Five Keys for Great Meetings (Time)

Most meetings suck … and you need more meetings! Are you insane, Jeff? If our meetings suck, then why do we need more meetings? Simple – because the answer is not fewer meetings, but bettermeetings. But if you want to have better meetings, you need to know how to plan, lead and close better meetings. That’s what brings us to the five keys for great meetings.

The following five keys will help you make your meetings more engaging, meaningful, effective and impactful.

1.   Start and Finish on Time

2.   Be Clear on the Question (or Agenda)

3.   Don’t Solve Problems (other than the problem that’s the focus of the meeting)

4.   Finish with “What Did We Decide?”

5.   Always Establish Clear Ownership and Next Steps

I’ll be sharing about one great meeting key every week for the next five weeks, starting today with point 1. If you want to make sure to get them all, send me a note and ask for the entire series. We’ll make sure to send you the final collection at the end.

We begin this week with probably the simplest of the five keys: Start and finish on time! We all know this one – sort of – but do we really know it, understand it andknow in what ways to make it happen? Simply put, you can’t start and finish a meeting on time unless you know and commit to two things: 1. What time the meeting starts; and 2. What time the meeting ends. Obvious, I know, but most meetings are not set up with a clear commitment on either the start or finish time.

One suggestion on starting times I learned years ago is to start meetings at an odd time – 8:05 or 8:07 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. There’s something in the precision of an odd time that brings more focus and attention for the attendees. In addition, starting means starting, and this also requires clarity of expectations. For example, setting a meeting time for 8:00 a.m. often means that people arrive in the vicinity of 8:00. However, a clearer expectation set by whomever is responsible for the meeting would be that everyone is in the room, in their seats and ready to listen to the opening remarks at 8:00 a.m. (or even better, 8:05 a.m.).

Another idea for starting meetings on time is to set the expectation that the door will be closed at 8:05 a.m. and that no one will be admitted after that time. It will not take long for every team member to understand and be more intentional about time.

Finishing on time is similar – it depends on clear intentions, communication and commitments – and it also is a matter of integrity and accountability. If you tell someone that the meeting will last thirty minutes (e.g. 8:05-8:35 a.m.), and you fail to honor that time, you are out of accountability, you are lacking integrity and you are telling everyone in the meeting that you do not value their time. Unless the entire group agrees to extend the meeting time (which should be done rarely), and this request for an extension is made well before the end of time, the meeting ends no later than the scheduled time. By the way, it’s always great to finish meetings early because everyone loves getting done early and having more time than expected for other things.

Another strategy to help create a timely finish is to schedule unusual meeting lengths. Most meetings are scheduled for an hour, thirty minutes or fifteen minutes. Instead, use fifty minutes, twenty-five minutes or twelve minutes. This again brings a sharper focus to everyone’s intentions and to the commitment to be timely. 

If you want to create more effective and impactful meetings, then begin by embracing this key – start and finish on time – and do things differently to put this concept into meaningful action.

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