Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor

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5 Tactics For Better Meetings

As the years pass some things are becoming more important and I am getting more impatient with other things, particularly when they impact the important stuff. Time has become more important. I want to spend more of it doing the things I enjoy most - family, friendships, horses, skiing, watching a sunset over the mountains from our acreage and yes, purposeful, meaningful work. I am becoming increasingly impatient with meandering that don't make the best use of time.

I don't dislike well run meetings, I see them as essential. Meetings bring people together, they enable the transfer of information, and they are vital to problem solving and creative decision making. I appreciate meetings that are convened for a useful purpose and make efficient use of time. Here are five things I've learned about making the most of meetings:

Take a less is more perspective. A meeting that can accomplish the group's agenda in 15 or 20 minutes is always better than one that takes 90 minutes. Yet when leaders call people to a meeting, they often act as though they they need to fill enough time to have made the meeting (maybe even the travel time to get to it) worthwhile. Treat time as valuable. Don't just make the declaration that it's valuable, really act as though it's valuable. Endeavor to use the time you need and no more. Everyone appreciates leaving to get to other activities sooner rather than later.

Allocate time for each item and stick to it. When people know how much time is allocated to an item and know the meeting moderator will stay on schedule they are more likely to manage time well.

Stay on topic. A lot of time is wasted when people wander off topic. A little time in the opening minutes to greet, catch up and build relationships is time well spent. When this is accomplished, stay on topic. The temptation is often for someone to try to edify by sharing a story or experience that isn't really relevant to the agenda.

Avoid circular arguments. This is a big one for me - a huge time waster and frustration. Your group is in a circular argument when people are advocating for different positions but offering nothing new to inform the discussion, they are simply restating what has already been said. Good decisions are more likely when all relevant information is on the table but restating what has already been said bogs down the meeting and often inflames passions in all the wrong ways. A good moderator interrupts discussion at these junctions and invites people to offer new information or move on. Don't be surprised at this point if someone tries to repackage what they have already said. When they do, call it for what it is and keep the meeting moving.

Get everyone involved. The best meetings benefit from everyone's contribution. A good moderator encourages reluctant speakers and limits those who will dominate if left unchecked. I will often ask for a brief statement from everyone at a key juncture, going around the table in turn. It's a simple tactic to get every voice in the discussion and limit the dominators. If it's a yes / no decision I'll ask everyone to give us a number between 1 and 10, where 1 represents the strongest no, and 10 the strongest yes. It's a simple tactic to assess where the group is without a lot of debate. Sometimes you are closer to the decision than you know. Reluctant contributors are heard and dominators are limited.

Everyone enjoys meetings when they are well led. Good meetings give people an opportunity to get together, to understand the organization's situations and to participate in decisions. Good meetings contribute to engagement. Poorly led meetings frustrate everyone and diminish confidence in the leader who is responsible for them. Each of our five suggestions rests with the meeting moderator. Effective leaders know how to moderate in a way that brings out the best in everyone and avoids the common traps that leave people wincing at the notice of another meeting. Want to go deeper on the practical tools of great leadership? Check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, available in soft cover and e-book.

Discussion questions:

  1. Which were the most effective meetings you attended and what made them good?
  2. Which of the meeting traps does your group tend to fall into most often?

To go deeper on leadership call or write about a half day workshop or a keynote address.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
November 2015   |   By Dan Gaynor


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