How to Conduct More Effective Meetings

by Scott Jeffrey

Management guru Henry Mintzberg was one of the first researchers to provide a glimpse into the daily lives of CEOs.

Mintzberg followed a handful of business leaders around the office for his Ph.D. thesis at MIT Sloan. His primary observation appears obvious:

CEOs go to a lot of meetings. Roughly 80 percent of their work hours are spent in meetings.

That was over four decades ago. A more recent study by Oriana Bandiera of London School of Economics and colleagues had the personal assistants of 94 CEOs provide detailed time sheets over a pre-specified week.

The results were similar to Mintzberg’s observations: 85 percent of the CEO’s time was spent working with other people through meetings, phone calls, and public appearances.

Why CEOs Need Meetings

Meetings dominate a CEO’s day because personal interactions provide valuable information critical to effectively running a business.

Harvard Business School professors Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria argue that the ability to extract critical details needed to inform big decisions from employees is partly what defines the most effective CEOs.

Meetings also provide CEOs with an opportunity to communicate what they think is vital for their organization to know.

The Downside to Meetings

Another management guru, Peter Drucker, had strong views about meetings. In The Effective Executive, Drucker wrote,

“Meetings are by definition a concession to a deficient organization. For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time.”

Or, as economist John Kenneth Galbraith put it, meetings are “indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

The problem is two-fold. First, we have too many meetings. Second, too many of them are unproductive.

12 Ground Rules for Effective Meetings

Your goal isn’t to eliminate meetings but to improve their effectiveness as well as reduce their duration and frequency whenever possible.

Here’s a list of 12 ways to help you master the art of running effective meetings:

  1. Clarify the purpose of the meeting when it’s scheduled. Request that participants come to the meeting prepared in advance.
  2. Clarify the objective of the meeting at its start. Every meeting should have purposeful direction.
  3. Be mindful of meeting duration. Many 60-minute meetings can be done in 30 minutes. Many 30-minute meetings require only 15 minutes.
  4. Start meetings on time regardless of who is late.
  5. Reward the behavior you seek: Don’t invest time in reviewing meeting content with latecomers. Doing so rewards tardiness and penalizes timeliness.
  6. Evaluate who really needs to attend each meeting. The more people, the more challenging it is to be productive.
  7. Avoid holding meetings for informational purposes; that’s the proper function of digital communication.
  8. Elect a meeting moderator responsible for guiding the discussion toward the desired end goal. Don’t let specific participants dominate the meeting with endless conversation.
  9. Whenever possible, end meetings early. The extra time can create a positive experience for participants.
  10. Reduce distractions by closing the door and requesting that members do not use their phones during meetings.
  11. Ask participants distracted with things unrelated to the meeting to leave. A meeting should be an active dialogue with all members involved.
  12. End every meeting with a committed action plan.

Running effective meetings is a skill you can build. Each of the above suggestions can greatly improve the quality, effectiveness, and results of your meetings.

Try it: Cut All Meetings in Half

If you’re intrigued and brave enough, commit to cutting the duration of every meeting in half.

Try this experiment over the course of the next two weeks and observe the results.

You may find that you accomplish just as much. More importantly, you’ll discover a reservoir of free time to invest in more important matters.

If you have a clear objective, the shorter the meeting, the more focused the attention and the better the outcome.

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