Gentlemen, you can ALL lead a meeting that can get people excited and produce great results.
It’s not a secret present. It’s a skill you can learn.
If you don’t learn it, you’ll spend a lot of awkward hours looking at bored faces… or even worse, angry faces. And getting anything done will feel like wading through molasses. Ridhiman Das shares some things you need to think about when you want to hold a meeting or participate in one.
1. Do you really need to have a meeting?
The number one thing that will make people HATE your meetings? Meetings that don’t need to happen. You are wasting not only your own time, but also everyone else’s.
But how do you know when a meeting is necessary? Harvard Business Review made a decision tree to help you figure out what to do.
First of all, have you thought about what’s going on? If not, schedule some time for yourself to think about how to move forward. Even if you still need to have a meeting, you’ll be able to explain to everyone what’s going on and what you want to accomplish.
If you’ve thought about it, ask yourself if you really need help from someone else to move forward. Can you take care of it on your own? Then make a plan for when you will do the work.
If you do need help from someone else, does it have to be in real time? Send an email if not. And if you need to talk to someone right now, does it have to be in person? If not, you can chat, talk on the phone, or set up a video conference.
If you decide that you need to talk to the person in person, just set up a meeting.
2. Decide How Often Meetings Should Be Held
There are two reasons to get together: to keep going or to change direction. When I say “changing course,” I mean things like kickoffs, retrospectives, emergency meetings, planning sessions, workshops, sales, and negotiations. All of these are good times for a one-time meeting.
You need regular meetings to keep things moving, but how often? When you get together too often, it’s a waste of time. If you don’t do it enough, work will suffer.
It means the big picture, or where we as a team are going. If you want your team to work together to move a heavy log, they need to know which way to move, or all you’ll get is exhausting chaos.
Weekly meetings might not be enough if your team works in different places and priorities change quickly. I meet with my whole team twice a week and my managers every day. It takes less time than someone wasting a week on the wrong things.
If you can’t decide, you can use the priority matrix to decide:
What’s the meeting about?
Important and urgent? Meet daily.
Important and not urgent? Meet often, but not as much.
Not important and in a hurry? Hold a single meeting.
Not important or urgent? Don’t meet – send an email.
3. Make sure everyone knows why the meeting is being held.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown is one of my favourite books. In it, the author talks about a management training activity in which teams competed to solve a problem. He saw that one group wasn’t making any progress, so he asked, “What question are you trying to answer?”
No one else on the team was able to tell him.
Once he made them figure out the answer, they did it quickly and won the competition by a huge margin.
Don’t assume that everyone knows why the meeting is being held. Tell them directly, or ask them to tell you. If you have regular meetings, it’s a good idea to say this from time to time.
4. Keep a good spirit
Whether you’re running a meeting or not, you’re there to serve the meeting’s purpose. Which means:
being on time
willing to speak up and willing to listen quietly
treating other people’s contributions with respect
being positive and energetic
taking the initiative
owning your mistakes.
Show your team how you want them to act and point them in the right direction.
For example, I keep my team meetings upbeat by going around the room and asking each person to share a win from the past week. I don’t do it all the time, but I do it often enough for people to be proud of their successes instead of focusing on their failures.
5. Meetings in person versus conference calls
Face-to-face meetings are the best way for team members to get to know each other, get involved, and use body language to communicate.
But if your team doesn’t all work in the same place, sending them to a lot of face-to-face meetings is a waste of time and money, and if they’re spread out like mine, it’s just not possible. Every meeting we have is online.
We use Zoom for our online meetings, and I expect everyone to have their cameras turned on. When meetings are only audio, people might “phone it in” and not pay attention. But one-on-one phone meetings are a great way to pass the time while driving, in my opinion.
People who are shy might do better with text chat because they can “hide behind the screen” and think about what to say.
My team of people who work on content have a Skype chat where they can talk to each other at any time. It’s better than email because it’s more immediate, but it’s not as immediate as a formal meeting because people from different time zones can join and leave the conversation.
6. Make sure that everyone can be heard
Google’s “Project Aristotle,” which took 3 years, looked into how their best teams worked. They found that the best teams all shared two things:
Everyone feels like they can talk about their problems and worries. (This is called “psychological safety”)
Here’s a tip for getting everyone to talk to each other. Put everyone’s name on a list, and when each person speaks, put a checkmark next to their name.
