Long ago I worked for a senior leader who, inspired by a random bit of information that crossed his desk, would ask his assistant to round up his usual suspects (senior leaders of Finance, IT, Marketing, Sales) to discuss this important new issue and its potential relevance to our company. Given the difficulty of scheduling time with this busy group, the meeting would typically take place at least four weeks later. On the appointed day, the leader would stride into the meeting late, face glued to a BlackBerry, and ask the assembled group: “Whose meeting is this? Why am I here?”
The unspoken answer, of course, is that it is nobody’s meeting. It’s an hour in these important people’s lives that they will never get back, and the result of the meeting will be as meaningful as Captain Renault’s decision to “round up the usual suspects” at the end of Casablanca. Even if the original idea for the meeting was a good one.
Later in my career I worked for a different senior leader who understood the value of a really well-run meeting, and I’d like to share six of her best practices now.
“No agenda, no attend-a” was her catchphrase, denoting the fact that unless there was a clear agenda for the meeting, sent in advance, she would not attend. No exceptions. The agenda states the purpose of the meeting, the sub-components of the meeting and who owns them, and the expected outcome/decision of the meeting.
The meeting has an owner. The owner is not necessarily the most senior person at the meeting—in fact rarely so. The meeting owner has done all the preparatory research, is ready to explain the topic to the assembled group, and is ready to offer a recommendation. A prudent senior attendee sits quietly while the meeting owner runs the meeting, weighing in only when critical input is required.
Time is valuable. A 15-minute meeting that surfaces all issues and answers all questions is a beautiful thing, regardless of how much time has been set aside for the meeting. “Are we done? Great, we all just received a gift of 15 minutes. Thanks.”
Technology is turned off. Laptops closed, all other devices put away. My boss would stop meetings if an attendee started reading BlackBerry emails. She would say: “Let’s pause for a moment until everyone is focusing on the topic at hand.” My personal belief is that this practice alone cuts actual meeting times in half.
Everyone in the room needs to be there. Everyone in the room should have a real stake in the topic, and everyone in the room should know why it is important for them to be there. In a poker game, if you don’t know who the “fish” is, it is likely you. In a meeting, if you don’t know why you’re supposed to be there, it means that you’re not supposed to be there.
There is readout from the meeting. The people who were at the meeting need clear reiteration of decisions made, action items (with owners), and next steps/timing. An extended group of people (who were consciously excluded from the meeting) need to know: a meeting was held on this topic, the decisions coming out of the meeting are as follows, the implications of these decisions for the following functions are as follows, and the contact for more information is as follows.