How to Hold Fewer and More Successful Meetings

Meeting clapping success happy productive Meetings are powerful. Good meetings can forge good relationships, clarify objectives, solve problems, and spur innovation.

Bad meetings are terrible; they frustrate those in attendance, sap energy and enthusiasm, and waste precious time and money. Few people look forward to meetings because most meetings are unproductive and unpleasant.

Meetings can be both effective and enjoyable. Here are simple tips to reduce the number of meetings you have and to improve those you do have.

  1. Begin the meeting with genuine prayer, not a pro forma exercise in religiosity. Remember, “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Since this is true, ask The Lord to grant you wisdom and providential guidance in your deliberations and decisions.
  2. Don’t meet just because it is on the schedule. Generally, regularly scheduled meetings are a bad idea. For meetings to be useful for all in attendance, they need to be necessary. Prior to scheduling the meeting ask: “Does this topic/issue require a sit down meeting or could you simply call, drop by an office or two, have a standup meeting, or handle the topic/issue by email?” I have made a practice of prescheduling an Executive Team meeting each month to protect the time on the calendar should the meeting be necessary. However, I cancel the meeting unless there is a need to meet as indicated below.
  3. Clarify why you are scheduling the meeting. Knowing the objective (e.g. to review a policy issue, clarify objectives, etc.) is essential but not sufficient. You need to be clear why the objective is valuable and worth the time for a sit down meeting. This is the meeting’s intent. Without a powerful intent you can run an efficient meeting but end up with ineffective or minimum out comes. Pre-scheduled faculty meetings often suffer from an ill defined intent and usually end up being both inefficient and ineffective at moving the school forward.
  4. Are the right people in the meeting? Don’t frustrate people by having them in meetings unless their presence is vital. Keep in mind that having people in a meeting merely to “get information” is probably not a good use of their time. Information can be provided in a memo or an email. However, where interaction and in-depth explanations are needed, a meeting may be appropriate. Keep in mind that if the meeting is for the purpose of making a decision, make sure that only decision makers are present and prepared to make an informed decision. Don’t make the mistake of having, what David Pearl calls, “meeting tourists” present.
  5. Don’t try to do everything yourself. It is best to have senior leadership delegate the role of meeting leader to another team member and to assign someone the responsibility to take detailed notes. Senior leaders should focus on asking good questions, listening, and providing top level input.
  6. Encourage everyone’s involvement, especially your wise introverts. Extroverts will speak up but many quieter souls will not. It is often those who are “quick to hear but slow to speak” who have the best insights. Engage them in the discussion and decision making.
  7. Be creative with the types of meetings you have. As David Pearl points out:

    The word ‘meeting’ covers a huge range of diverse interactions. Discussion, debate and decision are all different. Problem-solving is quite distinct from Team-Building. You wouldn’t mix Italian, Mexican and Indian food in a single meal. When we mix these meeting types the results are as unappetizing and indigestible. The simple rule of healthy meeting is: Do one thing well. [1]

    You can have fewer but more productive meetings. Remember to have a clear focus and intent, to have only the right people in the meetings, and consider alternatives to the traditional sit down meeting. Never meet just because it is on the calendar. Purpose and need, not the calendar, should determine whether a meeting is called.