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6 Things You Need to Know About Leading a Meeting

If you don't know how to run effective meetings, your business, your organization, and your career are doomed.

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There's nothing worse than a bad meeting. You sit there grinding your teeth wondering why in the world you have to waste your time sitting through something that never should have happened in the first place.

The fact that we've all been there, sometimes weekly or even daily, doesn't make it any less annoying. It doesn't even begin to take the edge off that nagging thought that you could be making so much better use of your time.

But here's the thing. Meetings aren't just an unfortunate fact of business life. They're a hugely important fact of business life. They're how strategies are debated, budgets are vetted, projects are reviewed, and plans are agreed upon. They're how deals are negotiated and how they ultimately get done.

Not only are meetings the most efficient ways to get certain things done, they're the most effective tools for managing teams--if they're done right, that is.

I once calculated that I sat in more than 30,000 meetings during my 30-year career. Every type of meeting you can think of, from executive staff and board meetings to project reviews and strategy sessions. From one-on-ones to all hands operations reviews. From press interviews to customer meetings.

And you know what? I learned a lot about how to make meetings more effective. Here are 7 tips that I guarantee will make a big difference for you and your organization.

Learn this equation. No leader + no documentation + no follow up = waste of time. Every meeting has to have a leader, a stated purpose, a start and end time, and a valid reason for each and every person to be there. The leader documents conclusions, plans, action items, whatever, then follows up. 

Do you even know what you're doing? Every leader should know how to run effective meetings, like how to set ground rules for constructive engagement, how to use tools like Parking Lots to take issues offline, and how to bring people to consensus.

Have them in the afternoon. I once read in a Scott Adams Dilbert book (no, I'm not kidding) that people do their best work in the morning, so you should have meetings in the afternoon. I asked my staff and they agreed unanimously. Turned out to be a great move. Also most people are more relaxed after lunch. Don't ask me why.

Beware the hive mentality. I've worked with companies where executives were double and triple booked in meetings most days and managers were required to have weekly one-on-ones with their boss and staff (and monthly with peers). How in the world do CEOs expects their management teams to get anything done that way?

Lose the hallway meetings. Founders and other start-up executives are often fond of ad-hoc hallway meetings. The problem is that decisions are made without input from key stakeholders. Sometimes that's a smokescreen for passive-aggressive behavior. Other times it results in strategy du jour. Either way, it destroys organizational effectiveness.

Challenge the status quo. If you run a periodic staff meeting, occasionally ask your team what you can do to improve it and help make them more effective. You'll usually get at least one good suggestion. Not only that, but your folks will appreciate it.

 

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 21, 2013

STEVE TOBAK is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
@SteveTobak




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