Set the Agenda
It may seem like an obvious requirement, but a lot of meetings start with no clear sense of purpose. The meeting’s agenda can be summarized on a handout, written on a whiteboard or discussed explicitly at the outset, but everyone should know why they’ve gathered and what they’re supposed to be accomplishing. The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course.
If leaders make sure there is an agenda before a meeting starts, everyone will fall in line quickly.
“If I don’t have an agenda in front of me, I walk out,” said Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network. “Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there, because if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting. It’s very important to me to focus people and to keep them focused, and not just get in the room and talk about who won the Knicks game last night.”
Start on Time. End on Time.
Nothing can drain the energy from a room quite like waiting for the person in charge to show up. Why do so many in positions of power fall into the bad habit of being late for meetings? Is it just that they’re so busy? Or is there a small thrill in keeping everyone waiting for them, a reminder that their time is somehow more valuable than everyone else’s?
Time is money, of course, and all that sitting around and trying to guess when the boss may arrive is a waste of a precious resource. When establishing the informal rules of an organization, employees take their cues from the person in the corner office. If that person wants meetings to start on time, meetings will start on time.
Terry Lundgren, the chairman of Macy’s, has never hesitated to enforce a strict policy of on-time meetings. “If the meeting is at 8, you’re not here at 8:01, you’re here at 8, because the meeting’s going to start at 8,” he said. “Busy people that can’t get off the last phone call to get there, [need to] discipline themselves to be there on time.”J
Just as important as starting on time is ending on time. A definitive end time will help ensure that you accomplish what’s on your agenda and get people back to their work promptly. “I like to have an agenda that we think through,” Mr. Lundgren added, “and we say, ‘This meeting’s going to go for two hours,’ and we force ourselves to carve through the agenda.’”
End with an Action Plan
Leave the last few minutes of every meeting to discuss the next steps. This discussion should include deciding who is responsible for what, and what the deadlines are. Otherwise, all the time you spent on the meeting will be for naught.
Shellye Archambeau, chief executive of MetricStream, a firm that helps companies meet compliance standards, likes to end her meetings by asking, “Who’s got the ball?”
“When you’re in sports, and the ball is thrown to you, then you’ve got the ball, and you’re now in control of what happens next,” she said. “You own it. It becomes a very visible concept for making sure that there’s actually ownership to make sure things get done.”