A Meeting Everyone Likes? Ways To Achieve This Impossible Dream

January 15, 2018

Meetings are a favorite target of complaints across all levels of an organization. Why is it so hard to have meetings that enthuse every participant?

The obvious response is that we often want different things.  Some prefer a highly structured, disciplined process of making rapid-fire decisions on a wide range of topics; others seek a free-wheeling discussion of current challenges and opportunities.  Some see the meeting as a time when the team comes together to get reconnected and bond; others see it as the opportunity to lobby for their pet project.  The list of differences is endless. It’s no wonder that most meetings result in some participants grumbling about the process and the outcome.

In reality, meetings will always have multiple purposes, which means that not everyone will be equally happy with the outcome(s).  Much good can come from a well-planned and conducted meeting.  The challenge is to structure and conduct meetings that fulfill the needs of most of the attendees.

The average leader spends about 15% of every week in formal meetings. How do we make the time we spend together be of maximum benefit to as many as possible? 

Effective Meetings Start With Good Agendas

  1. Take your time. The value of a meeting is greatly enhanced if time is spent on matters of importance. Ideally these are also topics that are of high interest to most group members. Time spent on carefully crafting an agenda will significantly elevate the value of the meeting. Fixed agendas, repeated exactly month after month, are a common culprit for ineffective meetings that waste everyone’s time.
  2. Consider the order. The most important agenda items should be placed first in case time runs short. To send the message that you care about the meeting’s content, circulate a draft agenda. Ask if all those items need to be discussed and what important issues may be missing.
  3. Clarify the purpose for agenda items. Is the objective merely to collect opinions, or does it call for a decision? Participants feel better when meetings produce a group of clear decisions.
  4. Suggest times for each topic. Creating aggressive time expectations not only establishes a cadence for the meeting and can assist in moving things ahead, but also signals the importance level of each topic.

Meetings Need An Active Driver.

 Once a strong agenda has been established, meetings need an active, involved person at the helm.

  1. Leaders set the pace. Leaders keep things on track by pulling the group back from sidetracks. They serve as the orchestra conductor, bringing in participants when their contribution is needed. Elon Musk reportedly invites group members who fail to participate to leave the meeting. While this could have unintended consequences, it does send the signal that participants are there to contribute and not to merely observe.
  2. Carefully manage the process. While every participant should be actively engaged in the content of the meeting, the leader is the one person who must also attend to its process. Consider: Are we on topic? Have we heard from all the people who possess important information?  Have all sides of the issue been heard?  The process the leader suggests should be driven by the objective. A decision on a complex question on which there is much data is extremely different than an open discussion on future industry trends.
  3. Utilize different methods for discussion. Leaders should not hesitate in getting ideas from other group members about methods that would be helpful in achieving the best outcome for the topic at hand. Various techniques, ranging from traditional brainstorming to asking each participant for the strategy they would use if they were a new competitor in your industry, can be helpful in opening the valve on new ideas.
  4. Set clear expectations for how decisions are made. For every subject at hand, it helps to be clear about how any decision will be made. Sometimes the leader is seeking opinions but will personally make the decision; sometimes the decision warrants a democratic vote.  It helps when people understand the ground rules.
  5. Infuse the meeting with energy. The leader’s emotions are highly contagious. Sharing your enthusiasm and passion can be uplifting for the entire group.

Improve The Process By Seeking Feedback

At the end of every meeting, ask the group what could be done to have future meetings be even more productive and efficient.  When the question is genuinely asked, participants can see the sincere desire to make every future meeting better than the last one.

A Word Of Caution

Most people believe that the best way to have a shorter meeting is to reduce involvement, based on the assumption that it takes more time. Leaders need to ensure involvement, and work to create a positive atmosphere where members feel they need to contribute. Part of that includes monitoring bad behavior of team members who make it difficult to have productive meetings. Leaders need to provide feedback to team members on behaviors that not only make meetings more successful, but behaviors that hurt meetings as well.


Consider the impact in your organization if every meeting were even just 15 minutes shorter and run more efficiently.  Having the ability to move meetings along quickly, controlling side conversations, taking issues that need more discussion off-line, and getting important decisions made will have a profound impact—it is the one of the bests gifts you can give this year!

–Dr. Jack Zenger