Out of 168 hours a week, a leader sleeps about 50 hours and spends the remaining 118 in meetings. Maybe it’s not really that bad, but that’s what it feels like! Perhaps we need a different perspective, because I honestly think meetings are good.
When I pray, that’s a meeting with God. When I huddle up with leaders at the church, that’s a meeting with people I love to work with. When I have dinner with Patti, that’s a meeting with my wife! Ok, Patti probably wouldn’t appreciate me calling our time together a meeting, but you get the point. In our personal lives and professional lives, we meet with people, so we need to be really good at it.
We know there are many important things about a great meeting from group dynamics to decisions and next steps. And don’t forget the quality of the coffee! But I believe there are three things that set the foundation for a great meeting. They are as follows:
1) The Right Agenda
A productive meeting always starts with the right agenda. You can get the best leaders in a room with the wrong agenda and you get nowhere fast. Among the worst meetings are those where the leader gathers the team without an agenda, and says something like, “Ok, let’s go around the table and give everyone a chance to hit their topics.” In those meetings you hope and pray the snacks are awesome.
Develop a carefully thought through agenda and email it in advance. I often don’t get my agendas out until the night before. That’s ok. I’m fully aware that the team is not having their devotionals with my agendas, but they do need to know what is coming and how to prepare. If anyone needs more time to prepare, I give them more advance notice. The agenda is more about the leader being prepared than the group.
2) The Right People
A meeting is not the same thing as a club. Don’t organize your meetings around your org chart or positional rank on the team. It’s ok to start there, but that should not represent who is in the room each time. For example, I lead two regular meetings. One is the Exec Team and the other is our Directional Leadership Team. In each one there is a set group that makes up the foundation of the team, but we consistently invite in and out those that need to be there according to the agenda, not the group.
When you create the agenda, ask yourself, who needs to be in the room? The next complexity is the question of how many. If you get more than ten in a meeting, except possibly for brainstorming meetings, you aren’t going to get much accomplished. Meetings get too big when we are afraid we might hurt someone’s feelings. If you model that not everyone needs to be in every meeting, but that they are agenda driven, emotions are more easily managed. In fact, our team loves it when they are “freed up” to leave because they have other meetings to go to! I mean stuff to do.
3) The Right Timing
The tyranny of the urgent always clashes with important long term thinking and planning. Both are necessary. It’s not true that if you do better advance planning that you won’t have urgent things in the moment. Urgent stuff just happens! This is one of the greatest tensions we face in leading productive meetings.
Make intentional decisions about how you balance the urgent and what is important. The better you do this, the higher the morale of the people around the table, and that will increase your productivity.
I’ve got more to say here, but I have a meeting to go to!