How Can My Leaders Plan More Effective Meetings?

Anyone who has ever attended business meetings has endured more than one that challenges patience and accomplishes very little. Sitting through a meeting that seems like a waste of time is a tedious event that harms leader-employee relations, productivity, and the organizational culture. Looking at it from that perspective clarifies that investing in leadership training on planning and running effective meetings is of critical importance.  

Yet, most leaders are not trained on the best practices for planning and running effective meetings and are left to stumble through as best they can, leaving them wondering why people are unprepared, arriving late, not participating, and/or failing to meet goals. Planning and running effective meetings is not difficult when following guidelines known to work concerning meeting purpose, desired outcomes, and schedule. 

Planning and Running Effective Meetings

Are your leaders trained on running meetings, and have they trained employees to participate in meetings, show up on a webinar, or attend a zoom call? That’s a question Cameron Herold, author of Stop Having Meetings That Suck, asks. When the answer is no and no, his response is this. Maybe meetings don’t suck after all. Maybe we suck at running meetings.  

Planning and running a successful meeting is a leadership core skill, yet we seldom consider it a skill that needs development. Instead, senior leaders, managers, and supervisors do the best they can, which is often not adequate. An unsuccessful meetings tend to lower productivity and leaves attendees with a feeling the organizational culture that tolerates poor performance.

What makes an unsuccessful meeting? Sometimes, the indications the meeting isn’t going to go well are apparent before the meeting starts. Employees who make comments like the following are essentially saying the meeting is not well-planned.  

  • “Now, where is this meeting located?”  
  • “What time are we supposed to be at the meeting?”  
  • “What’s this meeting about?”  
  • “Who called this meeting?” 
  • “Was I supposed to do something ahead of time?” 
  • “What should I bring to the meeting?” 

Leaders who are good at planning and running effective meetings have developed core meeting skills. Getting promoted into a leadership position doesn’t mean a manager or supervisor suddenly knows how to plan and run a productive meeting. He/She may be good at one-on-one meetings with employees but not good at larger meetings.  

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What Makes Meetings Productive

Any time two or more people are in person, on the phone, attending a webinar, or meeting remotely, they are meeting. Every business has meetings regularly because bringing people together to communicate is a way to accomplish one of three goals, per Herold: 

  • Share information 
  • Hold creative 
  • Get consensus 

If a meeting is called, it indicates the purpose is important enough to ask people to interrupt their work and attend. As Patrick Lencioni wrote in the book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, “No action, activity or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting… Good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity, and communication.” Of course, some meetings are more important than others, but every meeting needs to be productive while positively serving the organization. 

Good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity, and communication. #effectivemeetings #meetings

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How To Tell a Business Meeting is Not Well Planned 

Unfortunately, many meetings stink. Your manager calls a meeting. The first thing that happens is some employees arrive late, and the leader either waits to start the meeting or stops for a minute each time to let each person gets settled. It’s even worse if it’s the leader who shows up late. Herold believes people showing up late for a meeting shows massive disrespect for the person holding the meeting and the other attendees. People who believe it’s acceptable to show up late were either not properly informed of the meeting start time, are chronically late, or work in an organization where such behavior is acceptable

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Looking at meeting behavior from this perspective gives a whole new meaning to effective meeting planning. Why? Because the leader planning the meetings has contributed to an organizational culture in which disrespect is acceptable behavior.  

  • The time was not properly communicated to all attendees, or 
  • The meeting time was changed one or more times, leaving people confused, or 
  • The leader has a reputation for starting meetings late, or 
  • The leader didn’t coordinate the time with other organizational meetings 

This is used to demonstrate that planning effective meetings is a broader issue than scheduling a meeting. It has an impact on people, culture, and organizational effectiveness. Its efficiency and success reflect on the level of leadership communication skills and the amount of respect between the leader and attendees.  

Key Elements of Planning Effective Meetings 

Cameron Herold says there are three essential elements when it comes to planning effective meetings.

  • Purpose: What is the specific purpose of the meeting? Why is this meeting important enough to hold, and how does it contribute to organizational success? 
  • Outcomes: What are the expected outcomes for each topic? Outcomes will vary depending on the purpose of the meeting. Is it to gather information, generate innovative ideas or gain consensus on an organizational change, project, or process?  
  • Meeting Agenda: The agenda needs communication precision. “Don’t go down a rabbit hole,” says Herold, meaning the meeting agenda should indicate when it will start, the topics that will be discussed, the order of the topics, and the time allotted to each topic.  

Setting the meeting agenda and outlining the meeting summary becomes the next most important step in running effective meetings with a clear purpose and expectations for outcomes. President and CEO of QualCare Inc. Annette Catino says, “Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there, because if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting. It’s very important to me to focus on people and to keep them focused, and not just get in the room and talk about who won the Knicks game last night.” 

