A 2023 study found that the average CEO has at least 37 meetings per week equating to 72% of their time. That is a depressing statistic. Or perhaps not, if all those meetings are productive.
Imagine your life and your business where meetings are engaging, time is well spent. Discussion and debate occur. Decisions are made. People go away saying: “That was a good use of my time.”
When I ask my clients what one thing they could do to improve their meetings, most say:
“Have an agenda.”
“Take notes of what is decided.”
Other ideas that come up are:
“Have a purpose statement.”
“Review decisions and taskings before the meeting breaks up.”
“Make sure the right people are in the meeting.”
“Have fewer meetings.”
“Make them shorter.”
These are all good. Then I mention that no one said anything about ending the meeting on time. And that opens the floodgates to all the things that get impacted when a meeting runs overtime. The effect that letting one meeting run overtime has on all the other meetings throughout the day, and on all the plans that people have. So, I say, “You know, if you only changed one thing, just get everyone to commit to end their meetings on time.”
What is powerful about ending meetings on time is that it is catalytic. Of course, meetings will end without getting through the agenda. The team will once again be frustrated that one or two people hijacked the agenda (aside, is that person you?) So, the next time, you will be ready. You know you aren’t going to let it run over. People are more likely to adopt other ideas to improve meeting hygiene. It is one step toward meeting discipline, and it will lead to others.
We created the Guide to Good Meetings to help management teams establish a healthy rhythm for connecting on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. The focus goes from more tactical to more strategic. If you don’t have a regular meeting rhythm in your organization, this is a good starting point. If you do, you might find some inspiration for how you can change things up.
And whatever you do, end the meeting on time.
Focus on what’s happening today – 10 minutes maximum
This meeting is often referred to as a “huddle,” “stand-up,” “daily” or “lightning round.” It should take place early in the day after everyone has had a chance to check messages email and voicemail, but before getting caught up in daily activities. Best format is to go around the room. Each person gets 1-2 minutes maximum. No food, and preferably have participants stand to avoid getting too comfortable and prolonging the meeting. As appropriate, set times for separate meetings to discuss issues that come up.
Topics to cover
- Successes: report positive developments, such as new customers or contracts
- Metrics: review daily sales figures, productivity or other key measures
- What’s up: indicate meetings that day, major projects, key priorities, whereabouts.
- Bottlenecks: identify stuck points, who needs support, who can help.
Focus on progress toward achieving monthly goals – 1 hour maximum
This meeting should be a forum for problem solving and decision-making, not reporting. To avoid the latter, limit information-sharing to a brief recap of what is going on, or share updates electronically before the meeting. Focus on barriers to achieving targets and how to solve them. The team leader should solicit challenges or issues for discussion in advance, and then send around an agenda at least one day before the meeting. Recap what was decided during the meeting, and keep a log of assignments (who, what, and when due). Assign one person to record decisions and assignments, and distribute the notes immediately following the meeting.
Topics to cover
- News (5-10 min): share successes, as well as major relevant developments in the company or industry.
- Numbers (5-10 min): present key indicators, such as weekly sales and month-to-date, how much is in the pipeline, latest view for the month, productivity measures.
- Progress on initiatives (20 min) review status of priority projects (quarterly key initiatives) and tasks arising from previous meetings.
- Group problem solving (15-30 min): discuss one or two key challenges or issues per meeting; owners of these topics make a brief presentation to the group, solicit clarifying questions, and brainstorm potential solutions.
Focus on achieving quarterly objectives – 2 hours maximum
This meeting can be done separately from the weekly meeting or as an extension of it. Hold the meeting as soon as previous month financials are available. The team leader should solicit strategic issues for discussion in advance, and circulate an agenda. As with weekly meetings, recap what was decided during the meeting, and keep a log of assignments (who, what, and when due). Have one person record key decisions and assignments, and distribute the notes.
Topics to cover
- News (5-10 minutes): start the meeting on a positive note by going around the room and share successes and other positive developments (positive focus).
- Overall objectives (5 minutes): the team leader or other team member (take turns) reviews company vision and key financial and operational objectives for the year to ground the discussion in how well the team is doing in attaining those goals.
- Numbers (20-40 minutes): review previous month and year-to-date financial results, compare to plan and previous year. Discuss variances to plan and ways to get back on track or how to capitalize on positive momentum. Review current month (and as appropriate following month) goals and assess any tactical changes needed to hit the numbers.
- Progress on initiatives (20-40 min): review status of priority projects (quarterly initiatives and tasks arising from previous meetings. Prioritize and adjust assignments and deadlines.
- Strategy (15-30 min): the team leader picks one or two strategic topics that are relevant to achieving near-term results for discussion by the group.
Focus on achieving annual goals and setting new priorities – 4 hours maximum
The quarterly meeting should be held in conjunction with or as a replacement of every third monthly meeting. The main differences between the two are that the quarterly meeting should include an expanded financial review, as well as set new priorities and key initiatives for the current quarter. In addition, emphasis should be placed on how to communicate to the rest of the organization the new priorities and initiatives that arise from this meeting.
Topics to expand on compared to monthly
- Numbers (40-60 min): include quarterly results and comparisons to plan and previous year, as well as greater emphasis on progress toward achieving annual goals.
- Progress on initiatives (60-90 min): after reviewing progress on key initiatives, finalize new objectives, assignments and priorities for the current quarter.
- Strategy (30-60 min): place greater emphasis on strategic topics during this meeting, with a view to making tactical course corrections as appropriate to achieve annual objectives.
- Communications (10-15 minutes): decide how key decisions, priorities and initiatives arising from the quarterly meeting will be communicated to others.
- Celebrate: have dinner after an afternoon session or lunch followed by a group activity.