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Life is Too Short For Long Meetings

Today I started research on running productive meetings, and it occurred to me that I already had the framework; what came to mind were the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. . .with a twist.  So, for your edification, here are the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Meetings according to none other than me:

1: Be Proactive
This is about more than taking the initiative. It means each meeting attendee, whether host or participant, is responsible for the effectiveness of the meeting.  It means starting the meeting on time, every time.  Actively choosing throughout the meeting to stay on-topic, taking the initiative to work towards solutions, and sticking to the agenda.  Park any ancillary matters that arise in the course of the meeting in a parking lot and ad to next week’s agenda.  Use proactive language and self-talk: “Let’s look at our alternatives”; “I can choose a different approach”; “I control my feelings”; and “I will”.

Finally, keep participants’ focus on those things we can influence as opposed to those things about which we are concerned.  In the course of a meeting, we can control how we schedule a project for completion; we cannot bring about world peace.

2: Begin with the end in mind
Helloooo, agenda!  Prepare an agenda.  Although it is better to distribute the agenda at least a few days in advance, even an hour beforehand will keep the meeting on track.  Focus the agenda on the purpose of the overall meeting (the purpose should move you towards a more significant project or corporate goal) and on the activities that support the whole meeting’s purpose.  Start the meeting with a statement of the intention and the purpose of the meeting.

3: Put first things first
Once you have gathered the items for the meeting, take a moment and organise the items on the agenda.  Decide which items on the agenda are priorities.  Make sure the top priorities are addressed first on the agenda, with lower priority items in the latter part of the meeting time.

Keep in mind, we spend time in one of four ways, depending on the two factors that define an activity – urgency and importance.  Urgent means it requires immediate attention (hint:  these are usually visible/audible like a ringing phone).  Importance relates to performance.

Do your meetings feel like nothing but fire-fighting and emergency response?  It sounds like you are in Quadrant 1.

Chances are, you will leave your meetings feeling as though nothing much has been accomplished and more than a little overwhelmed.

Quadrant II is the heart of effective meeting management. It deals with things that are not urgent but are important—things we know we need to do but somehow seldom get around to doing because they aren’t urgent. You can’t ignore the urgent and important activities of Quadrant I, although the more meeting time is focused on Quadrant 2, the less meeting time will be spent on Quadrant 1 activities.

4: Think win-win
In every interaction within the meeting, be grounded in a win-win philosophy.  Win-win is a commitment to seek mutual benefit in all interactions.  Essential to the win-win paradigm are integrity, maturity, and a mentality of abundance.  In baser terms, why waste anyone’s time in a meeting if we can’t commit to spending our time to benefit one another?

The four-step process of arriving at a Win/Win solution:

  1. See the problem from the other point of view.
  2. Identify critical issues and concerns (not positions) of those involved.
  3. Determine what results would constitute an entirely acceptable solution.
  4. Identify possible new options to achieve those results.

5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Typically we seek first to have other people understand our perspective.  This is based in a fear that “our turn” will never come.  As a result, most people never actually listen to what is being said; they just quietly formulate their next statement and wait for an opportunity to deliver it.

This habit of effective meetings has two parts to it; 1) empathic listening and 2) courage.  Empathic listening means you set aside your concerns, considerations, judgements, and reasons, and genuinely listen with eyes and ears. It requires you to listen with the intent to understand what the other is communicating.  Only after the other meeting participant states they have been accurately heard, is it your turn to speak.  This is where the courage comes in—the courage to speak your mind.

6: Synergise
Synergy will manifest once all five of the prior habits of highly effective meetings are present.   The result of your meeting will be the emergence of new alternatives, the growth of new leadership, new power for participants around issues that matter to them.  Synergy means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce. The possibilities of significant gain and improvement are so real that it’s worth the effort. Synergy means that 1+1 may equal 8.

At the end of every meeting, summarise:

  1. Desired results (not methods) of what is to be done and when.
  2. Specify parameters (principles, policies, etc.) within which results are to be accomplished.
  3. Identify human, financial, technical or organisational support needed.
  4. Accountability sets up the standards of performance and the time of evaluation.
  5. Consequences specify what does and will happen as a result of the evaluation.

7: Sharpen the saw
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree. “What are you doing?” you ask. “Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply.“I’m sawing down this tree.” “You look exhausted!” you exclaim.“How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he returns,“and I’m beat! This is hard work.” “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire.“I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically.“I’m too busy sawing!” Habit 7 is about taking time to sharpen the saw.

Habit 7 for effective meetings is about continually looking for ways to improve our effectiveness in meetings.  New presentation software ( Check.  Rotating leader for the meeting?  Sure.  Standing meetings?  That works (there is 7% more blood flow to the brain that way).  Do whatever it takes to keep people present and engaged.

One final golden rule for running productive meetings?
Respect people’s time and have fun!  Start on time.  End on time (or, if you are going to run long, get alignment before you do).  Don’t be afraid to have a laugh at your own expense.  Life is too short for long meetings.