Meetings are an essential channel for making better decisions and getting things done.

If you don’t like wasting time in boring, unproductive meetings, read on!

Every meeting should focus on achieving an outcome. Most people would say theirs do. Whether we are striving for alignment around one decision or the creation of a series of decisions, the way the meeting runs will determine the success of that outcome. 

What are the characteristics of a well-run meeting?

A well-run meeting considers the needs of everyone present, engages them in a constructive process, makes productive use of time and culminates in tackling and hopefully resolving the critical question. Cross-functional participation and good facilitation skills ensure that the decision will stick after the meeting ends.

For any leader, it’s crucial to have effective and efficient meeting practices or norms that everyone adheres to:

1. Know and communicate the purpose of the meeting.

Think about why it’s taking place, why it matters and how it will help your business reach its goals.  Communicate the agenda in advance and include the “critical question” that the meeting is trying to address.

2. Ensure everyone has access to all relevant information

Before you start, make sure that your meeting agenda is clear and that the participants understand their roles in the meeting. If a project or task requires input from multiple departments or cross-functional areas (such as marketing, engineering, or HR), be sure to include representatives from each one, and make sure they know why they are there.

3. Ensure that the meeting agenda has a logical flow.

Once you know the critical question, you can derive the other key items for discussion that lead to that critical question or support it. The meeting agenda should have time limits for each item and be organized to include engagement within each agenda topic.

Pro tip: If you are not looking to engage your participants, consider why this needs to be a meeting and not an email to inform.

4. Set the right tone for the meeting

How it feels to the participants is crucial. A good facilitator knows how to motivate the team, keep all participants focused on the meeting objectives and plan for breaks and meals so everyone can be energized and productive.

5. Seek and call out common ground, iteratively

While debate in a meeting is critical, as the leader of the meeting it is important to find the areas where people agree. This helps people understand that they can agree and lays the groundwork to refine the arguments to continuously narrow the chasm between the ideas until resolution can be reached.

While there are no guarantees that groups will always reach the right decisions, there is a plethora of evidence to suggest that misuse of meetings will rarely produce good results. If the issue is critical or immediate, consider using a professional facilitator to help shape the meeting and manage the agenda for best results.  Good facilitators can help drive better outcomes from meetings; great ones will use the time to teach the group how to run better meetings for themselves.