Leading meetings, when implemented correctly, can be a positive thing. But most meetings end without any tangible outcome and are deemed a waste of time. In this guide, we’ll show you why you should have a meeting, how to prepare for it and how to lead one for maximum effect, so you spend more time out of them, rather than in them.
Here’s the quick answer on leading meetings effectively: Although there is a standard way of leading meetings, it does depend on the intended outcome you want to achieve from it. Start by clarifying the goal of your meeting. Once you’ve done this, set a good agenda. This keeps people on point and saves time lost to waffle. Ensuring people come prepared to the meeting, and facilitating it with energy, are critical requirements. Facilitate feedback sessions and interaction; mix things up by changing the meeting location or having a meeting standing up, so you can keep it short and to the point. At the end, always focus on agreeing actions, owners and due dates, as well as when the next follow up date will be to track progress of actions.
The rest of the article will show how to conduct great meetings in a little more depth, so you can hit the ground running.
Leading Meetings – Why Have Them?
Though much of the workplace has been digitized and decentralised, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic, the need for meetings have not died down. They still serve the following purpose:
Defining the Team
Meetings are the best way to define a work group and its dynamics. The people who are invited to the meeting are a part of the group, targeted with achieving a shared goal.
Meetings can also help to create bonding by increasing communication. When you have effective meetings, they can positively improve team relationships. In a small research study by Simone Kauffeld and Nale Lehmann-Willenbrok, they identified that good meetings enhance team productivity and effectiveness. More importantly, poor meetings where teams criticise and where actions aren’t clear, has a huge negative impact on team dynamics and performance.
Meetings are the best place to share knowledge among team members. Knowledge is a shared resource and hence, meetings help the team to identify challenges, ideas for improvement and share lessons learned.
This platform allows people to support each other as well as learn from mistakes, so the team learns as a group setting. They can even act as a soundboard for new ideas and advice.
Convergence of Individual Objectives with Collective Goals
Meetings are where the group members interact and figure out how their individual responsibilities come together to contribute towards achieving the common goals of the team and the organisation.
They play a key role in allowing the team to understand where each team member is in terms of their agreed actions and tasks. For instance, TE Connectivity, a Global Electronics Manufacturer, calls their daily team meetings “GO Meetings”, which stands for Get Organised. Each day, their teams come together to understand what’s being worked on and where each team member is regarding their tasks and actions.
Agree and Commit to Actions
This is perhaps the most important function of leading meetings. When you need to achieve a way forward and make a decision, team meetings allow you to identify who is doing what by when?
In other words, meetings allow you to agree the way forward. Good meetings then follow up with agreeing who will own the action(s), and when they think they can get it done by.
If this critical part is missed, then meetings are a waste of time and resort to nothing more than a talking shop.
Types of Meetings and Their Objectives
There are different types of meetings that you may be required to run. Here are the common Ones.
1: Informative Meetings
These are meetings meant for dissemination of information. They largely aim to educate the attendees about a particular topic or something important.
Typically, these meetings are in the form of lectures, presentations or debates, and town hall meetings discussing business performance.
- By the end of the meeting, the team members should clearly understand the message and learning points of the meeting.
- There should be no confusion as to what the information presented meant and the next steps to take to help reinforce learning. In fact, when you are teaching something, research highlights that you need to implement it quickly in order for you to embed the skill in your mind. It’s important to be clear what the audience needs to do next to implement what they’ve heard.
2: Status Update Meetings
Here, discussions revolve around the progress of work, any roadblocks in the way, upcoming deadlines or any issues that may appear in the near future.
The objective is to find solutions to impediments to flow and agree what needs completing by when, so things run smoothly.
- Gain insight into the progress of the project
- Understand the roadblocks the team face or may face soon
- Take appropriate actions to overcome these hurdles and get back on track
- Decision Making Meetings
3: Decision Making Meetings
These meetings are held when the leader has to make a decision on something of importance, based on the inputs from the team members.
For instance, approval of a new project, or closing down of a particular product line are decisions taken based on the discussion held in a decision making meeting.
- Ensure that the point-of-views of all the participants have been heard and duly considered
- Everyone in the team has thoroughly understood the various issues at hand
- All the options available are discussed and understood before the decision is taken
- Team commitment to the decision taken – these decisions can be taken on a team voting basis
- Determine the responsibility and accountability of putting the decision into action – Again, focus on “Who is doing what by when.”
4: Problem Solving Meetings
Problem solving meetings are similar to decision making meetings, but the difference lies in the fact that here, the decisions here are not necessarily strategic.
They involve overcoming a problem. The problems are often process issues, where the team follows structured problem solving, in view of implementing permanent corrective actions. By doing this, they overcome a problem and put it to bed, so it doesn’t happen again.
- Identifying the solution / agreeing actions to get to work to identify solution to the particular problem
- Allocation of responsibility among team members to implement the solution or actions
- Fix a timetable or deadline to implement root cause fixes
- Develop a suitable safeguard to ensure that the problem does not recur.
