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Leaders: make your meetings more productive

by Andy Scantland, Principal, Upside Partners


Whether it feels like it today or not, meeting time should be incredibly valuable.  One study from Marakon Associates found that organizational leaders spend an average of only 21 hours a month together in leadership meetings.  Moreover, half of the leaders reported that the typical agenda never changes from meeting to meeting or it is set based in an ad hoc fashion; i.e., whatever is critical right now.

Meetings should be considered an investment like any other. Consider the hourly cost of your best people sitting in a meeting.  Then consider the opportunity cost for keeping those best people away from their responsibilities and leading their own people.  The cost will quickly add up; to make the ROI positive, the productivity in your meeting time needs to be substantial.

Everyone complains about meetings, so how do we make them better? Meetings are rarely a favorite part of a leader’s day but meetings can and should be engaging and productive.  So how can we leverage meetings to move the business forward?  Consider the following tips for more productive meetings:

 Prior to the Meeting:

Ask for input on agenda items and prep materials a few days to a week prior to the meeting.

  • Agenda: Have an agenda for every meeting. At the top of the agenda should be the meeting’s purpose and what outcome is required (a decision, a plan, an idea or approach). Be aware of the value of every item on the agenda; exclude items that could be resolved in another way (email, chat, or phone call).
  • Attendance: Make sure the attendees are the people that can make the decision. Keep the group as small as possible to achieve the desired outcome. Google never has more than ten people at a meeting.
  • Time and Place: Choose the time and place thoughtfully. Select a time when it’s likely the key people can be on time and stay until the end.
  • Prep Materials: Any reading materials should be distributed at least 24 hours (ideally, longer) prior to the meeting. This allows you to emphasize decisions over discussion. Have the author summarize into no more than a two-to-three page executive brief with references to the deeper material. People are much more likely to read three pages in preparation than twenty.
  • Web Meetings: Nothing is more irritating or counter-productive than a web meeting that doesn’t work well. Test the web conference bridge prior to the meeting. Make sure the bridge software is loaded on the computer, any cameras are properly located, and audio is working well.

Effective Meeting Leadership:

Start and End on Time: This is a show of respect for people’s time and contributions. You will find that if you make a habit if starting on time, people will find a way to show up on time. If the boss has a habit of showing up late, get started and do a one-minute brief for the boss when she shows up.

  • If this is an on-going project status meeting, spend the first five minutes reviewing the agreements from the last meeting. Stick to this and people will learn to get their stuff done or risk being embarrassed.
  • Separate strategy discussions from operational discussions. These topics require different preparation and different mindsets. When you try to deal with both in a single meeting, the focus will almost certainly focus on the operational side.

Meeting Dynamics: You’re the leader, so lead—bring discussion back to the agenda and announce any departures from it.

  • Do not spend time reviewing highly detailed information in the meeting; get the detailed information out at least a day in advance (with an executive summary followed by the detail).
  • Agree on how much discussion you will allow on any particular topic.
  • Don’t try to please everyone; instead, engender input from everyone while sticking with the task at hand.

Idea: Lead with a partner. You’ll have a second perspective and an additional communication style that can extend your influence.

Tone and demeanor: Be aware and intentional of your persona in the meeting.  Remember you are modeling behavior and attitude for those in the meeting. So decide beforehand the demeanor you want to bring and deliver it.

Reinforce the culture: Each meeting should reflect the culture you are trying to establish in your organization. If you working on a culture of inclusion and ideas, for instance, be sure the agenda and the approach reflects that culture.

Accountability: Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or Action Items. Assign accountability for action on every decision item – who will be responsible for accomplishment of each action item. Some organizations assign a person to every component of the project.  Apple assigns a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) for every task or project component.

Ending the Meeting:

Recap agreements before the meeting breaks up.

Spend one minute asking for input on improving future meetings on this topic.

For major initiatives, recap the decisions and assignments in an after-meeting written summary.

Acknowledge! If you’ve accomplished the goals for the meeting, it’s worth acknowledgement.  End with recognition for contributions and celebration of a job well done! This sets a positive and resourceful tone for the next time you get together.

Some additional resources for improving your meetings are listed below.


  1. “Seven Tips for Leading Meetings”, Inc. magazine,
  2. “5 Steps to Leading Effective Meetings,” Intuit,
  3. “How To Run Your Meetings Like Apple and Google,” 99u (Insights on making ideas happen)
  4. “Startup Lab’s ‘Meetings That Don’t Suck,’” co
  5. “Stop Wasting Valuable Time,” Harvard Business Review,

Andy Scantland is a principal at Upside Partners, which provides leadership development and executive coaching for growing businesses. Andy can be reached at

© 2015 Upside Partners