How to Run a Great Meeting

When I open a benchmarking analysis, I always ask, “are there any regular meetings coming up?” I’m interested in unraveling the organization’s communication habits. I want to discern the rhythm of communication in the business and also the quality of the execution. Although organizations should hold different types of meetings (Strategic Meetings, Tactical Meetings, One-on-Ones, Planning Meetings, etc.), all meetings should include these five basic tools to ensure they are both efficient and effective. Do you use all of these tools? Do you use them every time?

1. Ground Rules

These are the common rules of engagement for a meeting. Think of a few things that typically go wrong/drive people crazy in meetings and collaborate with the group to find a way to handle them. Topics often include: use of phones, cross talk, arriving late, meetings that go long, taking breaks, determining quorum, etc. Deciding the ground rules in advance creates a smoother experience for all participants. Yes – some participants may object to creating these rules. The most common objection I hear about setting ground rules is, “we’re all adults here. I don’t think we need to spell this out.”

But what one person thinks is common sense may not be common sense to all. My favorite example of this was when I was setting ground rules about phone use in a Management Training session. “How do you all want to deal with phones?” I asked. “Is it ok to let them ring? Have them on vibrate? Should they be put away? It’s up to all of you – this is your meeting. Obviously, we wouldn’t take calls right in the session…”

At that point, the room erupted in laughter. There was a student in the back corner of the class on a call at that moment! What I thought was common sense (don’t take a call in the middle of a class) wasn’t common. Take five minutes to set the ground rules and avoid unnecessary frustration later when people start to become lax in their behaviour.

2. Verbal Upfront Contract

Our regular readers and Management Trainees know this to be our favorite tool for enforcing ground rules after they’re set. Agree on what action will be taken if the expected behaviours do not manifest and then follow through on whatever consequences you collectively deem appropriate. At Bellrock’s Weekly Tactical Management Meeting, for example, we pay $20 into the kitty if we’re late. The money funds our social activities, is a fun way to reinforce the ground rules (unless you are the late one), and saves us a lot of wasted time as we are rarely waiting for a straggler to show up. More Verbal Upfront Contract information here. #ProTip: Don’t skip the follow through.

3. Parking Lot

The Parking Lot is simply a list of topics for a later discussion. We’ve all been in a meeting when the conversation swerves into an area of great interest, but one that isn’t core to the current conversation. Instead of following that path, the idea is “parked” for discussion at a later time. Parking a topic does not mean forgetting it – for a Parking Lot to be effective, the topic must show up again, whether in the same meeting or a different one. Otherwise, participants feel the Parking Lot is just a way to shut down conversation.

4. Action Log

Use your whiteboard or a giant piece of paper on the wall and write the Who, What, and When for all actions agreed to in the meeting. This is a public record that will promote completion and eliminate the “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that” excuse. #ProTip only assign one person responsibility for each action. Two names in a “Who” box is a recipe for finger pointing.

5. A Clock

So many board rooms feel like Las Vegas – you can’t find a clock anywhere! If you don’t want your meeting to run long, the first antidote is to know what time it is. And with the decline in use of clock bracelets the only way to know the time is to look at a phone. But the best meetings usually have a ground rule that all phones must be put away. Buy your boardroom a clock. Meeting Chairs can monitor the time without the temptation of checking email. #ProTip buy one that doesn’t tick! The ticking in a silent room is torture.

Are you using these five tools in all of your meetings? If not, today is the day to hit that reset button. Share this article with your team and see if they are willing to give these tools a try. More efficient and effective use of time? Should be a no-brainer.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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