Management - Run Effective Meetings

Strategies For Communicating Well And Staying On Task

Run Effective MeetingsStrategies for communicating well and staying on task.

While there’s no magic formula for conducting good meetings, Amy Rees Anderson believes a leader’s authenticity always sets the right tone.

“I think leaders who try to act overly serious or who talk in terms that are difficult for people to follow end up creating a barrier between themselves and their employees,” says Anderson, managing partner of REES Capital and contributing writer for Forbes magazine. “When leaders can be down to earth and openly authentic with their people, they’ll garner far more support from their team.”

Anderson suggests some of the best meetings are transparent and even unscripted, where managers talk frankly about mistakes, or spontaneously applaud performances. “Honesty and openness with employees is the most important tip for communicating company-wide, and always remembering to be grateful and appreciative for the work they are doing and the contribution they make each day,” she says.

Could you use some advice for running better meetings? Here’s a list of ideas for maximizing time and keeping discussions on point.

Hold Daily Huddles
Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First and founder of Profit First Professionals, has done away with lengthy gatherings in favor of brief meetings at the beginning of each workday.

“We used to call a company meeting and sit around for two hours in a conference room, and at the end, not much was accomplished because it was pure overwhelm,” he says. “I’m a big proponent of having daily short huddles – 10 minutes – to defeat these long meetings. Now, with these daily huddles, the whole team knows what’s going on, but it’s very rapid-fire.”

Anderson agrees that once-a-day company-wide meetings are a good idea. “The communication doesn’t necessarily have to be long, but it needs to be on a daily basis,” she says. “It also needs to be consistent so the employees know to read the communication coming from their leader each day.”

If your company is too big for a huddle, Anderson still thinks you should try to connect with staffers each day. Her firm has set up an Intranet page that employees can visit when they first log in every morning. On that home page, there’s a daily CEO message waiting. “I would post them at the end of the prior day so they could have it first thing the next morning,” Anderson says.

CEO messages can be similar to short blogs that touch on current company projects or goals. Themes could also be broadly motivational or specifically tied to team building. “I found that by being very open and transparent, it eliminated the typical office gossip and speculation that can kill an organization,” Anderson says. “Everyone was in the know, so no one could profess to be more important than anyone else. This also kept everyone in the company on the same page and aiming to achieve the same goals together.”

Prepare Agendas
If team leaders don’t come into meetings with a specific outline of what needs to be discussed, there’s a good chance much of the time will be wasted, according to Anderson. “Having a list of items to cover added to the agenda and then setting the rule that the meeting only addresses those topics will keep people from going off on a tangent,” she says.

Agendas don’t have to be complicated – they should be partly designed for pacing and to keep meetings from becoming a borefest. “We found that by gathering the bullet-point issues each executive had for their own department ahead of time, it allowed us to keep on-point as we talked through them,” Anderson says. “If an agenda item needed supporting documents to help us in our discussion, we would circulate those with the agenda to allow everyone to come to the meeting prepared.”

Establish Timed Comments
Michalowicz practices rigidly timed responses for each meeting member in order to ensure every voice is heard – including those who would otherwise be hesitant to vocally express their views.

“The vocal people, the loud voices, will dominate the room,” he says. “They may be the loudest, but they’re rarely the most insightful. In many cases, the thinkers are the ones who put a lot of thought into it and may have the best ideas, but aren’t empowered to speak up because it’s not their nature.”

In Michalowicz’s meetings, everyone gets exactly two minutes to speak and provide feedback. “We go in this circle, and when your two minutes are up, they’re up, so you need to speak concisely and get your core thoughts across,” he says. “It keeps the loquacious talkers from talking too long, and it enables the quiet folks to have a balanced input in the meeting.”

Michalowicz also uses a technique he learned from the book Lord of the Flies, in which an assembled group of children pass around a conch shell. Whoever holds the shell has the right to speak. “We do the same thing with a PEZ dispenser,” he says. “The rule is: If you hold the C-3PO PEZ dispenser, it’s your turn to talk.”

Remove Emotion
Brainstorming sessions can be some of the most useful meetings mangers can call – but only if they don’t become lobbying events. “When someone is seeking the input of a group, they may not realize it, but they put tremendous bias into it through facial gestures and comments,” Michalowicz says. “They guide the outcome to where they want it, and brainstorming is defeated.”

In order to take emotion out of meetings and avoid having them turn into pitches, Michalowicz has come up with an off-beat solution. Let’s say a manager calls a meeting to discuss an idea he came up with. When the meeting starts, that manager shouldn’t lead the discussion, but should instead step out of the conversation and even face away from the rest of the attendees.

“The technique is really simple: That person literally goes to the corner, they face away from everyone, they keep a notepad, and they zip their lips,” Michalowicz says. “The job of the group is to have a discussion as if that person is not in the room. It’s ultimately effective because that person can’t be influencing it.”

The idea, according to Michalowicz, is for a brainstorm session to go on its own wandering path. And then, usually after about 20 minutes, that person who’s taking notes apart from the group is invited to turn back around and share insights.

This fly-on-the-wall approach is meant to ensure full objectivity when discussing a new idea or path for the company. “That’s the only way we do brainstorming now, and it’s really effective,” Michalowicz says.

Embrace Technology
Until recently, Michalowicz has been a strong opponent of bringing cellphones into meetings. But, of late, his opinion has undergone a 180-degree turn. “The reality is that technology is so engrained in us that if we remove technology, people feel a little bit lost,” he says.

Michalowicz has incorporated a technique practiced at a university, in which students were encouraged to use their smartphones to ask questions on a classroom Tweetwall. The wall invites students to interact with the lecturer and each other.

“So, as the lecturer is speaking, students are asking questions that go to the wall, and they’re allowed to say whatever they want,” Michalowicz says. “What the lecturer now knows is there are a lot of questions going on, and the students are engaged.”

What also happened in the university setting is that side conversations broke out, empowering quieter people. In effect, some students said: “The teacher said this; I have a different perspective.”

Michalowicz has decided to use this Tweetwall approach in his daily meetings, and the results have been very positive. “It was a great way to extract thoughts that would otherwise die out in our mind – to get them documented,” he says. “At larger meetings, there’s a lot of passive listening. Now, everyone’s empowered to participate.”

SMART Meeting Goals