The Right Way to Run a Meeting

Run a Meeting© iStockphoto/Thinkstock

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings.”

Thus spake humorist Dave Barry, and many of us would agree. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Some tips for having a good one:

  • Start and end strongly.
    Running a productive meeting isn’t rocket science. As Denver-based consultant Teri Schwartz notes, much of it boils down to opening and conducting every meeting with a purpose and closing it with a plan for “going forward.” Problems arise when people forget this. “It’s like flying a plane,” says Schwartz. “Most crashes happen at takeoff and landing.”
  • Pick a leader.
    Four years ago, Cleveland’s KeyCorp bank adopted a new principle: Always assign someone to lead. “The worst thing you can do is go into a meeting with no one in charge,” says the bank’s senior EVP and chief risk officer, Charles Hyle. “It turns into a shouting match.”
  • Think small.
    Be realistic about what you can accomplish. “You can’t solve world hunger in an hour,” Schwartz says. By the same token, keep the number of attendees manageable to stimulate discussion. “When you have too many people in the room,” says Hyle, “everyone clams up.”
  • Direct, don’t dominate.
    “People hate it when they can’t get their work done because they have to go to somebody else’s meeting,” says Columbia Business School professor Michael Feiner. So encourage others to speak up and get involved, especially junior staffers. “They need to believe it’s not his meeting or her meeting, but ‘our’ meeting,” Feiner says.
  • Lay down the rules of engagement.
    Everyone should understand who will take notes and how decisions will be made. Remember that consensus is typically a bad thing. “It means there isn’t enough dialogue or debate,” says Feiner, “and that’s the lifeblood of any innovative organization.” Jon Petz, the author of Boring Meetings Suck, suggests assigning follow-up tasks during the final five to ten minutes, then reiterating them later in a group e-mail so there’s no confusion.

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