Instead of asking quiet people for their ideas, ask them how they feel about what someone else just said: “Hey X, what do you think of what Y just said?”
This shows your team that everyone’s thoughts are important. If the meeting is small enough, don’t end it until everyone’s name is checked off.
My suggestion for making people feel safe is even easier. If someone brings up a problem, don’t criticize them; thank them instead. Same thing if someone tells you they did something wrong or are having trouble with something. Thank them in public for having the guts to be honest. You’ll learn a lot more about what’s happening on your team.
7. When is the best time to have a meeting?
YouCanBookMe, a British company that makes apps for businesses to schedule appointments, looked at more than 2 million answers to this question to find the answer. What do they find?
The best time to meet is on Tuesday at 2:30.
Why? People aren’t too tired because it’s not too late in the day or the week. And it’s not too early. Mondays and early mornings are the most productive times of the week, and if you interrupt that, workers will be upset.
So 2:30 on a Tuesday isn’t special, but try to find a time in the middle of the day and the middle of the week.
8. How long should a meeting go on for?
Research shows that people pay less attention to a meeting as it goes on, especially after 30 minutes. So, before you plan a long meeting, think about how many people will still be paying attention by the end:
After 0-15 minutes: 91%
After 15-30 minutes: 84%
After 30-45 minutes: 73%
After 45+ minutes: 64%
If you talk for more than 30 minutes, more than a quarter of your audience will leave. (And you could easily lose focus, too.)
If you really need a lot of time, plan breaks or a series of shorter meetings.
9. Know how to create a good agenda for a meeting
Having a good agenda makes it easier to stay on track and take good minutes.
Make your schedule early. Share it with people ahead of time and tell them what they need to do to get ready. So, you can make sure everyone is ready to go for a productive meeting.
At the top of your agenda, write down what the meeting is for.
Then, put things in order of how important they are, break them down into key points, and make it clear if any of them need a decision.
Make sure you have enough time for each item, plus extra time at the end to answer questions and evaluate the meeting so you can improve the process.
10. Know how to deal with disagreements in meetings
If you think there might be a fight, set some meeting rules to keep things calm (and make sure you enforce them.) Here are some examples:
Before you speak, raise your hand.
No one can talk at the same time.
The chair can sum up what has been said to make sure that everyone gets it.
Everyone will have a chance to talk, so no one person can take over the conversation.
Watch for nonverbal signs that a fight is coming.
Does anyone roll their eyes or make other signs that they don’t agree? Are people on the team giving each other meaningful looks, whispers, or notes (maybe to get ready for a confrontation)? Is anyone staring at someone else, maybe to scare them off?
If you see these signs, you can stop a fight before it starts by:
Make it less about the person and more about WHAT they disagree with instead of WHO they disagree with.
When asking questions, if someone doesn’t like something, ask them what they WOULD like instead.
Reducing what people think is a threat is important because people often fight because they feel threatened. Could someone, for example, use reassurance that their job is safe?
Setting up a meeting with only the people directly involved to talk about the problem later. A large group meeting is not the place to talk about sensitive personal issues.
Lastly, realize that you can’t always make everyone happy. If a problem has been solved fairly but someone is still unhappy, don’t take it personally… even if you are the one who isn’t happy.
Bonus: Don’t be afraid to end a meeting early
You don’t have to fill a half-hour just because you’ve set it aside.
If tech problems force a meeting to end early, you should set a time to wrap up the meeting. But if you’re really done and no one has any questions, give yourselves a pat on the back for running an effective meeting and end it there.
So, there you have it. If you use these 10 tips, people will know that you run great meetings that really get things done. Remember:
Figure out if a meeting is really necessary. Figure out how often your meetings should happen. Make sure everyone knows what the meeting is for. Keep a good mind. Choose between in-person, video, phone, and online chat. Make sure everyone feels heard and safe enough to say what’s on their mind. Plan meetings in the middle of the day and week. Tuesday at 2:30 is the best time. Keep it short, make a good plan ahead of time, and know how to handle disagreements. Don’t be afraid to call an early end to the meeting.
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