A well-planned meeting agenda brings focus to the meeting, and focus is critical to having a successful, effective meeting. The agenda: 

  • Drives the discussion 
  • Keeps attendees focused on the main purpose and desired outcomes or goals 
  • Designates the allotted time for each agenda item to keep the discussion on track  
  • Indicates the information needed 
  • Indicates minimum participation expectations for participants 
  • Informs meeting participants of the expected time commitment 
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Leadership Behaviors Determining Meeting Effectiveness 

Meetings can easily become black holes of unproductiveness. Steven G. Rogelberg is the Chancellor’s Professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and he writes and speaks on leadership, meetings, and other business topics. He reports that research has found that 90 percent of people daydream in meetings, and 73 percent of people use meeting time to do other work.  

He found that leaders consistently rate their own meetings more favorably than the attendees do in his research. A survey of more than 1,300 managers found that 79 percent believed their meetings were extremely or very productive, but only 56 percent of attendees said the same thing.  

If planning effective meetings is a skill, what are the core elements of this skill? Following are guidelines for planning and holding effective meetings.  

  • Only invite the people who need to be there, requiring forethought.  
  • Clearly explain the focus and expectations of the meeting. 
  • Communicate the meeting time well in advance, asking for attendee confirmation to promote commitment 
  • Communicate the agenda 
  • Keep time allotments in alignment with the topic’s importance and complexity. 
  • Require some type of preparation, like reading a book with a relevant topic or preparing information that will help keep the topic discussions on target 
  • Start on time and don’t wait for or stop for late arrivals, no matter the person’s position in the organization (employee training on meetings can take place at another time) 
  • Always stay on topic and within the topic timeframe, maintaining focus throughout the entire meeting. 
  • Allow for participant dialogue, ensuring everyone is included in the conversation.
  • Encourage people to speak up, challenge ideas or the status quo, and share observations.  
  • End the meeting as planned and always on time 

Be Open To Ideas From Others

Leonard Karakowsky conducted a study, and found that in most meetings, senior leaders were more aggressive and vocal than others. What the study found was that this destroyed any chance of innovation inside the company, because the more the rest of the group disagreed, the louder and more aggressive the senior leader would become. This leads to an environment where the only ideas in the room ever being shared are theirs. Obviously, this doesn’t prove to be effective.

There are two solutions to this that we can think of, but both involve being open and listening to other members of your team. The first is kind of creative, but will give you really unique insight into whatever problem or issue you’re trying to solve. Suppose this is a technical problem, maybe you’re trying to figure out what to do with a certain page on the company website. After “brainstorming” with the design team, and not having any luck, try going to someone or a group of people in a completely different department. This might seem like a crazy idea at first, but you’d be surprised at what kind of insight they could give you. And treat them like they were the design team, meaning take them through the entire problem from beginning to end, as if they were the ones responsible to solve it.

The second idea is to create a space where employees can feel safe to say anything and not be judged. Not only create this space, but actively communicate that this is the case, and encourage anyone and everyone to participate. Once you remove the fear element, people will be much more likely to come up with creative ideas to help solve problems.

Even if your organization isn’t flat, try to make the next meeting space flat. As crazy as this sounds, encourage a low level employee to feel comfortable challenging an idea that a senior VP came up with. It’s through this type of open, transparent communication that real innovation happens.

Remember to keep your meetings short. If it’s something that will require a large amount of time, space it out into a few different meetings. First of all, constraint breeds creativity, and second, the mind loses focus after about 45 minutes.

Leadership Training Leads to Leadership Coaching 

Leadership training on running and planning effective meetings needs more depth than simply saying “do this or that.” The fact that, in surveys, so many attendees were in disagreement with their leaders concerning meeting productivity demonstrates an element of planning effective meetings, including how they are managed, requires increasing self-awareness and emotional intelligence. They need to get honest feedback from attendees, in addition to the leader giving feedback.  

Through leadership training, your managers and supervisors can facilitate more productive and successful meetings, which can lead to leadership as coaches of employees in between meetings. Your leaders can help train employees on how to attend meetings. The meetings with solid agendas have a purpose and are directly related to organizational goals. They can enable authentic employee voice on important matters, giving meeting leaders insights into employee creativity, thought processes, and work goals.  

If you need some help getting started, or are preparing for your next meeting, our team offer custom eLearning courses and leadership training solutions in regards to all aspects of leadership, from developing emotional intelligence to leading successful meetings in a way that promotes employee engagement. If your meetings are not producing the desired results, it’s a sign your managers and supervisors need leadership training. Contact our team of experts at IRI Consultants and we'll help you move forward and improve your workplace communication, connection, and collaboration.

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.