How To Run a Great Meeting

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA
Leadership Coach
http://www.redpointcoaching.com

‘One either meets or one works’ – Peter Drucker

‘Shadowing’ my clients at meetings they lead or participate in is an important part of my leadership coaching. It is a highly effective coaching technique that allows for just-in-time feedback to my clients.

Through these shadowing sessions, I get to experience many different meeting settings and styles. Time and time again I am amazed how poorly some of these meetings are run (yes, even by some of my clients…). No wonder our people complain about meetings: they are boring, the boss just drones on, we don’t actually accomplish anything, etc. etc.

By following three very basic principles, you will be virtually guaranteed to run a solid – maybe even a great – meeting. You will help your team achieve bigger goals, resolve and even prevent unhealthy conflict, and promote good teamwork.

Like with many things in life, the 80/20 rule applies: apply these basic three principles to your meetings (20%) and you will take care of 80% of the usual meeting dysfunctions.

Before I get to the three principles, one thing upfront: only have a meeting if you need a two-way conversation. Meetings are meant for discussion, debate, and decision making. If you merely need to relay information one way, consider other methods (such as email).

 

Define Outcome Goals for Every Agenda Item

Get into the disciplined habit of sharing outcome goals with your team at the onset of every discussion. Start every agenda item with the following sentence: “The outcome goal of this discussion is to….”.

Here is a list of things I hear all too often that are NOT outcome goals:

  • ‘talk about…’
  • ‘further discuss…..’
  • ‘tell you all about…’

 

Here is a list of good outcome goals:

  • ‘make a decision on….
  • ‘develop a clear plan for…’
  • ‘brainstorm and capture ideas for ….’
  • ‘get buy in for….’
  • ‘receive input on…’
  • ‘get everyone’s questions on … answered’

By forcing yourself to define an outcome goal, you clarify for yourself and your team why this is worthy of discussion.

 

Clarify How You Will Make Decisions

Before capturing any decision you are making during the meeting, clarify how you will make it. I have experienced countless cases where leaders did not communicate how they will make their decision leading to huge frustrations on the team’s part.

Here is the classic scenario: the leaders simply wants input from the team, but in her mind it’s clear that she will make the decision on her own after listening to her team’s discussion. As far as she is concerned, the team has consulting/influencing power but no decision-making power. The team members, on the other hand, assume that they actually have decision-making power (e.g. through a vote) and are stunned that the leader wraps up the discussion by stating that she will announce her decision next week.

To avoid the frustration, the leader could have clarified at the onset of the discussion: ‘I will make the decision next week after hearing everyone’s opinion and input today.’ Alternatively she could have said: ‘We will make this decision by majority vote,’ or

‘It is important to me that everyone is 100% on board with the decision we reach. Hence we will make the decision by consensus.’

No matter how you will decide, communicate your decision-making process upfront, thereby avoiding misunderstandings and frustration!

 

Capture Decisions, Next Steps and Accountability

Many people dislike meetings because they feel nothing ever gets decided or acted upon. Don’t run one of those meetings.

Your goal as the meeting chair is to make sure that all team members understand what has been decided on at the meeting, what the next step is, who will take it, and by when.

Once you have reached a decision, have your team members verbalize/paraphrase their understanding of the decision. You will be amazed how this simple exercise of paraphrasing surfaces misunderstandings about decisions you assumed had been made!

Don’t keep minutes – capture decisions, action items, ownership, and timelines. After the meeting, send brief notes out to all the participants of the meeting.

These notes might look something like this:

 

Decision?

Fill the open position in our department by end of September 2015.

 

Next deliverable?

Draft job ad in conjunction with HR and email to all before next meeting. Finalize at next team meeting.

 

By whom?

Bill (Director of Marketing)

 

By when?

Email job ad to all before next meeting

Be sure to bring these notes forward to your next meeting. Start the next meeting with a review of the outstanding action items from last meeting. You will be surprised at how productive your people will be when they know that they will be held accountable in front of their peers. If they haven’t made progress, use this time to figure out why and help them remove obstacles.

I believe that even the late, great Peter Drucker would have agreed that meetings which follow these three basic principles would be worth attending!

 

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One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.