If you’re like most people, the answers are “not really.” And if you’re like most leaders, you don’t know how to make your meetings better.
As an executive coach to startups, I have the pleasure and pain of observing hundreds of leaders in thousands of meetings. I basically have a Ph.D. in meetings. Over the years, I’ve found that one of the main reasons meetings fail is that leaders don’t prepare in the right way.
Here are five common ways leaders fail to set up a good meeting, and how you can make sure your meetings are great.
1. Not having a clear goal
This may sound obvious, but in my normal conversations with leaders, they cite the agenda when I ask them what the goal of the meeting is. One question to ask yourself to make sure you have a strong goal: What will be true at the end of the meeting that is not true now? Now make sure you frame that in an infinitive verb: to communicate, to decide, or to sync up on something.
2. Not “priming” your team
Giving your team a way to chew on the topic in advance encourages them to get some data, pull their thoughts together, and get ready for the meeting. The best way to do this is to send pre-work. Send the team something to read or questions to think about in advance about what you’re going to cover. This prepares them to participate.
3. Not planning how you will structure your discussion
Unmonitored debates turn into free-for-alls. Status reports tempt people to tune out. One person dominating the meeting crushes the soul. All of these lead up to meetings that get mocked.
Plan how you will ask people to participate. You can schedule some time for free-flowing give and take, but remember to shape the conversation to achieve the goal.
4. Not expecting pushback
One of the ground rules I use when facilitating meetings is “conflict is expected.” If everyone agrees on the topic at hand, there is no need to meet. So plan for and even encourage people to say things which are provocative and contrary.
When people get heated, however, conflict can be uncomfortable. The way to handle this is to think through in advance who is likely going to express a contrary point of view. Will they be angry or emotional? Will they refuse the give up even if everyone else sees it a different way?
Try to anticipate how your employees might overreact and prepare how you will respond to help them express their points of view but not derail the meeting. Mastering conflict is a leadership super power and practice is your key to excellence.
5. Not ending with actions
The quickest way to upgrade your meetings? Plan to end well. When you neglect to end a meeting with clear next steps, owners and timeframes, you are courting chaos.
Your final agenda item should be “wrap up and close.” Ensure that you have 10 minutes for this. Use that time to clarify what you have decided in that meeting. Then agree on who will do what, by when. Make sure someone writes this down and sends it out to everyone so that you lock in action items.
When you use this framework to plan your meetings you will increase engagement and also drive forward motion on your key projects, which is really the point of meetings anyway.