
  7. Determine the next meeting date. This is easy to do when everyone is together. Everyone should be encouraged to bring their calendar to the meeting (or their iPad, iPhone, or Blackberry).

    If the meeting disperses without setting the next date, it makes it that much harder to schedule the next meeting. Take advantage of everyone being in one place to get this settled. It’s one less thing you have to do later.

Improving the quality of meetings takes work. Every once in a while we need to step back from the meeting itself and ask, “How can we make our time together more productive?” We need to be honest. Meetings consume a lot of resources. The more efficient they are, the better the return on our investment.

Question: What else do you think is necessary for effective meetings? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • http://twitter.com/JRandorff James Randorff

    Michael,

    I found this to (as usual) be a well-written  and insightful post from you.  The point about punctuality is critical… nothing is more demotivating than a meeting that doesn’t start on time due to a tardy participant.

    If I may address an issue: In point 6c, you mention that, “you want one person to blame if if the action isn’t completed.”  I think this could have been better-phrased, “you want to clearly define who is accountable for the completion of an action.”

    Accountability holds the potential for both positive and negative outcomes.  Blame is incapable of having a positive outcome, as it is, itself, a negative outcome.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your daily wisdom, Michael!

    Regards,
    ~~James

    http://jrandorff.blogspot.com

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, James. I was going for a little tongue-in-cheek humor there. I guess it didn’t quite translate.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Someone has to take point in giving a meeting direction and having responsibility for shaping the agenda. In a recent coaches’ meeting (one after the head coach resigned), someone called us together to talk about the what next. Unfortunately calling a meeting and leading it are two different things. As the most senior but having the least seniority, I recognized the problem but couldn’t address it. I did at least give the meeting a hard edge by saying, “I have to leave by three.”

  • James

    I may have missed it, but did anyone speak of Lencioni’s approach to meetings? He seems to suggest that the agenda should be developed at the meeting. Of course, this is speaking about the weekly meeting, not the other 3 types of meetings.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      No, but I read his book, had my entire executive team read the book, and have recommended it to others. I don’t remember him recommending that the agenda be developed in the meeting, but I could be wrong. Thanks.

  • Jmhardy97

    Very good and useful points. I have several meetings a day and you hit on all of the main points. Keep focus and getting to the point is always a challenge. If the meetings are not held right, they can lose meaning and value.

    Jim

  • http://dmbaldwin.wordpress.com/ Dave Baldwin

    To keep things on track I have a “parking lot” section. So if some topic comes up that’s not on the agenda we put it in the parking lot and if we have time to discuss it we will, if not we put it on a future agenda.
    Thank you for another great post.
    Blessings,
    Dave

    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      Great idea!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    I think we need to design a meeting where the parts are integrated into the bigger whole. We should be able to relate different activities and sessions to the overall theme so it is clear why they are part of the event.  A great event is about integrated sessions, not disparate activities hobbled together.Secondly, care must be taken to make the meeting relevant. Speakers and presenters may be given the information and material they need to relate their presentations to the overall meeting. Specific requests can be made about what one would like to see covered.

  • Ed Seaver

    Our company, The Legacy Centre for Family Business and Entrepreneurship,  is working with business owners to help them learn how to “Live their Legacy” each day.  One of our objectives is to help them learn how to become servant leaders.  When this happens they can better serve their family, their employees and their customers. Thank you!

    Ed Seaver
    ed@tnlegacy.com

  • http://www.andymcmillan.com Andy McMillan

    This is a great article. My next meetings will run much smoother

  • Nanharper

    Do Not Recap for Late Arrivals.   Those present respect Time enough to be on Time.   No late Introductions, and No special coutesy for those who show less respect by their tardiness.

  • Kym

    Great post, Michael.  We are sharing it and using it to tweek  our meetings at 7Sistershomeschool.com.

    I have found it really helpful to put time parameters on each agenda item. Helps the leader and the participants keep the meeting effective and efficient.

    We also designate a prayer time for the beginning of each meeting.  Heps us know that personal issues are in good hands and brings the agenda and our mission into focus.

    I must confess to being a frequent late arriver.  I need to remind my business partners that I expect them to start on time even if I am not there.

    Thanks for this and so many other great posts!

  • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

    There’s few things more disrespectful in a workplace than wasting people’s time in meetings. Thanks for the list. If people follow it we’d all be more effective. Tips I give my team on meetings, in addition to those above, include:

    1) Don’t let meetings be your default communication method. Only call a meeting if you must. Always consider other, quicker forms of communication and decision making. This shows respect for other’s workloads and schedules.

    2) Always give time back. If you honestly think you need a 45 minute meeting, calendar in for 60 minutes and give attendees 15 minutes back into their day instead of stealing an extra 15 by asking for a 30 minute meeting.

    3) Know the purpose of the meeting, make it clear and stick to it. (Your point 3).

    4) Give people the information they need to prepare (past minutes, agendas, reading) and expect them to come prepared to the meeting. Don’t cover homework in the meeting for those who haven’t done it. That wastes everyone’s time and rewards undesirable behaviour.

    5) Remember the cake. For long meetings you need to remember to schedule in breaks, snacks and chat time to provide time for people to relax for a short time so they can stay focused for the duration. Cake also reminds us that we are social people and building relationships is good business, which often includes cake, coffee or donuts.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is a great list, Gail. Thanks.

  • Pingback: The Next Idea » Death by meeting re-visited three ways

  • Dwight Carter

    Thank you for the reminders! As a building principal, I call and attend a number of meetings and I have to be reminded  to implement a couple of your points above. Time is precious to everyone so any strategy to make meetings more productive is greatly appreciated by all!

    Be Great,
    Dwight 

  • Norm Edwards

    This is good insight.

