Top 10 Ways Leaders Can Make Meetings Matter

HR & Safety

It is common to feel that company meetings are a waste of time, but it doesn’t have to be that way if the meeting leader takes the time to make meetings meaningful, productive, and even fun.

“We need to bring business meetings into the digital age in the same way that we have reinvented business planning and written communication,” says former Harvard Business School professor¬†Jim Ware, Ph.D., author of the new book¬†Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age.
Making Meetings Matter

Ware says leaders should think of a meeting as an improv performance; the most important mindset you can establish is to have a basic plan but then be in the moment, reacting both instinctively and creatively to events as they evolve in real time.

“The most significant thing you can do as a meeting leader to ensure that any particular conversation is meaningful is to approach it with a positive, growth-oriented mindset,” says Ware.

“If there is one skill that matters most to lead meetings that matter, it is the ability to think and respond quickly as a conversation unfolds.”

The following are Ware’s top 10 ways a leader can make meetings matter:

1. Assume that the group is far more intelligent and experienced than any single participant. Remember, no one individually is smarter than everyone together. And that includes you.

2. Presume that people can learn and grow. And that also includes you. Be open to learning from anyone about anything. Remember that you are already in a position of leadership; you don’t have to prove that you are smarter or better informed than the other participants.

3. Focus on broad goals that everyone agrees with. Start the conversation with common goals and seek win/win solutions whenever possible.

4. Respect individual differences. Remember that there is only one of you, and there is only one of everybody else in the world. There is almost infinite synergy available when you focus on drawing out those individual differences to leverage the diverse strengths within the group.

5. Be mindful of others’ responsibilities, constraints, and needs. Unless you believe it is unavoidable, don’t ask the meeting participants to make commitments or agree with positions that will make their own lives more difficult. Respecting their individual circumstances includes avoiding putting them into difficult positions or endangering their personal and professional relationships.

6. Suspend judgment. Hear people out and be sure you understand their ideas in sufficient depth before you decide (and certainly before you communicate) whether those ideas are useful and relevant, or a distraction.

7. Enter every conversation with an open and curious mind. You just never know what experiences and relevant knowledge the other participant(s) might bring to the conversation.

8. Look for common ground. Find areas of agreement, or at least where the participants’ insights overlap. Build on that sense of commonality to move towards consensus, or at least to find something that everyone can agree on.

9. Be authentic. Admit it when you don’t know an answer, or need help. Express the emotions you are experiencing; for example, if someone comes up with an exciting and innovative idea, thank them or praise them (but only if you genuinely mean it).

10. Reinforce constructive behaviors from others. When someone else offers thanks, or praise, thank them in turn. Reward behaviors that help move the conversation forward, and over time you will see more of them.

Bonus Tip

“Presumably you defined the meeting agenda, and told the other participants how you want the conversation to unfold,” says Ware.

“If you ignore that agenda, or go off topic, you are implicitly giving everyone else permission to do the same thing. That makes it much more difficult to rope someone else in when they’ve gone off on a tangent.”


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