The Most Important Part of a Productive Meeting

For those of us working in organizations as employees, vendors, or consultants, the ebb and flow of our time is greatly affected by a schedule of daily meetings.   

Influential leaders recognize, accept, and capitalize on the significance of meetings in everyday work life.

They astutely leverage this valuable time to motivate others to collaborate on initiatives, expedite decision-making, and facilitate the production of needed deliverables. While it is true that influential leaders artfully employ efficient meetings, it is also true that running productive efficient meetings increases personal influence. The Catch-22 is that it is much easier to organize and conduct productive meetings if you have a lot of influence as a leader. That said, people in the process of growing their influence can follow certain protocols to improve the efficiency of the meetings they run in order to enhance their credibility, improve their reputation as someone who “gets things done”, and build trusting relationships with others throughout the organization.

Typically, successful meetings embody some or all of the following characteristics:

  • The “right” people attended
  • Everyone was properly prepared
  • There was a steady focus on the right topics
  • The meeting produced well informed decisions and/or tangible results
  • The meeting outcomes were supported by consistent relevant follow up

Leaders whose meetings consistently model these characteristics carefully attend to the three parts of every meeting:  Preparation, Facilitation, and Follow-thru.

Which part do you think has the greatest impact on the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting?

Anyone who’s had a meeting start late, get off track, fail to produce any tangible results, and then end late knows the price to be paid for inadequate meeting preparation.  It’s important to keep in mind the frustration that comes from attending a poorly planned meeting; especially when faced with the decision of how much time and effort to invest before the participants convene.

Though our tendency is to “borrow” time from meeting planning to be used elsewhere, just know that, more often than not, we end up paying back this time plus interest both during and after the meeting!

Starting with preparation, the posts will cover a set of guidelines for how to plan, facilitate, and follow-thru on productive meetings. For optimum results, these methods should be executed in an environment conducive to and supportive of their application. Though not impossible, it is certainly an uphill battle to implement efficiency strategies in a culture that has grown accustomed to or even promotes counter-productive meeting practices. For more information on the impact of organizational culture on meeting efficiency, you may want to first read Productive Meeting Is Not An Oxymoron and/or Culture: The Organizational 12th Man.

 “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~A.A. Milne

FIVE PEAS IN A PEAPOD

This is a catchy little device for remembering all of the steps to take when preparing for meetings:

  1. Purpose
  2. Payoff (3 H’s)
  3. Ponder the purpose
  4. People
  5. Process

            Potential Pitfalls

The first step towards a productive meeting is to develop a brief Purpose statement for the meeting. Answer questions such as:

  • Why conduct this meeting?
  • What do we want to achieve?

Once the purpose is clear, determine the meeting’s  Payoff or tangible output:

  • What will participants have in their Hands (deliverables, materials, action plan, etc.)
  • What will they have in their Heads? (knowledge, information, awareness)
  • What will be in their Hearts? (Beliefs, commitments, values)

Based on what you want to achieve with the meeting and the Payoff for the participants, it’s now time to Ponder the purpose. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this meeting really necessary?
  • Is there an alternative way to achieve the Purpose and Payoff without the time, effort, and/or expense of a meeting?
  • Could we get the same results using an alternative method such as email “round robin”, electronic survey, or one-way dissemination of information?
  • If a meeting is required, does it have to occur face-to-face or can it be conducted via teleconference, or video-conference?
  • If the meeting does need to be face-to-face, what is the appropriate venue (specific room requirements, food, AV equipment, on-site, off-site, etc.)?
  • How much time is needed to cover each agenda item? Is the total time required to complete the agenda too much for a single meeting? Can some of the work be accomplished by participants before the meeting?

Once you’re certain that the meeting does in fact need to be held. Your next step is to assess the People part of the equation. Develop a list of people who must attend in order to achieve the meeting’s Purpose. In other words, if there is no way to fulfill the Purpose without the individual, then that person must be there. Create a separate list of people you’d like to have attend or think could benefit or add some value, but without whom the Purpose could still be accomplished.

Before contacting People on either list, take the time to outline the Process you will use to achieve the Purpose. This is a list of the topics that need to be covered starting with a Review of the Agenda and ending with a Summary of the meeting. When you send this out as part of your invitation to participants, include the Purpose, Payoff, and a complete list of People.

A strong influence building strategy is to give the Must Attend participants a preview of the agenda. Ask for their input and ideas. As much as possible, incorporate their suggestions into the final agenda you send out to the group. This will ensure that the individuals critical to the meeting’s success have ownership of the outcome. It’s also an excellent way to secure attendance.

 For the Nice-to-Have individuals on your second list, provide them with a copy of the agenda and take a few minutes to discuss your interest in having them attend and the benefits they can gain by participating. It is important to graciously accept a decline from any of the people on this secondary list. By asking them to the meeting, you are signaling that you recognize their value. Extending them the courtesy of opting out without negative consequence (guilt, griping, grudges), you are reinforcing your understanding of their worth and demonstrating a sincere respect for their time. The trust and rapport you establish with this practice will make it that much easier to obtain their commitment and cooperation regarding future meetings.

You’re not quite done yet; the last step in thorough meeting preparation is to anticipate the Potential Pitfalls. On the tactical side, confirm administrative items such as whether or not the venue selected can comfortably accommodate the attendees. For the more strategic aspects of the meeting, consider questions such as:

  • What questions or concerns could arise about the Purpose, Payoff, or Process? How can these be addressed efficiently either before or during the meeting?
  • What are the “Hot” items that need to be addressed but could end up taking too much time or creating tangential discussions? What can be done to handle these constructively?
  • What items could come up that really don’t have anything to do with the meeting purpose and should not be addressed?

What other strategies have you used to prepare for meetings?

Have you ever experienced an inefficient meeting run by an influential person? What went wrong?

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6 Comments

Filed under Business, How To, Influence, Leadership, Trust, Uncategorized

6 responses to “The Most Important Part of a Productive Meeting

  1. Hi, Nicole

    Congratulations – another well-thought out and helpful post. I am using this model to prepare for a local professional organization’s year-end planning meeting. I’ll let you know how it goes, but I don’t have much doubt that our meeting will be far more productive than left to me:).

    Looking forward to your next post!

    John

    • nicoledefalco

      John, I look forward to hearing about how the meeting goes! So glad the post is being put to good use!

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  4. Excellent advice. The one item I didn’t see was that there are different kinds of meetings and each has a different strategy. For example, meetings related to crisis are vastly different from staff meetings. You might like my book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership”. I address meetings as part of the general topic of managing time of managers and their staff.

    • nicoledefalco

      Hi Joe, when my partner and I are working with our clients, we try to create category definitions for the most common types of meetings going on in their business. I find we’re generally dealing with: status meetings, planning/working meetings, and strategy or long-term planning meetings. For the most part, planning should be thorough regardless of the type of meeting. Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas and recommend your book!