5 Keys to More Successful Meetings

Start having more successful meetings today!
It’s not that I hate meetings. I just hate pointless meetings. You know the ones.

I’ve had a lot of meetings the last 4 ½ – 5 years. I have friends that work for big organizations that spend more time in meetings than they do actually doing work.

Meetings are disruptive. Sure they might break up a long Friday afternoon while you’re anticipating your weekend bar crawl, but most of the time they’re breaking up your train of thought, preventing you from finishing a report, or worse.

It’s my belief that 85% of meetings could be handled with a carefully crafted e-mail which respective parties could answer at their own convenience.

Everyone once in a while a meeting is necessary, and when they are there are FIVE things in my experience that greatly increase the likelihood of it being a success:

Understanding What Kind of Meeting You’re Attending

You would treat a “Just so everyone knows meeting,” a lot different than a “What does everyone think?” meeting. Gosh forbid you bother with “hanging out” or “hear myself talk” meetings. Where I disagree with Seth (Godin) is that I wouldn’t even bother with a “What are you up to” meeting either. I say skip the two minute explanations (most companies do 5-10 at least), and go straight to the compilation of what everyone’s doing in one nice e-mail.

Have Clear Expectations Going In

The leader of the meeting should let everyone know what the meeting is about in advance. This ensures that everyone has time to think about the meeting and come prepared. Though it’s not always necessary, having a supplemental agenda handout with preliminary topics and background information is rarely a bad thing.

Collaborate/Participate

Nobody benefits if one person is doing all the talking. Everyone involved should participate and collaborate. This way a wide variety of opinions and insights get heard. Everyone should follow suit and respect everyone else’s contributions. Good leaders welcome all insights up front without ridicule and then narrow down to a solution later. They also let the team members know they’re ideas are valued.

*Side note. Just because someone won’t shut up doesn’t mean they have all the answers. Encourage everyone to speak up, but respect those that require time to process what they’re thinking by not putting them on the spot right away.

Put a Time Limit On It

Most meetings don’t need more than a half hour. Exchange pleasantries later. People have work to do. When the time is up, the meeting is over. If you didn’t accomplish you’re goal you’ll plan accordingly next time won’t you?

Next Steps/Responsibilities

Everyone should walk out of the meeting with their next steps and what they need to accomplish. Someone should be responsible for sending out correspondence immediately after the meeting so that everyone has a solid reminder, and no excuse to not be accountable.

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So that’s what’s worked for me. What about you? Where am I wrong? What are some additional tips you have for having successful meetings?

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  • Also, if someone is needed for part of a meeting, but the rest isn’t relevant to them, let them peace out. No sense in wasting more time than you need to.
    .-= Jackie Adkins´s last blog ..Guest Post: Are You Ready for Mobile Advertising? =-.

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    admin Reply:

    Ah, good addition Jackie! I’d even add that if someone is preoccupied with a deadline or something more important than the meeting to let them take care of their business and debrief them later.

    Looking forward to your change of clothes on Monday.

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  • Ryan,

    Considering I recently wrote a post called “Why I think meetings are a f#$#n waste of time” I decided I had to respond to this. I am so in agreement with you about pointless meetings. I feel that meetings rarely accomplish much, unless they are planned before hand. I think meetings for the sake of meetings which many companies do are completely pointless. Most of what is accomplished in those meetings could be accomplished in a weekly email or even now using Google Wave. But, that’s just my two cents 🙂

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    admin Reply:

    I will definitely have to check out that post Srinivas! I think a lot of companies hide behind meetings. Someone is scared to make a decision so they consult others, or the company is scared to ship so they delay the process with unnecessary “what ifs” in a meeting.

    Just ship. Everything will be okay!

    You bring up an excellent point with respect to Google Wave. Let people contribute when it is convenient and makes sense for them. With all the collaborative cools online now (including the excellent suite of products the guys at 37 signals have created) it doesn’t make sense to waste valuable time in meetings.

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  • Ryan,

    Your advice is right on, especially the point about having clear expectations for action coming in and going out. It’s the only way to act with purpose.

    What really bothers me are meetings that are designed to pass information. With tools like email, message boards, Basecamp, whatever, I think there’s really no need. [I wrote an impassioned post on this once too. http://wordpost.org/2009/11/department-meetings-waste-of-time/ ]
    .-= Andrew Swenson´s last blog ..Why “iPad” is a brilliant name =-.

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    admin Reply:

    @Andrew – We’re totally on the same page when it comes to departmental meetings.

    To share with readers here. I agree 100% with Andrew’s post and particularly like this part, which I’ve excerpted here for your convenience:

    “Instead of pulling everyone together for a meeting in which people will inevitably get distracted and wander from topic (thus wasting even more of your time), using a forum (or other appropriate substitute – emphasis mine) allows you to quickly pass information to your team. Because it’s a forum, your team can quickly post any questions or comments for their sake and for the sake of the group.

    In this solution, there’s no endless string of reply-all emails and there’s a permanent record of information transfer (thus eliminating “you never told us that…”).

    In addition, project updates are simple to track because when progress happens, everyone on the team sees the update in real time.”

    Thanks for stopping by and contributing here Andrew. I hope you’ll stumble over here ever so often.

