Most meetings are wastes of time. Even in meetings that people consider to be well-run, there is much room for improvement. But internal meetings – when run effectively – can be the fastest way to reach a vital decision or to disseminate important information.
So we’re going to explore some of the best ways to run an internal company meeting. For clarification I define “meetings” as forums to make decisions and “concerts” as forums to disseminate company information and build team spirit. The two are used for very different purposes and should not be confused.
Top 10 Meeting Best Practices:
1. Only hold meetings when they are absolutely necessary. Most meetings are not needed in the first place. Only call a meeting if it is truly needed, such as for urgent matters. Often, an email or quick phone can be just as, if not more, effective and efficient.
2. Keep meetings small. The ideal size of a meeting is two people. If your meeting has more than eight people it is no longer a meeting, it is a concert. Sometimes concerts are important (like company meetings for team building and building team spirit), but recognize that people will perceive them differently. Concerts, just like rock concerts, need to be really fun, engaging, exciting, and interesting to everyone in attendance.
3. Aim for ad-hoc meetings. Ad-hoc meetings (with 2-6 decision makers) are almost always better than standing meetings. Bringing people together to solve a problem is the best type of meeting. Review all standing meetings and kill meetings that are no longer useful or productive.
4. Make meetings optional. All meetings (especially standing meetings) should be optional. If people are not getting a lot out of a meeting, they shouldn’t go. And they should self-select out of meetings.
5. Only invite people that NEED to be at the meeting. Be lethal and cut people. Ever notice how some meetings have people creep? They start at 4 people and all of a sudden have 40 people. Don’t let this happen in your organization. Don’t let non-essential people come to your meeting – simply tell them that they are not essential to this meeting. As Michael Corleone would say: “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.”
6. Send out a meeting agenda beforehand and notes after. Every meeting should have an agenda that people get beforehand (ideally by the day before) so that all the participants can prepare adequately for the meeting (or decide to opt-out of the meeting).
The agenda should be action-oriented: instead of saying “discuss marketing plans” it should say “decide on one of these three marketing plans.” A meeting agenda should have at most 4 items (a concert agenda can have more) with time limits for each item so that everyone in the meeting understands the time expectations. If appropriate, someone at the meeting should be assigned to be the note taker who will disseminate notes to people afterwards (including those people that elect not to attend the meeting).
7. Keep meetings as short as possible. No meeting should be more than an hour. Nothing good happens in more than an hour. Meetings should ideally end before the time limit allotted to them – once discussion ceases to be productive for everyone in attendance. Great concerts, by contrast, can be longer than hour – just remember that no decisions can be made in a concert.
8. Never discuss a topic that doesn’t engage EVERYONE at a meeting. Meetings need to engage everyone. Every single person should be actively engaged in every topic in the meeting. If they are not engaged, they should either not be at that meeting or that topic should be discussed at a later time. If you are ever at a meeting where a side-discussion is happening between 2 or more participants, then it is definitely a poorly run meeting. Meetings need to engage everyone.
9. Keep meeting participants on topic and interesting. Are you ever at a meeting and you start day-dreaming and you miss part of the discussion? That’s the sign of a poorly run meeting. Meetings need to be active and if a participant is going off course or is long winded, it is the meeting organizers job to cut them off. Again, it aint personal.
Meetings are about reaching a good decision, not just hearing everyone’s thoughts. Meeting participants should not talk more than two minutes at one time unless what they are saying is utterly mind-expanding. Meetings are not lectures – if people want to talk for a long time, set up concerts for them to do so.
10. Make meetings fun. People should enjoy themselves at meetings and actually look forward to attending them. Standing meetings should have fun rituals. While you might not have U2 or a laser light show at your concert, you can at least have some slides of fun team photos and people applauding when you announce your revenue numbers.
Special thanks to meeting enhancers Bryan Duxbury, Dayo Esho, Michael Hsu, Manish Shah, and Mimi Sun for their help and edits.