We all know the feeling of being trapped in a bad meeting. The meeting begins late and runs over its allotted time. It’s disorganized. Discussion meanders. And when the meeting is finally over, we’re not sure what’s supposed to happen next. We leave thinking “What was the point?”

“Has anyone ever said, ‘I wish I could go to more meetings today?’” — Matt Mullenweg, founder, WordPress

As executive coaches, we at Arden Coaching know that effective meetings are critical to the overall health and productivity of teams and organizations. It’s an essential element of team development and team performance. We also know that developing leadership skills, such as effectively running meetings, leads to career opportunity and advancement.

As you look forward to fresh starts in 2019, pledge to lead more effective, productive — and yes, even enjoyable — meetings. Here’s a quick checklist:

1. Create a written agenda for every meeting

What is the purpose of the meeting? People need to know why they are there, what’s going to be discussed, and what expectations are for decisions or next steps. The sooner you can share an agenda with attendees the better. An agenda provides participants an opportunity to think about topics and prepare for a substantive, productive session. An agenda also helps meeting leaders keep discussions on track and on schedule.

2. Start on time

It seems obvious to say that meeting leaders should arrive at their own meeting on time (or before). But you should, and so should everyone else. 

It is extremely frustrating for attendees to arrive promptly for a 10:00 AM meeting, only to find themselves making small talk while they wait for others. In addition to the aggravation and sheer waste of late starts, late-arrivers create a perception of themselves as disorganized, undisciplined, and disrespectful of others’ time. 

Arriving late can become an established behavior for the group. Don’t let that happen. Start your meeting on time. With a bit of training — such as welcoming late-comers, but not stopping to “get them caught up” — arriving on time will become the understood norm. You’ll find yourself dealing with fewer late arrivals and a higher level of team productivity and energy. 

3. Let others speak first

Often, meeting leaders have insights or a strong perspective about agenda items and begin the meeting with a monologue, stating their opinions and conclusions before the group has a chance to share. This cuts off discussion and short-circuits energy, engagement, and creativity. People will feel that they’ve wasted their time.

David M. Cote, the former CEO of Honeywell, is quoted as saying, “Your job as a leader is to be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning of the meeting. It’s your job to flush out all the facts, all the opinions, and at the end make a good decision.”

4. Use the “Parking Lot” to handle off-agenda topics

The Parking Lot technique is a very useful way to acknowledge the importance and value of a point raised while keeping the meeting focused on the agenda, and the topics and issues at-hand.

To use the Parking Lot technique effectively, two things are absolutely essential. First, meeting participants need to understand that you will be using the technique to help manage the meeting. Explain to the group what the Parking Lot is, and why you are using it. Second, Parking Lot issues and topics require meaningful follow-up. Perhaps a Parking Lot topic can be addressed off-line, or can be added to the next meeting’s agenda.

If you do nothing with an item placed in the Parking Lot, meeting attendees will quickly come to understand that it’s simply a polite way of sweeping an idea, topic, or issue under the rug.

5. Determine specific next steps and accountabilities

The last segment of every meeting should be used to summarize any decisions made and clearly establish next steps and follow-up. It is very helpful to include a sense of task ownership and time as well — “who is going to do what, and when?” This approach provides clarity, accountability, and a sense among the team that the meeting was productive and resulted in concrete progress and accomplishment.

“The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions.” — Patrick Lencioni

6. End on time

Just as valuable as a prompt start is, your team will also appreciate a one-hour meeting that actually lasts no longer than one hour — and by the way, it’s OK for meetings to end early! Late running meetings are annoying and ultimately discouraging for attendees to sit through.

Use the agenda and the scheduled timeframe to guide and focus discussion. When people know that you will end the meeting on time, they are more energized and find it easier to concentrate. Discussion tends to stay on topic and there’s greater emphasis on working through the agenda.

For additional ideas about how to get the most out of meetings, read Arden Coaching’s article, “Ways to Improve Those Terrible Meetings.”

One more thought: your job title doesn’t matter, you can do this!

No matter what your job title may be, it’s your meeting. You’ll be expected to run things effectively and produce a positive, productive outcome. These tips are useful no matter where you are in the organizational chart. If it’s not your meeting, you’ll benefit professionally by considering these recommendations — and diplomatically encouraging others to lead better meetings.

To learn more about our approach to executive coaching, leadership development, and team performance contact us at admin@ardencoaching.com or 646.844.2233.