How to turn meetings into strategic, fun engagements

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I visit with executives every week, and a trend that seems overwhelmingly true is that many companies have calendars filled with uninspiring and unnecessary meetings.

Zoom meetings, calls and conference room meetings are draining the minds of our employees and eating into their work time. On the flip side, gatherings that bring people together to build camaraderie and trust have been in short supply, and those meetings are often the most meaningful for employees.

Let’s face it: Most meetings just zap the energy out of people. I recently found myself telling my assistant that I will be in only two 45-minute Zoom meetings a day. Why? Because my calendar was getting nailed with back-to-back Zoom meetings, and staring at a screen was stealing my energy.

I also don’t take appointments on Wednesdays because I want some dedicated time to write and think. However, when I am in charge of meetings, I take them seriously for my clients as well as my team.

Imagine if you could prevent unnecessary meetings, optimize agendas by defining the narrative for the discussion and the expected outcome, maintain momentum outside meetings to ensure you hit your goals, and free up time, while also unleashing the potential in your team as collaborators as well as individual contributors.

I decided to invest in reframing how meetings are run, and one of my go-to books is The Magical Meetings by Douglas Ferguson and John Fitch. They witnessed the challenges of remote and in-person meetings and decided it was time to help all of us fine-tune our processes. They also help to remind us that meetings are not useless unless they are misused. Meetings are the secret weapon that advances teams and companies when used well.

We can all fall into the lazy meeting trap if we don’t put a level of discipline in how we manage people, communicate and determine when and if a meeting is needed.

Before any meeting is scheduled, I use the following questions to determine if one is necessary:

    1. Have you defined “the why” behind a meeting?
    2. What kind of meeting will this be?
    3. An informative meeting to update people on a status (could this be a memo instead?).
      • An explorative meeting to consider options and review outcomes.
      • A generative meeting for generating ideas.
      • A decisive meeting where decisions must be made and/or options must be considered.
    4. Is there a presentation, a new service, prototype or product that will be workshopped following this meeting?
    5. Will decisions be made that will alter the direction of a strategy or project?
    6. Who must be in the meeting, and what is their role during and after?

One of my requirements is that every meeting must have a purpose and agenda, or it doesn’t go on my calendar. With this in mind, I hold myself to the same standard. If I decide a meeting is needed, I also consider how to get people excited about the meeting, the purpose and their role.

I love introducing the Magical Meeting Story Spine at the beginning of each meeting. It’s essentially a narrative tool that allows you to work through the meeting and wrap up with outcomes and next steps. I have found that it energizes the people involved and keeps them focused on the meeting’s goal and purpose. It’s essentially the anchor! This outline should be boldly visible in the room or on the screen—and it must be filled out by the end of the meeting with a blessing from all involved. For example:

  • Before this meeting, there was a (challenge, problem or opportunity)
  • So we had this meeting or workshop to (drive an outcome or solve the problem).
  • As a team, we did the following activities to examine the issue from a few angles.
  • Because of that we made the following decisions…
  • As a result we now have the following potential…
  • We risk-tested this, and at this point, we don’t see any obstacles. However, if the following things happen, we would have to jettison this process or regroup…
  • If you want to review our work or findings, we have the following summary and we have archived our notes here…
  • This team feels the momentum, and we’re moving forward by…

As a leader in your company, you have the freedom to institute change in how and when you run meetings. This type of shift will get people excited. Your behavior and process can become contagious as people come and go from your meetings and bring your approach forward. The ultimate goal is to use people’s time well and show how meetings can be valuable and fun.

You want to have them thinking, “I love being in meetings run by x” because they are “on point, wisely collaborative, useful, results-oriented and stimulating.”

It’s essential to avoid the attitude that it’s all too big to change. It is also essential to review your own calendar and rethink the meetings you are in.

Companies burdened by a culture that fills calendars with unstructured meetings are prime for change. And that change begins with one great manager at a time.


Source Kathleen Lucente is CEO and founder of Red Fan Communications, a strategic communications and advisory firm.