5: Innovation Meetings
These meetings are largely to crowdsource innovative ideas amongst the team. The ideas may be a new way to perform a certain task, a new Kaizen idea or ideas for a new product altogether.
They can be conducted as brainstorming sessions. You would need team members with a creative outlook to contribute effectively to Innovation meetings, but they can create ideas that individuals may not have even thought of on their own.
- Generate a large repository of ideas quickly
- Team members should think out of the box and push the limits of their creativity
- Create excitement about the new prospects that will urge them on to take it further
- Understand the next steps to take forward
6: Team Building Meetings
Although you have the scope to introduce team building elements in every meeting that you conduct, these meetings are specifically meant to create bonding within a team.
Great teams come together regularly to hold team building sessions. They are excellent ways to improve communication and relationships.
- Building trust among the team members
- Strengthen the sense of belonging to the group and its objectives
- Developing commitment amongst the group and towards each other
Key Elements of a Meeting
Generically, a meeting can be divided into three stages
1. Planning for the Meeting
To plan a meeting effectively, you should first answer the question – Why, Who, What, Where and When?
You must have a clear idea as to what purpose the meeting is supposed to serve. Set a clear set of goals for the meeting and follow the SMART criteria. The goals should be
Clearly define your goals. For instance, “Give ideas for a better product” is a non-specific goal. Your goal should be specific about the aspects in which you want the new product to be better.
Your goals should be quantifiable and tangible.
Do not set unachievable goals for the outcome of the meeting. For example, for a start-up, an achievable target could be to break even in 2-3 years. But setting a target of $100 million profit in the first year is an unachievable target.
The goals of your meeting should be bounded by reality. To expect a meeting to yield ideas to set up a lunar colony in 5 years is an unrealistic goal.
You should set a time limit for achieving the objectives from the meeting.
For instance, let us assume that we constantly encounter 60% defective parts when producing XYZ product. The goal of the kickstart meeting could be this:
“To identify and discuss the roadmap we need to take, to reduce 60% defective parts on the XYZ product to less than 5% within 6 months.”
Once you have established the objectives of your meeting, you need to figure out who are the relevant stakeholders for the meeting’s objectives. It’s important to get the right people there.
At the same time, do not overcrowd the meeting by inviting those irrelevant. In order to pick the right team, think of the skills and experience you need to get the job done. These can be people from other departments, who can see things from another angle.
Appropriate skills could consist of:
- Technical knowledge
- Experience in the process
- Problem solving skills
- Ability to get the data and analyse it
- Ability to help facilitate sessions
It’s now time to set an agenda.This lists out the various items to be discussed, the topics to be covered and the flow of the meeting.
A good agenda allows the team to target discussions and avoid going off topic.
Ensure everyone knows the agenda, so they can prepare before the meeting and actively engage during it.
Here are some additional pointers:
- Make a list of the accessories you would require to conduct the meeting and arrange them in time for the meeting. If you need visual aids such as projectors or whiteboards, make sure you get them ready before the start of the meeting.
- DO NOT waste time in the meeting adjusting the focus of the projector or looking for whiteboard markers.
- Make sure you don’t overcrowd your agenda for the meeting. Try to keep the meeting focussed on a single issue. Leave enough white space to encourage spontaneous discussions during the meeting and a question-answer session at the end .
Don’t pack the meeting time out. If the meeting ends ahead of schedule, there is no harm in allowing the participants to leave. Everyone loves some time off!
The next thing to plan is the venue for the meeting. Although most meetings are held in designated meeting rooms in offices, millennials prefer to meet out in the open. So, depending upon the attendees, don’t shy away from taking your meeting out of the office walls to a coffee shop or some other popular hangout zone.
Options could include:
- In meeting rooms
- In communal areas
- Outside in the open
- Stand up meetings
The aim is to make the meeting energetic and not mundane. Standing up, means you get through the meeting faster, as no one likes to stand around for too long!
Doing it in the sun also has its benefits and could spruce things up too.
Meetings scheduled at the end of the day or just after lunch are often the hardest to make effective.
Most people are either naturally tired after lunch; and eager to get home with one eye on the clock, towards the end of the day.
At the same time, holding a lengthy meeting at the beginning of the day can eat into the most productive hours for employees.
Here are some tips:
- It has been found most productive to reserve the early morning hours for a brief 15-20 minutes meeting
- Lengthier meetings can be scheduled around the 10-11 am
- Or try to aim for around the 3 pm timeline, when your employees often feel more energised.
2. Conducting the Meeting
When leading meetings, you must conduct it in manner so as to maximise the benefits and outcomes. Never leave a meeting ambiguous in terms of why the team are here and what to do next.
Present the Goals and Agenda
At the pre-set, lay out the objectives of the meeting and the agenda (Step 1). Although the attendees have already been made aware of these, it’s good practice to repeat, so the meeting can stay on point.
