How to Run a Meeting in 3 Steps

I can’t count how many articles and posts there are about “How to Facilitate an Effective Meeting,” yet we so rarely see it done well.  Why is this? The only answer I can come up with is that, as human beings tend to do, we overcomplicate matters and look past the obvious answers.  We also are quite forgetful, abandoning the lessons we learned and forsaking the discipline of ensuring we execute every best practice, every time.  

Steps for Learning How to Run a Meeting

1. Prepare for the meeting.

I like to shoot from my hip more than I’d like to admit.  But a meeting will end up being a waste of time if even one participant is not prepared.  That’s right. It’s not just the leader’s job to prepare. If there were agreed upon action items from the last meeting, each participant should be prepared to provide an update on his or her action items.  And speaking of action items, as Patrick Lencioni reminds us in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, team members must hold each other accountable for group decisions.

Preparation also applies to sending the meeting agenda to participants ahead of time.  This is not just for the introverts in your group, though I promise they will be hugely grateful if you follow this practice.  Even the most extroverted, caffeinated of us in the room will provide better ideas if we’ve had a chance to mentally process and organize our thoughts beforehand.  

2. Have a meeting “Scribe.”

You can keep your pen and notebook, or your Evernote, or your One Note, or whatever else you prefer to document your action items on, but there should still be ONE designated scribe recording the group’s agreed upon action items following the simple format of: Who is going to do WHAT by WHEN?

Why is this?  Ever play the telephone game as a kid?  It’s amazing how different we may interpret what we hear in the room, however, if one person is recording using the format stated above, preferably visibly for everyone to see, we decrease the chances of misunderstanding. Another note about recording action items: I have found the key to this begins with recognizing what is, and is not, an action item. How many times have you heard someone comment about an idea, another agree it’s a good one, only for the conversation to quickly turn to other items, leaving an uncertainty around the previous good idea?  Was this just a good idea, or is it one we want to execute upon? If so, WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN?

Your meetings will be significantly more effective if someone is skilled at recognizing a possible action item and asking the group to commit to it, save it for later, or abandon it altogether. After the meeting, the Scribe should then share the meeting notes and/or action items with each participant.

The Performance Culture System makes it easy to facilitate effective meetings with Agendas:

  • Create a meeting agenda in the cloud and send to participants ahead of time with one-click.
  • During the meeting, the “Scribe” records action items in the “Action Items” section.  Go figure.
  • At the conclusion of the meeting, copy the agenda for the next meeting date. Participants can now add topics or notes to discuss at the next meeting, decreasing unnecessary emails throughout the week.

3. Don’t forget the Context.

I keep seeing this simple blunder come up.  Think about the context of your meeting, especially the day of your meeting. Fridays are typically a terrible day to have a productive, and specifically creative, meeting.  Your people have very little juice left at the end of the week and are already starting to mentally shut down. For goodness sake, move your team meeting to Monday or as early in the week as possible. This concept also applies to Check-Ins.  The goal of checking in with your direct report is to ensure alignment at the beginning of the week, addressing problems before they occur, not waiting to correct them in your “week in review.”  

It’s important to pay attention to the personality profiles and motivators of your team.  Do some of them highly value personal small talk before diving into the cold, hard facts? If so, consider discussing “Best Things” as the first topic. Each team member takes 1 – 2 minutes to share his or her one best personal and one best work-related thing that happened to him or her recently.  This practice builds trust and begins the meeting with a positive atmosphere.

And if your windowless office with uncomfortable chairs and no airflow is getting old, try changing the meeting site from time to time. Teammates with a high aesthetic motivator will gladly thank you and be amazingly more productive and engaged.

When it comes to facilitating effective meetings, none of these concepts are earth-shattering, but the discipline to follow them consistently is what will transform your waste of an hour into an effective, enjoyable meeting.