As a leadership coach, I hear clients express annoyance that they cannot lead an hour-long business meeting without attendees looking at emails, texts, or other information sourced on their iPhones. Some senior leaders even resort to posting a sign on the conference room door that reads “no iPhones, this meeting” or “check your iPhones.” In my opinion, those leaders are putting a Band-Aid on wound instead of addressing its cause. You may be thinking, “We can’t take away our employees’ iPhones.” I agree, however, what I am proposing is that leaders pause and question what they are contributing to the problem.
Spend a few moments and reflect over the past month on the meetings you attended and did not lead. After the meeting concluded, how many times did you say to yourself at least one of the following statements:
- “That was a non-value-add meeting.”
- “I’m not sure what the point was of that meeting.”
- “We hardly accomplished anything.”
- “We could have taken half the time to discuss what we did.”
- “Wish we could have a meeting where we don’t get off topic.”
- “I don’t know why I was invited to that meeting.”
My guess would be that at least half the meetings you attended had some elements of the above ineffectiveness. In these meetings, were you bored, sneaking peaks at Facebook and returning emails and texts? If so, what did these meetings have in common? I would propose they lacked one or more of the following:
- A defined or succinct purpose
- An upfront definition of what decisions, if any, needed to be made before leaving the meeting
- An agenda and topics clearly mapped to scheduled time
When leaders have not clearly defined the purpose and the decisions that need to be made during their meetings, they typically invite more people than required as a means of covering all bases. When a leader does not prepare well, invite the right people, or conduct the meeting effectively, attendees will naturally disengage. It is the leader’s responsibility to prepare and lead a meeting in a way that the right attendees will choose to participate.
How can a leader lead an effective meeting? Consider the following:
- Define and clearly articulate the purpose of the meeting (i.e. information, brainstorming, or decision-making).
- State at the beginning of the meeting what decisions need to be made by the group before the meeting adjourns.
- Issue an agenda with items #1 an #2 at the top as well as the topics that will be discussed, who will lead them, and how much time has been allocated to each activity. When possible, issue the agenda several days in advance, so attendees can prepare and ask any questions.
When leaders develop and clearly communicate their meetings’ purpose and decision requirements, they can more easily determine who needs to attend. Distributing an agenda in advance helps to set expectations and gives attendees time to prepare. Assigned prereading can reduce meeting time as attendees are current on the topic. Meeting time can then be productively used to answer questions, debate, and build consensus.
I acknowledge that some employees’ technology addiction can undermine even the leader’s best meeting management. These cases warrant a conversation outside of the meeting. Strong leaders are comfortable in respectfully addressing meeting behaviors that undermine team performance. Strong leaders also welcome feedback. One of the best closing questions a leader can ask before dismissing the group: “How could this meeting have been more effective?”
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in business development and leadership. She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops that address her clients’ specific business needs. She has a passion to help organizations fully engage all its employees. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281.793.3741 to further the conversation and determine how she can help you grow your business.