Leaders: Don’t let your meetings suck!

Leaders dont let your meeting suck_TalentGrow blog_Halelly Azulay

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Ask most office workers what is the bane of their existence and inevitably you’ll hear about the many terrible meetings they have to sit through. Death by PowerPoint, people droning on and on about off-topic ideas, stories, or complaints. People showing up late. Meetings starting late and running over time. People texting, checking email, or playing Words with Friends under the table… Little to nothing getting accomplished. And the list goes on.

@@ Too many leaders *let* their meetings suck. @@ [<-- that's a tweetable!]

They have meetings that aren’t necessary, and don’t have agendas or specified roles. Their meetings are too long, and they don’t invite the right people. They don’t ensure that meetings achieve their objectives as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Please. Please don’t be one of those leaders who let their meetings suck!

Here are some suggestions for what you can do instead, to have less crappy meetings where things actually get done.

And yes, your employees and co-workers will thank you for it. (At least in their hearts, if not out loud.)

Leaders who let their meetings suck have meetings that aren’t necessary.

Instead, do this: Some things shouldn’t be done in a meeting. Meetings are a good way to solve problems, generate ideas, gain common agreement from potentially divergent views, make decisions to which people are collectively bound and committed, and to get people committed to a course of action by sharing a vision and obtaining reactions. Meetings are not so good for organizing information, doing detailed analysis, writing reports, rubber stamping, or discussing personal issues of a controversial or confidential nature.

Ask yourself: does this require a meeting or can it be done via email? Should this be done with an audience or should it be in private?

Leaders who let their meetings suck have meetings that don’t have a specific, detailed agenda.

Instead, do this: All effective meetings must have an agenda that shows what will be done by whom and for how long during the allotted time-frame. The more detailed the agenda, the more likely you are to achieve it or know that you’re off course in time to course-correct or change it.

Take the time to create an agenda (hint: you could delegate this task!) and share it ahead of the meeting with all attendees. This little investment of time will pay off handsomely in reduced waste later.

Leaders who let their meetings suck have meetings that don’t have specified roles for participants.

Instead, do this: People can be involved in a productive way in running an effective meeting. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, assign roles like facilitator, time keeper, and scribe to different people on the team and not only will you be more likely to achieve your meeting’s objectives, you’ll get more people actively engaged and feeling a sense of ownership.

Tip: rotate the roles to give more people a chance to develop different skill-sets and to avoid burning anyone out or causing undue role fatigue which makes people tune out or become complacent.

Leaders who let their meetings suck have meetings that are too long.

Instead, do this: When you have thought through the agenda, you’re likely to keep the meeting on time. You’re more in control instead of letting the meeting control you. And you can design the meeting to fit the content so that it’s just the right duration.

Tip: make it shorter; this HBR article suggests it will be more effective.

Tip: always honor time commitments by starting and ending on time. Try using this meeting timer method used at Google Ventures.

Leaders who let their meetings suck invite the wrong people.

Either they leave people out of meetings they should be in or invite people to meetings they don’t need to be in. And ensure that people understand why they’re invited and how you’d like them to participate.

Instead, do this: Know what you’d like to achieve in the meeting and you’ll know who needs to participate to make it possible. Invite only those who can contribute to achieving those outcomes.

Leaders who let their meetings suck don’t ensure that meetings achieve their objectives as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Instead, do this: Explicitly state the desired outcomes for the meeting in advance and share these objectives with all invitees (along with the agenda). Then, review the objectives/outcomes and agenda at the beginning of your meetings. When you begin with these objectives in mind and have crafted a detailed agenda that helps you achieve them, you’re likely to succeed.

Leaders who let their meetings suck don’t evaluate and evolve their meetings

Instead, do this: Set aside a dedicated time slot on all your meeting agendas right at the end (after the part where you always list Action Items and Accountabilities!) to evaluate the meeting so you can apply double-loop learning. You can call it an After-Action Review or Lessons Learned, but even 5 minutes spent with everyone doing a quick post-mortem or ‘plus-delta’ will give you ideas about what worked and what can be improved. And then, of course, APPLY those lessons to your design of the next meeting.


To ensure your meetings don’t suck, do this:

  1. Only hold meetings that are necessary.

  2. Create and disseminate an agenda ahead of time.

  3. Assign roles to different people and rotate them over time.

  4. Honor time commitments and hold shorter meetings whenever possible.

  5. Invite the right people and ensure they understand why they’re there.

  6. Set and communicate specific outcomes and objectives for your meetings and aim to meet them.

  7. Evaluate your meetings and keep iterating to improve the next ones.

What are your thoughts? What will you focus on to make sure your meetings don't suck? Chime in below in the comments.

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