Meeting Management Tips By A Former CFO: What I Learned The Hard Way About Team Meetings

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In my last big corporate job before I jumped ship to start Radial, I was widely respected for running the most effective, efficient and productive meetings just about anyone had experienced.

I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t nearly as effective earlier in my career, though.

Here’s what I finally learned to do differently:

1) Start and end on time. Super-, super-important. No exceptions.

Even if it’s just you and one other person, start and end on time.

If you need more time, do NOT slop over the appointed end-time. Set up another meeting, for another day.

And next time, build a more realistic agenda and plan for multiple sessions in advance.

2) Don’t cancel routinely scheduled meetings willy-nilly

If you’re doing important work in meetings, they’ll be the last thing you’re willing to sacrifice.

If canceling them causes no pain – if it doesn’t slow progress on important activities – then that’s a huge red flag that these meetings are duds and a waste of time (see #3 below).

3) Group meetings are not a cure for lazy management.

If you’re using team meetings as a quick way for you to get individual updates from each person, stop it immediately. You should be having one-on-one meetings in person or by phone with your team members. That’s where you update each other.

If you don’t bother with one-on-ones at all, or routinely cancel one-on-ones, you’re also not coaching, supporting, brainstorming and otherwise supporting your team members.

No way are you doing all that in a team meeting (and if you are, you’re wasting everyone else’s time as they sit through stuff that’s not on their plate.)

Red flag: do your meetings normally result in task assignments, back-and-forth discussion, decisions and/or next steps which then form the basis for new discussion, decisions and next steps in subsequent meetings?

If not, you’re probably using a meeting when another form of communication would be smarter.

For example, if the only agenda items are updates that you’re passing along from senior management, you can usually handle this much more efficiently via email, group messages, and so on.

4) Always provide an agenda well in advance – days, not hours.

Often, you and your team can set the agenda for the next meeting at the end of today’s session.

A meeting without an agenda is a meeting without a purpose. See #3 above and #4 below.

Tip: If you have several important topics that deserve the team’s involvement, they probably won’t fit in a single meeting.

If they’re not time-critical, put a section at the bottom of the agenda labeled “Future Topics.” That way the team won’t forget about them.

If they’re time-critical, schedule a second meeting. Don’t try to fit ten pounds of flour in a five-pound sack.

5) Only include topics where you actively want the team’s full involvement.

Your team almost certainly has deeper expertise in some areas than you do. Life experiences you haven’t had. New or better or different ideas.

Team meetings are an excellent way to tap into that expertise.

However – if you don’t think they have the ability to help troubleshoot, problem-solve or come up with new approaches, don’t bring up the topic.

If that means your agenda is now virtually empty, you face one of two situations:

  • You vastly overrate your own experience, expertise and insights compared to everyone else’s.
  • You’ve surrounded yourself with an incredibly weak team.

Either way, the answer lies within, Grasshopper.

6) Be realistic about out-of-meeting commitments

It may not be realistic to expect everyone to read a full report prior to a meeting.

Instead, put time on the agenda for the appropriate person to summarize the report in the meeting, prior to any discussion of next steps.

7) Always ping everyone

Often several people will dominate the discussion on a topic.

Before you reach a conclusion or decision, always poll everyone who hasn’t spoken up. All you need to say is “Leslie, what thoughts or questions do you have?”

It’s okay if the answer is “Nothing to add, thanks.”

(Although if that’s always the answer from certain people, you’ve probably got the wrong person in the wrong job.)

8) Provide clear boundaries for action

Say you want the team’s help in tackling a particular business issue. When you frame the issue, spell out the goals and priorities, limits and boundaries.

For example: “sacred cows” limit many employees’ thinking. They may assume that the company would never consider closing down a certain program or department, even though everyone knows it’s got really serious problems.

If you are willing to do that, say so.

On the other hand, if your executive team absolutely refuses to consider cutting business hours, tell people that everything else is on the table – except for that.

9) Very important: assignments, to-do’s, next steps

Write down assignments, to-do’s and next steps, with a name and date next to each item.

Wrap up the meeting by recapping these items verbally. Set aside time on the agenda for this. A great way to do this is to go around the room and ask each person to list his/her own action items.

Then email a copy to everyone as soon as you’re back in your office or document it in your team project management tool.

Use this list to build the “Continuing Issues” section of your next meeting agenda.

10) Address attendee shortcomings offline

Address late attendance, lack of preparation, etc. individually. Even if the whole group exhibits that pattern of behavior.

Don’t lecture the whole group at once. It wasn’t cool when your parents punished all four kids for the bad acts of just one – and it isn’t cool now.