Reiterating them helps to bring the focus on what clearly needs doing.
Open on a Positive Note
Instead of starting the meeting with a negative attitude or unfavourable news, it is better to start the meeting on a positive note. This can be by celebrating a certain achievement of objectives or congratulating a member for some personal achievement.
If it’s a problem solving meeting, you could even start by confirming your excitement at finally getting this thing sorted, thanking the team in advance.
Engage the Team
Be energetic. If a meeting becomes a monologue, it soon turns boring. The secret to successfully leading meetings is to engage the team and get them to take part. This can be done in numerous ways.
The best way to engage the participants is to give them a problem and ask them to brainstorm possible solutions. Brainstorming is a great tool to quickly get the team to throw their shackles off and identify as many ideas to a problem, solution or situation, quickly.
Encourage each of the participants to quickly teach something to the others. This is an effective tool for knowledge sharing and team building. Teaching points can be brief and to the point, but are great ways to to learn and encourage team insight.
Ask the team to take the lead as you facilitate. Get them to work together as you capture ideas on post-it notes or on the whiteboard.
While they are putting forward their inputs, give them your full attention, regardless of how bizarre a solution may sound. You never know from where a brilliant idea might emerge.
Use Visual Aids
Adding an attractive presentation or some other form of visual aid, like graphs to show data, can enliven a meeting.
A live demonstration of a product will be way more interesting than a lecture about its utility.
keep all distractions to the bare minimum, limited to the most severe emergency.
Put your phone on silent and don’t keep checking it every other minute. It is helpful to set a priority list of a few numbers on your phone to limit the people who can contact you during a meeting.
Having your undivided attention will create a sense of belonging among the other participants. Only when you strictly follow this, can you urge others to do the same.
Sense of Humour
When leading meetings, a subtle sense of humour can help to lighten the mood and refresh everyone. But the humour should not be at the expense of other participants or departments. Remain respectful and lead by example.
In some instances, you could engage in ice breakers or even quick team building games. These act as great ways to break the corporate mindset and just have a bit of fun for a few minutes.
If a meeting is supposed to be a lengthy one, plan your breaks strategically to align them with the flow of the meeting. They should be scheduled at the end of an intense discussion so that the team members can think it over during the break.
Keep Improving – Take Notes
Most of the spontaneous discussions and bright ideas brought up in the course of a meeting are lost due to lack of a written record.
Keep a note of the following:
- all the questions raised
- all the solutions proposed and the reasons for ones that may have been discarded
These will help you summarise them in minutes of the meeting later and share it with all the team members.
With permission of the attendees, you could even record the meeting for posterity.
Lead by Example
Hold your poise throughout the meeting and demonstrate the characteristics of the inspirational leader that you are.
There should be no use of unparliamentary language, no crass remarks, no off colour jokes, no criticism of fellow team members, no badmouthing of the organisation or other departments.
Think of the impression you wish to leave as a leader and conduct every meeting thinking about how it affects your values.
3. Concluding the Meeting
While closing the meeting, you must ensure that the objectives of the meeting have been achieved with unambiguity.
Take note of areas that could have been improved.
- Did someone talk off topic and you allowed it to happen?
- Did the team dwell too much on one thing when they should have moved on to the next point, earlier?
- Did the meeting overrun?
- Was the meeting low on energy and did you direct too much instead of encourage group participation?
Reviewing what worked and what didn’t will help you develop your meeting facilitation skills.
You must also make sure that the decisions taken at the meeting are translated into action.
For this, you need to do the following before you end.
Review the Action Items
Reiterate the decisions that were taken and the course of action determined. I prefer to write all actions and decisions on a white board or flip-chart, and then run through them.
At this point, I confirm that every action has an owner and a due date for completion.
Once you’ve got this, remind everyone of the responsibilities allocated to them and then agree the follow up date.
Human memory is short lived. Once a meeting is concluded, there are chances that the discussions may soon be forgotten. Hence, draft the minutes of the meeting and share it with all the participants, and do it quickly while it’s fresh in the memory.
Confirm the follow up meeting so there is a greater chance of the actions getting completed when agreed.
Here’s a mindmap to help visualise the key points to leading meetings with purpose.
There are many different types of meetings in the business world. When leading meetings, the trick is to keep them laser focused. Be clear in what you want out of each meeting and allow everyone to be crystal clear, too.
Nobody should come to a meeting unarmed with the data they need. Encourage everyone to prepare for it.
Once we have clarity, try to engage the team and become the facilitator. This means it’s not about you directing. It’s about the team engaging and discussing things openly, as you ask questions and record key points.
Always ensure that when leading the meeting, the meeting is to the point, structured and flows with energy.
When you capture ideas and actions, confirm them and then agree owners and due dates for each one.
Don’t forget follow ups. These are important to ensure actions are completed when originally agreed.