“Most meetings are a waste of my time.” We hear this often. Too often. It’s as if people don’t know that a little structure goes a long way for wiser use of our most precious resources - our time and our people. For us, organizational coach-consultants, the meeting is to management what the patient examination is to the brain surgeon. You learn what’s going on, you decide what you’ll do and then you follow up. A good meeting is key if we want to have high performance organizations. Meetings, like patients, vary in size and shape. There can be no recipe. Still here are our handful of simple practices that clients find transformative, even though our coaching is rarely directly about meetings! Meetings are powerful learning labs. For now let’s think about the most common team meeting of 3-13 people meeting regularly:

Do you share an action oriented agenda in advance? Advance agendas signal the purpose as well as start and finish times. Distinguish between items that require discussion and action and newer items that require discussion only. Seek input on the agenda in advance so that attendees may feel a part of the work. Make sure someone is facilitating, some one is time keeping and that minutes will be attended to. A higher functioning organization will rotate these activities where useful.

Does the space support your work? Can all see each other’s face? Don’t unconsciously fall into meeting shapes according to unthoughtful architecture. Move the tables and chairs if you have to. If you’re lucky find a room with a thoughtful design. Real light and fresh air boosts productivity by 35%. Experiment with standing - ideally around high cafe style tables - signaling a desire to move quickly, making it easy to have quick small group shares. You know your culture best - stretch it a little or you’ll keep getting the same outcomes.

Do people feel welcome to speak? A little coffee and snacks help set the tone. But nothing is more important than inviting a quick round of “check in” where attendees get to share, briefly, what’s on their plate. The check in is a form of “go round” in which people know when they get to speak and that they don’t have to fight for conversational space. It is key because unconsciously it sets a norm where people learn to share the space. If someone doesn’t wish to check in, no problem, they may “pass.” The facilitator sets the norm with a 2 sentence check in.

Do you use the clock well? Meetings tend to heat up around the mid point (hence the importance of being clear about start and end times for any agenda item). Research tells us that the most work of any meeting gets done in the last 10% of the time, with the time before mid point quite meandering. Consider deferring all final decisions till the end. This acts as a way to refresh all agenda items, take care of synergies and power through decisions.

Are people clear on taking next steps? Minutes should not too detailed but should be clear on who is doing what to progress the goals. A good way to close a meeting is to clarify next steps. Then start your next meeting with that list of who is doing what (also called the minutes). You either get to feel good about your continuity and progress or get to light a fire about its absence.

Our organizations are about as productive as our meetings. Meetings won’t transform themselves until you bring a little structure. Imagine a meeting you look forward to attending, looking forward to being surprised and productive…strive for that. And heads up - meetings won’t transform themselves over night. Stick to a few good practices.


Dr. Hilary Bradbury and Dana Carman are organizational coach-consultants who specialize in integrating leadership development with organizational learning, for leaders at or on theirway to the organizational upper echelon.
Read more at http://www.integratingcatalysts.com/.