By Bob Pothier, director for Partners in Leadership and a former GE exec who works with leaders to create greater accountability across the work force and facilitates enterprisewide culture change. 

Meetings are a necessary evil. How you manage your meetings says a lot about how you're managing your organization. If you start late, spend a lot of time chitchatting, and wander around in your meetings with no specific outcomes, then your business likely runs the same way.

The strongest message about how you want your culture to perform is embedded in how you conduct your meetings.

Here are four ways you can develop more efficient and productive meetings that will, in turn, drive the right culture in your organization.

1. Start on time.

It sounds simple, and yet 95 percent of meetings don't start on time. When you don't start your meetings on time, you're sending several messages as a leader:

  • My time is more valuable than yours.
  • I'm OK with you sitting around doing nothing.
  • Schedules and deadlines are flexible.
  • Wait for me and my direction before acting.
  •  I'm OK with you being late and starting your meetings late.

Are those the messages you want your team to believe? Are you seeing those beliefs pop up in other areas of your business?

2. Have an agenda.

Having an agenda doesn't mean it needs to be printed and distributed prior to the meeting. Having an agenda means you have a specific meeting agenda and outcome in mind.

If the meeting gets off track, you bring it back to your agenda. If it gets off track on something more important and necessary, then you know how to adjust the agenda.

Regardless, you should be operating as someone who has a specific plan for the time spent with your people.

The following are some of the questions you should ask yourself as you prepare your agenda:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What information do I need to make a decision?
  • Have I invited the right people to attend?
  • Is this meeting even necessary?
  • Am I trying to do too much?

As you get in the habit of asking yourself these questions, the answers will come more quickly and naturally. 

3. Start with a "culture moment."

Organizations that proactively manage their cultures do so in every meeting. 

Use the start of your meeting to get your team aligned with your expectations for how people should be thinking and acting. You can't be everywhere, but your expectations should be.

Here are some suggestions for how to start those meetings:

  • Tell a story: "Let me start this morning by telling you how I saw Finance and Operations working together to advance this project ... "
  • Give recognition: "Before we start, I want to recognize Christy Jarvis for the extra effort she put in last weekend to make sure we got the numbers out on Monday ... "
  • Ask for stories or recognition: "Does anyone have a good story or someone we should recognize this week?"

When you talk about what you expect people to be doing, you will see more of it. Your people are always looking for clues as to what will please you.

But remember, keep it positive, not what you don't like seeing. There is already plenty of negative information floating around in most organizations.

4. End with a "who's-going-to-do-what-by-when" list.

If you've spent your time well in the meeting, you have some outcomes and next steps. Don't lose that productivity by assuming people know who is going to take the next action and by when. Be purposeful about it.

As you come up with next steps, ask "Who's going to take this action and when should you report back?" If no one steps up or it's not obvious, then you make the assignment. Here's some guidance on those to-do lists:

  • Assign tasks to individuals, not teams or functions.
  • Have a realistic deadline.
  • Hold your people accountable for their assignments.
  • Check-in along the way with those who have assignments.
  • Use the next meeting to get updates.

Meetings are only productive if they lead to timely actions that achieve results.

Everything you do drives your culture. Meetings are no exception. Make sure your meetings reflect the culture you want in your organization.

Published on: Jun 7, 2016