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Later this week I’m giving a talk to a group of student leaders on the topic of Running Effective Meetings. For the session, which will be as much of a discussion as a presentation, I’ll take them through some of the basics on meetings and share some tips, traps and best practices for approaching, setting up, and running effective meetings and I’m hoping that you’ll contribute some of your best practices. Here, at a high level, is an overview of the session:

Introductions, who’s here and why? 

Quick discussion on why some meetings are so bad (e.g., it could have been an email, meeting just to meet, many people don’t need to be there, attendees didn’t do the pre-work, the leader is not prepared, etc.)

Various types of meetings, including:

  • Team formation/kick-off/building meetings
  • Information sharing/update meetings 
  • Problem solving meetings 
  • Innovation/brainstorming meetings 
  • Decision making meetings

What makes a great meeting:

The basics:

  • Everyone understands the purpose of the meeting (and why they’re included)
  • The leader (or someone else) creates an agenda and sends it around well in advance of the meeting (and others may contribute to the agenda, depending on the group and type of meeting) – one that the group will be able to work through in the allotted time 
  • The meeting starts on time
  • People contribute to the discussion 
  • The meeting meets its objectives (e.g., the group decides something, if that was the purpose of the meeting); however, don’t confuse an efficient meeting with an effective meeting 
  • Everyone understands their assignment and what comes next
  • The meeting ends on time 
  • There is appropriate follow-up (e.g., meeting summary sent) 

Set some ground rule to generate dialogue such as:

  • Encourage people to give their ideas, perspective, and opinions – if you are the leader, consider giving your thoughts and opinions last 
  • Ask questions to really understand others’ perspective 
  • Listen actively and generously – seek to understand 
  • Bring up concerns and give constructive feedback on ideas – even ideas you agree with 
  • Manage feelings – we can disagree without being disagreeable 
  • Don’t shut discussion down/decide too soon - strike a between discussing different ideas/options and deciding; make sure people are ‘on board,’ otherwise people won’t commit, and the same issue will continue to arise  

Ensure that everyone is “present”– meaning no distractions. People on their phones or surfing the web during meetings means that they are not only not contributing, but they are not participating or even (really) paying attention. Besides, it’s rude to others in the meeting and encourages others to do the same. Have people put away phones and other distractions. 

Start the meeting with something inclusivelike a check-in or something lighthearted/fun (very short, but gets everyone participating) 

Spend the time discussing information that not everyone knows(most meetings cover topics/information that everyone knows) 

Inject some humor or fun– people think better when they’re loose 

Make sure everyoneis contributing. Many meetings are dominated by one or two people speaking 80%+ of the time. If you aren’t getting input from everyone in the room (or on the call), you aren’t getting the benefit of those peoples’ knowledge and perspective? There is a great New York Timesarticle on what Google learned about building great teamsand this is part of their findings about effective teams – everyone contributes roughly equally to the discussion and people feel free/safe to bring up ideas and concerns in the team

End well. Make sure everyone understands what said and/or decided, as well as what’s next


Special considerations for virtual meetings 

  • Virtual teams tend to have less social rapport, be more task-oriented, and members are less satisfied than in-person teams, meaning that you need to be aware of and attend to the social/personal aspects of teams more during meetings 
  • Get to know each other – social time is not wasted time; it’s an investment 
  • Make sure that team members understand cultural differences in behavioral norms and language customs 
  • Be sensitive to local cultures and individual norms (e.g., family time, religion, customs, work hours)


Sharing special techniques/best practices from the group itself

What are some of your best practices for meetings?

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