Meetings in organizations are often given a bad rap and treated as a necessary evil. When I hear statements like, “we have too many meetings” or “I am not getting anything done because I am always in meetings” or “the last thing we need is another meeting,” what we are really saying is that our meetings are not productive. This is a shame because performing our job and accomplishing various tasks requires us to interact and collaborate competently. In order for performance to be fluid outside of meetings, we need to exchange information, surface issues, remove obstacles and resolve challenges together while in them. There is no way around it. The irony is that we human beings are social creatures who are wired to connect and interact. When we skillfully marry this natural tendency with commonsense practical steps, we can engage in meetings that are effective, empowering and energizing.
The true culture of an organization is determined by how we interact; communicate with one another and how we treat each other – not just what we say we are. Therefore, how we execute as a company is connected with how effective our meetings are. What better way to evaluate our effectiveness than observe how we act and interact in our leadership meetings? Here are nine breakthrough practices that exceptional leadership teams utilize to conduct effective meetings:
1.Well begun is half done: Starting the meeting right is crucial. Most people enter meetings in a state of frenetic activity, with their minds occupied by events from the past or anxious about things that need to get done. When we are together it is important that we are fully present – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. We can’t afford not to be – it is way too expensive! We have to leave the baggage of the past behind and not be distracted by the worries and uncertainties of future. How do we accomplish this, and how can we get centered? Here are some ideas: (1) Observe a 30 second silence (2) Do a three breath check-in (3) Comment on an inspiring quote (4) Read a document (such as this one) about meeting guidelines or about information needed for the meeting (5) Do a quick check-in with all the attendees (6) Conduct two minute gratitude meditation.
2.Establish Purpose and Agenda: Without a clear purpose and focused agenda people get pulled in different directions and discussions veer off track. It is difficult to accomplish anything. No wonder we feel empty and end up with more confusion and more work at the end of such meetings. It is important to establish or reiterate the purpose of the meeting. Similarly, set or confirm the agenda before getting started. Take the time to incorporate new thoughts and suggestions. Pause and get verbal as well as non-verbal acknowledgement from all participants.
3.Agree on guiding values and principles: What does it take to get full participation and buy-in from the high powered, expensive and bright minds in the room? Involve everyone in identifying the guidelines such as: listening, respect, transparency, and mutual accountability. The trick is to adhere to these guidelines throughout the meeting and catch ourselves when we are not.
4.Address tensions: A great way to dive into addressing critical challenges and problems is to identify obstacles that are holding us back. The difference between a good team and an exceptional team has less to do with individual skill and work ethic, and more to do with managing and addressing differing styles, opinions and perspectives directly and constructively. Taking the time upfront to pinpoint top of mind concerns and tensions goes a long way in improving trust and alignment. This sets the foundation for authentic conversations throughout the rest of the meeting.
5.Make progress on major challenges: As leaders our primary job is to address and resolve major obstacles. We have to tackle difficult personnel challenges, surface hidden and passive conflicts, and address concerns regarding areas of responsibility and accountability. It is essential not to get bogged down with minutiae and to avoid the natural tendency to start solving problems right there. Most functional and technical challenges can be delegated. This is not the place to solve all problems; instead we identify the steps and actions to take in order to make progress.
6.Be decisive – Make decisions: This is one of the key benchmarks to gauge the success of meetings. When we don’t make decisions, we don’t make progress. There is no right or wrong way to make decisions – our focus should be on determining the most effective process for our team. Do we agree to a top down or hierarchical approach? Do we like the majority decision to prevail? Do we like to empower the leader responsible? Consistent execution of the process we agreed to is the key here. We have to call each other out when we don’t adhere to what we agreed upon. It is important for those in positions of authority to demonstrate humility and for subordinates to display courage if we want empowered and accountable decisions. It is critical not to force consensus by compliance. We have to encourage debate and express different viewpoints, so that every member of the team agrees to support and vigorously execute the final decision.
7.Facilitate skillfully – Tap into the collective intelligence: We have to make sure to get the most out of the horsepower in the leadership team. We have to facilitate skillfully to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. Some of us need to be reined in and others prodded to offer our opinion, especially if it is contrarian. This is worth the time and effort to get buy-in. Our goal is not to be right but get to the right solution. When we feel heard it is amazing how unattached we can be to our perspectives.
8.Set Actions and Accountabilities: One of the most frustrating aspects of poor meetings is that we do not know what actions are being taken, when they are supposed to be completed and who is willing to be held accountable. We do not have a sense of accomplishment or even progress. To avoid this letdown, we should maintain an action item list with clearly defined actions along with due dates and responsibilities. This is an essential step, and a good way to close a meeting is by finalizing this document. We make this an ongoing process – we update status and review action items in the next meeting.
9.Check out on a high note: We diligently followed through the process and had a productive session, now let us close properly. We do not want to rush out, but let us celebrate our success and work to get even better next time. Runners and athletes know the importance of stretching after a good workout. Similarly, we take our time coming out of deep meditation. Now is a good time to ask participants how they are checking out. Do we feel more energized, accomplished and fulfilled as a result of this meeting? How can we improve and get even better? What worked and what didn’t?
Mastery is a matter of having the discipline to follow through on these simple guidelines consistently. When we master how to conduct and facilitate meetings, we have mastered the ability to align individual skills and strengths into a powerful cohesive force. This results in breakthrough improvement in Productivity, Performance and Profitability!