Two Insanely Simple Rules to Making Meetings Matter

One of my first consulting projects was an assignment from hell.

I was asked by a company that assembled microprocessors to audit the leadership culture of a plant that was being built. Construction was way behind schedule and over budget, as two contracting firms had been fired, the latest for stealing materials from the job site and selling them back to the company.

Blueprints were lost, resources severely limited, and relationships unbelievably strained.

I conducted my interviews and gave my recommendations. But in spite of the glaring shortfalls, the number one complaint from nearly every employee was this: meetings. Too many meetings that went too long, had no point to them, and achieved nothing.

I have learned since this time that the experience of the people at that plant is not an exception in business, but the norm. Poorly run meetings are the biggest business distraction I encounter as a consultant, so here are my rules for making them matter. Ignore them at your peril.

Rule 1: No agenda, no meeting

A meeting should never be placed on the calendar unless the organizer of the meeting knows the items on the agenda. No exceptions. By thinking the agenda through, you’ll discover whether you even need to have a meeting. In other words, are there enough items to warrant a meeting, or is a meeting even the best way to address these items?

No agenda, no meeting not only applies to its necessary pre-work, but also to how the meeting itself is conducted.

Meetings cost money. At minimum is the cost of each attendee’s time plus the cost of the time spent getting to and/or getting ready for the meeting. Over the course of the year, the cost of meetings for even frontline employees extends into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This cost certainly warrants, then, the very best meeting execution: starting on time, ending on time, and crisply moving though a pre-written (and pre-sent) agenda.

Rule 2: End every meeting with the three W’s

As simple and as basic as this sounds, most meetings end in a cloud of dust without asking this critical question: Who is going to do What by When? As a result action items are left hanging, and, ultimately, undone.

In fact, if all I had in my consulting toolkit was this question–who is going to do what by when–I could travel the world helping organizations large and small dramatically improve execution.

Every action decided in a meeting needs to be specifically assigned to the person (or persons) who are going to do it, defined clearly by what is to be done, and given a specific deadline date.

End every meeting with the three W’s and begin every meeting reviewing progress on the last meeting’s three W’s. By doing this you will ensure that critical accountabilities in your company are completed and a culture of execution will begin to grow.