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    Andrew Swenson Reply:

    I’m glad I did stumble over here.

    Your “Staying on Top & the Gen Y Blogging Trend” was tremendously insightful, so I’ve added you to the 50-100 blogs *I* read every day.

    Thanks for quoting my post here too.

    Here’s to less and more purposeful meetings!
    .-= Andrew Swenson´s last blog ..Why “iPad” is a brilliant name =-.

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    admin Reply:

    @Andrew – I’m genuinely flattered to be added to what seems to be a pretty extensive, yet fairly exclusive list. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you in the future!

  • Probably what I enjoy most about being unemployed is not having to attend meetings. Time suck, no fun, and usually poorly ran.

    I’m seriously hoping that my next job allows me to telecommute everyday from home, so that I can avoid pointless meetings and I’ll only call into the most important meetings.

    Just another advantage of telecommuting.
    .-= Rich DeMatteo´s last blog ..Sorry, I probably won’t read your cover letter =-.

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    admin Reply:

    Whenever you’re ready to write a guest post on all the advantages of telecommuting. I think it’d be a big hit! 😉

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    Rich DeMatteo Reply:

    Is this you asking for a favor…?

    If so, I’m 100% game
    .-= Rich DeMatteo´s last blog ..Sorry, I probably won’t read your cover letter =-.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    It’s very rare that I ask people to guest post on RSM, but I’m trying to stray away from being so protective of this space. I’m thankful so many people actually care about my opinions and so I try to be super respectful of that fact and do my best to publish stuff they’ll get value from.

    That said, it’s asinine to think I know enough on my own to keep them engaged and it’s time to start bringing in some co-conspirators. I think you’re a perfect fit for this audience, and as I’ve mentioned previously, I think it’s a great topic that should garner a solid discussion.

  • Great post! I’m a PM and sometimes fall into the habit of having too many meetings with my team. If done correctly I think they can be beneficial, but usually they’re just a time suck.

    Check out this article I found helpful, “How to Run a Meeting Like Google” http://bit.ly/FK0c

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    admin Reply:

    @Sharman – I’m really glad you enjoyed the post, I think it’s awesome that you admit that you sometimes have too many meeting yourself. You’re absolutely right in that done correctly, meetings can be beneficial. The important thing is learning to (like Andrew said) to have less, yet more purposeful meetings.

    And I think the link you’ve shared is a great addition to this discussion. I’ve encountered it before, but it didn’t even occur to me to draw from it for this post.

    Cheers!

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  • A sordid little secret at many organisations: Many crucial decisions are made before the meeting even occurs. The meeting is still necessary though to give a public face to the buy-in of any decision. How I cut meetings short, especially if I run them: Decide what outcomes we need, what each delegate’s agenda/motivations are in affecting these and how we can get everyone to a stage where real progress is being made to get to the preferred outcome. Sometimes it’s as simple as listening to delegates’ concerns before the meeting starts so these can be addressed separately instead of taking up precious time. Nobody gets blindsided; side discussions and going off tangent are therefore avoided.
    .-= Alicia Kan´s last blog ..How To Pack Light For A Business Trip =-.

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  • Pingback: How to hold a productive marketing meeting | SB Siena()

  • Really appreciated this post. Good points, and great to see you going after your dreams. Did I see an Aggie hat in the background of one of your pics?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Thanks for the kind words Eddy. You did indeed see an Aggie cap in the background. I finished my Masters degree from A&M in 2008. I see you were class of ’98 and then got your graduate degree there as well.

    I love getting acquainted with fellow Aggies!

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  • One advantage of those “what’s everyone up to meetings” occurring in person (or even by phone) rather than email?

    People seriously under-estimate their capacity to be stupid.

    I know, this is a ground-breaking earth-shattering out of this world concept, but it’s unfortunately true. And I’ve discovered that I can go back and forth and back and forth with someone over email on a project but they just never seem to get it. So I call, read the email verbatim and ask if they have any questions. They then ask something extremely stupid that they NEVER typed because if they had the past 5 emails exchanges would NEVER have happened.

    Or maybe that’s just in my company… 🙂
    .-= Elisa´s last blog ..Love Happens – If You Let It =-.

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  • Thanks for the useful article! I have started an Entrepreneurs Club, and plan to run the meeting exactly as you mentioned it. The focus is on participation, moving forward together, and turning ideas into actions. Following your tips above will help us to have a meeting full of creative energy! Thanks! Julia

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  • Hi Ryan,

    I had a manager who, early in my career, advised if a meeting lasted more than an hour, then someone in the meeting wasn’t prepared. That’s always stuck with me and it’s very true.

    Thanks for your post. As a freelancer, meetings are great big black holes for me.

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  • Philip McLean

    I just realized something. I have been reading about time-wasting meetings and how to make them better for at least 25 years. Based on stories my dad told me about his career, they were making the same mistakes in the 1940s, and I’m suspicious that they were making the same mistakes with meetings in ancient Rome.
    So here’s my question: why do we keep doing it?

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  • Elyse

    I think it’s also important to make sure you have the right people at the meeting i.e. if the purpose of your meeting is to reach a decision on a particular topic, ensure that you have the person with the delegated authority to ‘sign-off’ on that decision.

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