One of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with also ran the best meetings. His name is Mike and he’s a rock star in a large corporation. He and his colleague, Mary, invited me to help turn a west coast operation around so the company could decide whether it would keep the operation or sell it.
Others started showing up around 1 o’clock. They helped themselves to water and coffee, chatted about the San Francisco 49er football game the day before, kidded each other about golf scores and carried on a few sideline business conversations.
Mike opened the meeting at 1 o’clock.
“When a television network says the Super Bowl is scheduled to start at 6 o’clock, what time does it start?” Mike asked his new team.
The attendees looked puzzled. The chief financial officer said, “6 o’clock” I guess.
Mike countered, “Why do we have to guess when the Super Bowl is going to start if the network says it will start at 6 o’clock?”
“We don’t,” the head of marketing responded. “When the network says 6 o’clock it will start at 6 o’clock. The network has a lot of people depending on that start time–viewers, advertisers, and people in the stands.”
“How does that apply to us?” Mike asked. “When we schedule a meeting for 1 o’clock we should start at 1 o’clock. A lot of people depend on what we do–our customers, employees, suppliers and each other. Everyone in this room is important to this team or you wouldn’t be here. We should respect each other’s time.
Our mission is to take this organization to a new level. That needs to start with having the discipline that’s needed to work together to make that happen. It starts with showing up on time. Does that make sense?”
The leaders nodded in unison.
“Our weekly meetings will always start at 1 o’clock. Not 1:01 or 1:03. 1 o’clock.”
No one was ever late for Mike’s 1 o’clock meeting again.
I tell this story because while many meetings I attend are well managed, most are inefficient, accomplish little, or are unnecessary.
Is your company all-consumed with meetings? Are your managers tied up in meetings all day? Are the employees stymied from making decisions because they don’t have access to their managers? How is the business suffering?
Over the years, I’ve seen both well-run meetings and poorly run ones. Here are eight ways to make meetings more productive and efficient. There is an art to being a leader.
- Select a good meeting time. Be aware of your team’s schedule and other obligations. If your team arrives at work at 8:30 am, don’t have meetings at 8:30. The same is true after lunch.
- Be clear about the starting time and, as Mike did, be clear that we respect each other by showing up on time. A 1 o’clock should not become a 1:10 meeting.
- Keep meetings short and productive. Most meetings take too much time–often filling the time that’s been set aside for the meeting instead of consuming the time needed and then moving on. If you’re meeting at 2 o’clock, end the meeting at 2:50 so people can get to their 3 o’clock meetings if they have them scheduled.
- Invite only those who are essential to the business of the meeting. Some people attend meetings only to protect their interests, especially in bureaucratic organizations. Get the three or four critical people to the meeting. Forget about the other 10. It’s much easier to get 3-4 people to a meeting on time than 8-10.
- Start the meeting at the appointed time whether everyone is there or not. Don’t wait for so-called royalty to show up. If they arrive late, explain your on-time meeting obsession. They’ll understand and abide.
- Close the door to the meeting room when the meeting is scheduled to start. It makes a point to those who are physically blocked.
- If you’ve encouraged others to be prompt, be on time. Don’t embarrass yourself by showing up late. It communicates that you’re not serious about being prompt.
- Prepare yourself for the meeting. Review the agenda. Read documents that have been sent to you ahead of time.
Key Takeaway: Your leadership is reflected in the meetings you run. Meetings should be strategic. Work them hard. Continuously improve them so they are taking you to a new level and beyond. Perfect your meetingship.