Have you ever been in a meeting where no one knew exactly why they were there, and the meeting just meandered with no set agenda and no one “at the helm”? At the end, the attendees likely left feeling frustrated because nothing of substance was accomplished, no actions were agreed on, and no follow-up was assigned. This could all have been avoided if the “leader” was competent at managing meetings.
When effectively managed, meetings will be useful and beneficial to everyone involved. Let’s look at a few ways you can more effectively manage your own meetings.
6 Ways Executives Can Get Better at Managing Meetings
1. Improving Skills in Structuring Staff Meetings
This involves putting a strong framework in place to ensure the meeting starts on time and flows logically without getting derailed or going off on “rabbit trails.” You can run powerful staff meetings by doing the following:
- Have a written, prioritized and published agenda prior to the meeting.
- Start the meeting on time with a review of the agenda and adjustments as warranted.
- Drive a prioritized agenda, discussing each topic accordingly.
- Conclude all topics by assigning action items with due dates.
- Perform effective follow-up on previously assigned agenda items.
- End the meeting on time with everyone clear on next steps.
As an executive, you are likely to be judged by the quality of your staff meetings. The more powerful your meetings, the more people will respect you as a strong and effective leader.
2. Designing Off-Sites
Sometimes it’s helpful to meet somewhere outside the confines of the office, especially when seeking to create an atmosphere for team building. However, while anyone can attempt to set up a strategic or operational planning session, the best executives are known for productive, impactful, results-producing off-site meetings.
How can you use off-sites to their full potential? Through planning, pre-meeting work assignments, and effective structuring.
You need to spend a significant amount of time in the planning stages, carefully designing the process for the desired outcome. The extra effort you put into the front end of the planning cycle pays huge dividends and results in a greater and longer-lasting impact.
Start with the end in mind, determining exactly what type of long-term outcome you desire. Target specific, measurable goals.
Pre-meeting Work Assignments
Give everyone tasks to complete in preparation for the meeting. Pre-work often accomplishes the initial objectives of the off-site, before the off-site ever begins! That leaves plenty of time in the actual meeting for deeper discussions and better, more informed decision-making, because the team has had plenty of time to process the information in advance of the meeting. All too often, off-sites miss the mark due to lack of effective pre-work.
Follow the same principles used in structuring effective staff meetings (discussed above). The same discipline and rigor are required in both venues.
3. Managing Agendas
Every meeting has an agenda. It may not be spoken out loud, understood by participants, or well planned, but intentionally or not, everyone comes to a meeting with expectations for how it should go.
As the leader, you are responsible for clearly defining, articulating, and communicating your meetings’ agendas in order to rally everyone around a specific purpose and expected outcomes.
This is often the biggest challenge you will face when leading a meeting. Anytime you get a group of competent, capable, intelligent people in one room, those people will have their own ideas. As a result, people with their own agendas and those with strong opinions will speak up, making the meeting seem like a field full of wild stallions running amok. You can effectively keep meetings on track by:
- Clearly state and define the agenda, item by item, including the objectives of each item.
- Put time limits on each item, and honoring the limit when time is up.
- If more discussion is needed, decide and agree on the time and place to do that. (Task force? Another general meeting? Email? Other?)
- Follow up to ensure that the agenda and outcomes are achieved.
4. Driving Closure and Actions
This means making sure the meeting ends on time, with clear-cut goals and actions decided and agreed upon. In order to make this happen, you need to:
- Summarize what has been discussed.
- Ask relevant and specific questions as to what should and will be done about each item/need.
- Take suggestions, but not let this become a time for quarreling and axe-grinding. (By this time, the meeting should be “coming in for a landing,” not circling around in a “holding pattern.”)
- Facilitate a consensus on next steps for each item/need. If this can’t be done, you need to take executive prerogative and make the final decision.
- Assign one or more people to be responsible for carrying out each action, or at least ensuring that it gets carried out. This may include asking, “Who will be responsible for…?” Establish a deadline for completing each action.
- Close the meeting in a definite manner.
This will bring meetings to a strong finish and prevent them from dragging on, getting derailed, and/or leaving people confused as to who’s responsible for what. With this type of clarity, top executives drive each topic to closure with a definitive call to action.
5. Setting Up Accountability Systems
Ideally, as leader, you will do this concurrently with assigning agreed-to actions. You should clearly state who each person responsible should report to, as well as how often, when, and what to report.
An absence of accountability is one of the top reasons executives fail to run effective meetings. It is also one of the main reasons they fail to appropriately delegate to their staff. Having an accountability system in place is critical for your success.
There are myriad accountability solutions available, but the key is choosing one that works, sticking with it, and being consistent in its application for all concerned. Failure on any one of these points is a crack in the dam that will surely result in catastrophic collapse.
It’s counterproductive to constantly hop from one accountability system to another in search of the perfect solution. Systems fail when they are implemented inconsistently. A steady path in the same direction, even on a suboptimal system, beats having no system or constantly changing systems.
6. Ensuring Follow-Up
Perhaps the most critical skill in managing effective meetings is that of ensuring follow-up on actions committed to. Often, the brilliant work done by staff in a meeting is relegated to distant memories of “We said we would do that.”
