How to Kill a Leadership Meeting Before it Has Even Started

One of the most universal issues we hear leaders raise is how much time they waste each week in unproductive meetings. 

Do you ever think about how much more you would get done if you could halve the amount of meetings you attended?

The reality is, if you’re in a leadership position it’s unlikely this will happen. What we can do however, is focus on getting more out of the meetings we host and attend. 

The reason meetings get a bad reputation is because generally speaking, they are poorly planned and not enough thinking is done beforehand – and often we only have ourselves to blame.

Avoid falling into these five traps that will kill your meeting before it has even started.

1. Forgetting to set a purposeful agenda

The biggest killer of meeting productivity is not setting a clear agenda. Without an agenda, attendees won’t know what they are supposed to prepare in advance, and if you are unsure of the purpose of the meeting, chances are there will be lots of small talk and ideas, but nothing will actually come of it. 

Before sending out a meeting request think about: 

  • Why are you bringing this group of people together? 
  • Who actually needs to be there? 
  • What are you trying to achieve from this conversation?
  • Could this issue be solved without a meeting?
  • What are the background and key issues you are working through?

Understanding why you are hosting a meeting in the first place, and communicating this to your team will give them a compelling reason to become part of it. 

2. People attending without understanding what it’s about

If you accept a meeting request you are committing your time to that person. Would you commit to a dinner or coffee with someone without understanding why? Probably not. So we should take the same approach to meetings. 

Before blindly accepting a request, make sure you understand why you need to be there, and if you actually even need to be there. 

It’s quite common for meeting requests to be sent to multiple people out of courtesy, so it’s up to you to filter through and determine what you should be spending time on to add the most value. 

3. Booking in back-to-back meetings

There’s a tendency in most workplaces to see an open space in someone’s calendar and assume it’s okay to book in a meeting, without considering what’s happening before and after. 

While sometimes back-to-back meetings are hard to avoid if you are bringing together big groups of people, in general it is best to leave a minimum five or ten minute buffer zone.

This will allow attendees to wrap up whatever they are doing, gather their thoughts, maybe even grab a coffee, and show up to your meeting in a better headspace. 

4. Thinking about the meeting only when we have arrived at the meeting

Unless you have specifically planned a brainstorming meeting, generally meetings should be used for updates, action items and decisions. 

Meeting attendees should be doing the bulk of their thinking ahead of the scheduled time, in order to make it as productive as possible. 

Otherwise we fall into the trap of letting every meeting spiral into a ‘brainstorming’ session, and before we know it the time is often up before any real decisions or progress has been made. 

5. Phones on the table 

There is absolutely no reason to be on a phone during a meeting – unless of course there is a crisis you need to deal with. 

If someone is looking at and using their phone, they are essentially communicating the message that they no longer want to engage in the conversation, they’re bored or that whatever is happening on their phone is more important than what’s happening in the room. 

As a leader you have the freedom to frame up how you expect people to contribute in a meeting, by asking people to put away their phones at the beginning. 

Here we’ve shared five simple things you can do ahead of a meeting to give yourself the best chance of success. The next step is being conscious of what you do in a meeting. Read this article How to Host More Effective Meetings to up your meeting game even more.


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