This is how you should structure all of your meetings

It is amazing how little thought seems to go into planning meetings. You get a group of (often high-priced) people to clear their schedule to be together. You’re spending a lot of money on the meeting just by taking up the time of this group.

And then, rather than taking advantage of all the brains in the room, you start the meeting with a series of reports on progress from a variety of committees and projects. Invariably, because the meeting has just started, the committee reports are not made with any sense of urgency. And there are always a few questions or digressions.

By the time you reach the meat of the agenda where everyone has to engage on key topics, time is running short. By the time the key issue is raised, there isn’t much time for significant discussion and a decision may get made without being given sufficient exploration. Worst case, the issue is punted to a future meeting, and the cycle repeats again a week or two down the road.

If you are going to bring people together, you should start by deciding the most important thing you want to accomplish. There are certainly times when just making sure everyone knows the status of key projects in the organization is the function of the meeting. But most of the time, there are pressing issues that require examination and analysis.

If you need to have key discussions about important issues, then start the meeting with the most important item. Lay out the issue and have the extended discussion the issue requires. Continue that for each of the other key issues that requires actual discussion by the people in the room.

If there are announcements that you want to make at the meeting, leave them to the end of the agenda. Bring written versions of the those remarks and give them out or send them around and make it clear that people are expected to actually read reports they are given and not assume that every piece of important information will also be given aloud at a meeting.

You may find that people in your organization only pay attention to information that is presented orally. In that case, consider making video or audio reports that you send via email or make available on an organizational server. Colleagues can listen to those reports at their convenience. It may take a while for people to adjust to the new system, but that is not a good excuse to slide back to the typical system of running meetings.

A positive side effect of this system of organizing meetings is that eventually you may be able to streamline the meetings by eliminating the oral reports altogether. That way, you can get people together only when you have crucial issues to discuss or new learning to share. You may also find that attendance at meetings improves, because attendees feel like their presence matters and that key goals are accomplished.

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