It’s up to you to make sure that the decided-upon action actually gets done, as opposed to just talking about it and agreeing “That’s a great idea!” As an executive, you need to hold your subordinates accountable for completing their assignments on time.
How can you do that?
- Make sure that thorough minutes are taken throughout the meeting, especially on all decided-upon actions and who’s responsible for them.
- Distribute those minutes as soon as possible (preferably within 24 hours).
- Keep a record of those minutes to refer back to, in case of any questions or disputes that come up later.
- Check in periodically to see what kind of progress is being made, what further assistance or resources may be needed, etc.
Effective meeting management starts and ends with great follow-up, and normally requires some type of system so you do not need to remember hundreds of commitments.
As mentioned earlier, having an accountability system is critical. But just having one is not enough. It must be used consistently and fairly across the entire team to be of maximum use. Top executives rely heavily on systems, rather than on memory, to provide effective follow-up. For example, it helps to require your staff to memorialize agreed-upon follow-up in an email, document it in a spreadsheet of agreed-upon actions, or update some type of project or task management tool.
Why Does Competency in Managing Meetings Matter?
An inability to run effective meetings will place you at a huge disadvantage. By definition, an executive is someone who leverages others to get results. You must work through people to drive the performance of your team and the overall organization. If you lack this skill, you will often have to do more of the work yourself and will be less effective in achieving organizational objectives. Therefore, you need to place a huge degree of importance on your meetings.
Developing This Strength
As an executive, you need to know how others would rate the quality of your meetings. It is one thing to have a high opinion of your own meeting management skills; it is another to get feedback from participants in the meetings you manage.
Actions to take to grow in this area could be:
- Gain an objective assessment of your meeting management skills and abilities by a neutral third-party assessor, such as a meeting management consultant, executive coach, or other similar service provider.
- Poll staff and find out what they think about the quality of your meetings.
- Observe very well-run meetings and emulate greatness.
- Take a class in meeting management.
- Read a book on the subject of effective meeting management for executives.
- Discuss this topic with your executive coach and brainstorm additional ways you can assess your level of competency in this area.
- Consciously look at ways to implement the suggestions in this article.
If you are a genuine CEO or senior executive and would like to try executive coaching, I would be happy to offer you three complimentary coaching sessions. Click to schedule our first call.
A Quick Meeting Management Self-Assessment
For each of the following, rate yourself on a scale of 1–5 (5 = Excellent):
- My meetings fully engage my staff.
- I rarely cancel or reschedule my meetings.
- I effectively leverage technology to run effective meetings.
- We get very useful business results from the meetings I run.
- The purpose of each of my meetings is clear to all participants.
- My meetings are instrumental in helping my staff effectively connect.
- The meetings I run start and end on time.
- My staff come well prepared to my meetings.
- My meetings drive effective and timely decisions.
- What I say in meetings is taken seriously by my staff.
- I am known for my ability to run an effective meeting.
- I drive the agenda in meetings and ensure we stick to the topics as appropriate.
- Meeting agendas and topics are shared in advance of my meetings.
- The right people are always in my meetings.
- My staff keep the commitments they make in my meetings.
- Meeting records are kept and can be referenced in the future.
- I drive closure and actions in my meetings.
- My meetings run well, even when I am not there.
- My staff meeting is one of the most critical keys to my executive success.
- I get a lot out of the meetings I run.
Total up the points and give yourself a grade. A 70 is passing, an 80 is good, and a 90 is excellent.
About This Competency
Managing Meetings is one of SOLID’s 50 competencies critical to executive success. It falls under the category of Execution, one of 5 categories within the competency model, which is explained and downloadable at the end of this article. Overall, executives are responsible for, and must be competent in:
E6. MANAGING MEETINGS: Improving skills in structuring staff meetings; designing off-sites; managing agendas; driving closure and actions; setting up accountability systems; ensuring follow-up.
About Our Competency Model
The SOLID Competency Model is based on two decades of research. It is founded on the premise that all executive competencies can be categorized into these five groupings: Core Character, Execution, Relationship, Management and Leadership. Executives must master all five categories to achieve excellence in their roles. This model is useful for gauging and quantifying your skillset, understanding what it takes to be an effective executive, and providing a framework for improving performance. For more information, download “SOLID Executive Competencies: What It Takes to Be an Executive.”
Looking constructively at yourself isn’t easy, but doing so provides the catalyst for transformational change. Having a balanced, objective look at your skillset and a willingness to be self-critical for the sake of continuous improvement are major markers of a top executive. Take the next step and download “Eliminate Executive Blind Spots” to explore your strengths and weaknesses and remove any blind spots you may have.
About the Author
Daniel J. Mueller lives in Austin, Texas and serves as President & CEO of SOLIDleaders, an executive coaching firm. He began his first executive coaching engagement in 1986 and has gone on to coach over 1,500 senior business leaders. Daniel continues to provide one-on-one executive coaching to this day, and genuine executives can schedule their first complimentary session with him here. Learn more about Daniel in his bio.