    Lencioni adds one very helpful step to the process.  After action items are decided and before everyone leaves the room, it should be decided what information is to be disbursed from the meeting and to whom it should be disbursed.  This assures everyone is speaking the same language and that less assumptions are taken out of the room.

    Lencioni, P., (2004) Death by Meeting, Jossey-Bass

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    Great stuff, but sometimes difficult to implement.  I live in “good ole boy” country.  “We don’t need none o’that fancy meetin’ stuff…”  It’s hard to be productive as a team sometimes when the culture is so laid back about everything.

  • http://twitter.com/onboardlearning Lisa Dubernard

    Excellent.  I’ve been working a lot lately with software that helps manage meeting agendas called eBOARD.  I like how each item can be linked to goals for the organization.  And a goals scorecard showing how this entire meeting aligns.  I also like how it has an app for the iPad where I can take notes prior to during and refer to after the meeting.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      That software looks very cool.

  • Pingback: Great blog post about more effective meetings ‹ MeetingKing : Meeting Agenda | Meeting Minutes | Task List | Team meeting

  • Edwin Siebesma

    Very nice article, I completely agree. An effective meeting includes 3 steps:1. Preparation2. Actual meeting3. Follow-upUnfortunately steps one and three are often ignored or very poorly done and that makes the actual meeting a total waste of time. I just wrote a post about “How to create a meeting agenda” on my blog: http://meetingking.com/677/

  • http://LookingForPurpose.com Dylan Dodson

    I like #1. Establishing hard edges will have people come to a meeting already knowing to be on time and prepared.

  • http://markjmartin.com Mark Martin

    Leading a meeting later today, and just reviewed this post for the reminder.  Thanks for the tips!

  • Jmhardy97

    I use a format similar to this for the board meetings that I run and it is quite effective. I also send the minutes and agenda items out before the meeting. I want everything out in front of my attendees.

    Jim

  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher

    Mike,

    Great tips.  One more I might add would be for larger meetings.  Are there any ground rules?  No blackberries, silence them, technology, etc?  I also like to have what I refer to as a ‘parking lot’.  When there is a good idea that pops, but is out of the scope for the meeting, I sometimes have folks write it on a sticky note and we place it in a parking lot on a flip chart or even the wall.  We might do some assigning at the end of the meeting for someone to investigate.

    Your point about understanding what the deliverable of the meeting will be is so important.  Thanks for sharing.  John

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Both good suggestions! Thanks.

  • jlnewman_55

    We have recently introduced MyMeetingPro for iPhone and iPad to help meeting organizers plan, conduct and document effective meetings. As more and more meeting participants utilize smartphones and tablets, tools such as these can help meeting leaders follow these rules and produce more effective meetings.

  • Pingback: Seven Rules for More Effective Meetings | Business Communication Headline News

  • Pingback: Running Effective Meetings: Stop Chasing Rabbits! | CallCenterBestPractices.com

  • Debbie Cruciotti

    Choose the meeting note taker

  • Pingback: Bovée & Thill: Real Time Updates

  • Pingback: BRICKS: Why you want to throw them in meetings | Meetings Improved.

  • jeni

    According to me , for an effective meeting : 
    1. There should be the purpose of a meeting to save time on communication. To convey information to a group at one time.
    It is important for you to know the purpose of a meeting for you to participate meaningfully.
    2. Procedure : All meetings are called using a notice and an agenda. It is important for us(secretary) to be familiar with and understand the rules and regulations that apply to the type of meeting being called and in particular, to deal with a matter.
    3. Date and time of the meeting.
    4. Quorum (the smallest number of members necessary at a meeting before any business can be done).
    5. The role of the secretary. 
    6. Venue.
    7. Notice and agenda.

  • David

    Create a group consensus on behaviour in the meeting ‘House Rules’ that the group will own and work to on an agreed basis

  • Pingback: 4 Ways Supervisors Frustrate Their Employees | Michael Hyatt

  • Pingback: 4 Ways Supervisors Frustrate Their Employees by Michael Hyatt « Go, Leader, Grow!

  • http://www.matthewreedcoaching.com/ Matthew Reed

    These are great points here.  I don’t have corporate meetings currently as a solo-business owner. I DO meet with my clients regularly. I am a coach, so these type of client meetings are pretty much all I do. These are the guidelines that pretty much rule these meetings (though the agenda is set by the client).

  • Pingback: Productivity at the office: Cut down those meetings! | Innoveering

  • Pingback: BRICKS: Why you want to throw them in meetings : Meetings Improved

  • Pingback: Rethinking How We Lead Meetings | Transforming Leader

  • RonChapman

    A culture that says coming to net meeting with some of your action items not completed is not acceptable.

  • Pingback: 7 Rules for More Effective Meetings « diannebenaissa

  • Pingback: The SCN Encourager – Thursday, January 17, 2013 | The Encourager

  • Lydia Hachero

    its nice to start the meeting with a prayer followed by a certain quote or passage from the bible or encouraging words with a bit explanation that will strengthen the members to pursue the purpose of the meeting or to avoid misunderstanding or the like. . .
     

  • Pingback: So your meeting is necessary… Top 7 tips to get the most out of your meeting | SilverDane's Blog

  • http://www.meetinghero.com Dave Kashen

    Great post, Michael! I think another benefit of having an agenda is that people can make a more informed decision about whether or not to attend the meeting. In this day and age when people are constantly getting double-booked, it’s increasingly important to be able to appropriately prioritize your time. I also think too often people are unrealistic in setting agendas, and plan way too many topics or too ambitious outcomes for the time allotted. Better to tackle fewer items, and make sure to fully resolve each of them with clear decisions, next steps and accountabilities. I wrote a post on How to create an effective agenda – http://www.meetinghero.com/blog/how-to-create-an-effective-meeting-agenda/ – would love to hear what you think!