I’ve sat in hundreds of meetings over the years, if not thousands. Some of them have been great meetings—productive, encouraging, and full of interaction—but the vast majority have frankly been boring and perfunctory. Now to be fair, I’ve led some of those meetings myself, so I’m not just throwing former supervisors under the bus. I’ve been a part of bad meetings in a wide range of environments, from faculty meetings to volunteer meetings to staff meetings. All of them, regardless of the organization, have had highs and low—unfortunately far more lows.
Yesterday, I wrote about how having an uninspired team is probably the fault of the leader in some way. One of the common problems uninspired teams often have to deal with is that the leader is failing to cast vision, and the meetings themselves are simply sucking time and energy from the team. Even great leaders can conduct bad meetings if they don’t understand the true purpose for those meetings.
Over the years I’ve managed to learn a lot of don’t when it comes to meetings. I thought I’d try to synthesize my thoughts in two lists. First, let’s look at the negatives.
How NOT to Conduct Meetings
- Don’t have meetings for the purpose of sharing calendars. You and your team should be using some kinds of online group calendar such as Google Calendar to share relevant dates and deadlines.
- Don’t have meetings to “make sure everyone’s on the same page.” You should be using project management software like Basecamp, Asana, or Smartsheet to keep your team on track.
- Don’t spend endless amounts of time in large group brainstorming sessions. Cultivate and encourage small group brainstorming and individual creative thought among your team. Stress that you have an open door policy when it comes to hearing ideas that anyone on the team is allowed to take advantage of.
- Don’t have meetings to lecture or micromanage your team. If this is happening most of the time in your meetings, then one of three things is true. You either don’t trust your team to do their job, you hired the wrong people for the job, or you haven’t effectively led your team.
- Don’t allow rambling or rabbit trails to take over your meeting. We all like to have fun, and most of us like to hear ourselves talk about ourselves, but don’t let personal reflections, funny interjections, or passing thoughts derail forward motion. Encourage everyone—including yourself—to keep it relevant so you can all get back to work.
- Don’t ever discipline an employee in a meeting. Disciplinary issues should be done in private or in the presence of relevant supervisors. This is true even if you feel the need to address an issue with your entire team or a subset of your team. Post reminders on a team bulletin board or communicate issues via email.
- Don’t allow your meeting to extend for more than an hour. Even if you haven’t covered everything on your agenda, don’t push through for the sake of completeness. You should front-load your meetings with the most pressing topics and work your way toward less critical items. When the hour is up, assign some “thought homework”to your team and dismiss. Save what went unsaid for the next meeting or send an email to the team about the remaining issues and encourage followup discussion. Please note that this applies to weekly meetings. If your meetings are less frequent, you’ll likely need more than an hour, but be sure to expedite things nonetheless.
So if you don’t synchronize calendars and projects or spend lots of time discussing business, what is the point of having a meeting? What should you be doing in a meeting? Here’s what I think.
How To Lead a Great Meeting
- You should cast your vision. It’s almost impossible to talk about your vision and goals too much with your team. If you’re passionate about what you and your company do, passionate about what you stand for, it should show. It should be hard to shut you up about your vision, and you should never be embarrassed about talking about your vision all the time. Over-communicate your vision to your team.
- You should be duplicating yourself. Meetings are the perfect time to teach your team, to share what you know, to help them learn, to help them be a success by becoming the best they can be. Share what winning looks like and how it can be achieved. Share about your failures and how you’ve overcome some and still struggle with others. If you want your business to be successful, then it’s your job to help your team be successful.
- You should be encouraging and inspiring your team. Not every meeting needs to be all about business. Sometimes it’s good to just load them up and take them out for lunch, or go for a ride on your boat, celebrate this month’s birthdays—do something fun. This is an obvious area where smaller and individual meetings will have more impact.
- You should be using meetings for creative thinking. Yes, have brainstorming sessions, just don’t let them run too long or get off track. There’s no rule that says you have to oversee their creative process. Gather the team, present your idea or problem, then unleash them to find creative solutions. Free them from the constrains of an official meeting period to go out and find what you’re looking for.
- You should be recognizing excellence. When an employee does a great job, you should make a big deal out of it. As much as discipline should be private, praise should be public and lavish—as long as it’s genuine. Don’t ever let it deteriorate into a means of showing favored status to a select few. Give it to everyone who earns it.
- You should be holding Q&A sessions. These might be planned or impromptu teachable moments. Whenever or however they happen, you should be taking time to regularly field questions from your team. Make sure your team knows that pretty much nothing is off limits, as long as it’s done in a respectful and relevant manner. Even if a team member questions your methods, you’ll find great benefit. It’s possible they truly don’t understand why you make decisions the way you do, so you can teach them your reasoning, or it may come to light that you really haven’t thought things through or there is a better way. Q&A sessions are as much for your benefit as your team’s.
- You should keep meetings short. In my opinion, there’s a diminishing return when a meeting is longer than an hour, even if it’s been a great session. Know when less is more and cut your meetings off. Do this consistently enough, and your team will come to each meeting more focused, knowing there’s a limited amount of time available, so they need to make the most of every moment.
I believe if you shift your thinking and approach about the purpose of your team meetings, you’ll soon have a team that begins to perform like rockstars!
Tell us about some great meetings you’ve sat through. What made them great? What made them so beneficial and memorable? Let us know in the comments.
I’m Jeff M. Miller, and I help ordinary people who are stuck in a rut change their behaviors so they can be extraordinary. I’m an entrepreneur who retired from my full-time job in my early 40s to work from home. I’m a financial counselor, life coach, graphic designer, and passionate believer in helping others improve their lives a little more each day.