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Make Meetings Work: Three Leadership Tips

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“We meet all the time, but we never seem to make progress. Why do I have to keep covering old ground with my team?”

I’ve heard versions of this comment many times from business owners. If you feel the same, you’re not alone – more than 25 million meetings take place in the United States each week, with some estimates as high as 55 million per week.

It’s easy to recognize the symptoms of ineffective meetings: off-topic or sidebar conversations, multitasking, complaining or pointing the blame for work that hasn’t been done at external barriers.

Unproductive meetings also have a substantial ripple effect on businesses. A study of 182 senior managers conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina revealed these insights:

  • 65 percent felt that meetings kept them from completing their own tasks
  • 64 percent saw meetings as compromising their need for “deep thinking” about the business

Conducting effective meetings takes more than an agenda, although that’s a good start. Here’s how to apply three key leadership skills to your team meetings.

Set the Tone

The most important objective for a meeting is a discussion that leads to decisions. Set the stage for your team by using the following tactics.

  • If you hold a weekly meeting, respect a regular schedule. Expect the same commitment from your team.
  • Start and stop at the same time each week.
  • Re-set the objective (discussion leading to a decision) when individual agendas or politics surface.
  • Go “around the horn” for input periodically, to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Set the Expectations

Meetings are often unproductive because the time allotted for discussion is inadequate. When it comes to topics, less can be more.

  • Identify two or three areas for discussion and decisions, and send them in advance to your team.
  • Frame the topics and your agenda as questions that the team needs to answer.
  • Begin discussions with questions such as: “What do we need to adjust?” or “What are our options?”
  • Set and honor time allotments for discussion.

Raise the Bar and Keep it High

Let individuals or sub-teams do their jobs, but don’t let them use meetings to do individual work.

  • Use meeting time specifically for collaborative discussion and decisions.
  • When individuals bring up their own assignments in a meeting, suggest that they work on them outside of the meeting.
  • Only assign follow-up activities and due dates that are focused on the decisions you’ve made.

Your team will form their attitudes and behaviors about meetings from you. Want better meeting outcomes? Get better at leading them.