by J. Elise Keith | February 21, 2020

There's no shortage of advice about meetings out there, but what really matters? What simple steps can be put into action to make meetings more productive?

Every organization has to figure out how to make its meetings more productive. It's a complex challenge. To be effective, each meeting should aim to engage the individual talents of the attendees involved, work to achieve the organization's specific goals for the moment and do so in a way that's both culturally relevant and contextually sensitive to the world around it. Not an easy feat.

It can be tempting to shy away from the task. Instead of embracing this complexity, many leaders fall back on simple blanket rules that no one really follows -- like the leader that declared all meetings in the company should last no more than 20 minutes. These are common traps that keep an organization locked in a cycle of underperforming meetings and endemic mediocrity.

So how can your organization make its meetings more productive? Following are three ways high-performing organizations make meetings better.

1. Set Clear Expectations

Meeting norms, ground rules and guidelines set the foundation for building an effective meeting habit. These norms often include things like use of an agenda and keeping meetings on time. Whatever your rules, the leadership team must follow them. The way the leadership group meets sets the real standard everyone else follows.

2. Document and Share Results

Fear of missing out (FOMO) compels people to attend meetings they shouldn't. Organizers don't want to leave people out, so they invite everyone who might possibly want to weigh in. Yet having irrelevant people in the room de-energizes the conversation and disrupts productivity.

Before the meeting, document the overall purpose of the event and the desired outcomes clearly. Then, send out written meeting results afterwards. When people can see in advance what a meeting is for, then see afterwards what happened, they can decide whether or not it would benefit them to attend. This keeps meetings more focused, and it keeps everyone more productive.

3. Define "the Way" to Meet

There are 16 different types of business meetings, and each has a purpose. A regular team meeting is good for confirming progress and identifying problems, but it's a lousy place to make a big decision. Big decisions demand a dedicated decision-making meeting. Similarly, the initial meeting with a prospective client (or funder) should look very different from the meeting where you ink the deal. Each of these pivotal meetings can be optimized to drive the results your company needs.

High-performance organizations know the type of meetings they need to run and how to run each one well. Each meeting gets a name and becomes "the way" that kind of work gets done. For example, the team's check-in meeting becomes "the huddle." The meeting to impress prospective clients early in the sales cycle becomes a "services briefing." Anything called simply a "meeting" isn't specific enough.

J. Elise Keith is the co-founder of Lucid Meetings and the author of Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization. This March, she will be speaking to an elite group of women meetings and incentive professionals at Northstar's WILMI (Women in Leadership Meetings & Incentives). At WILMI, leading female buyers and suppliers will join together to network, engage in dialogue on present and future challenges and opportunities, and plan and do business together. Register now to meet J. Elise Keith at WILMI, March 8-10, 2020, in Washington, D.C.