How To Run Great Meetings

There is no question in my mind that the executive who involves his managers in the decision-making process by running meetings that are open, candid, and informal will achieve more and suffer fewer setbacks than the employer who is all output and no input. That said, it must be acknowledged that quite often in business the senior leader is the senior leader precisely because he has a better understanding of how the business works and a more aggressive attachment to its primary goals.
So while it is easy to embrace the idea of open dialogue, it is much more difficult to make it happen. If you have tried it yourself, you know what I’m talking about. There is too much time wasted listening to comments that are simply uninformed, naïve, narrow-minded, or just plain silly.
Still, you should try. Here are some tips I try to follow:
1. Meet with no more than seven people at a time. If you think you need more than that, you may need to (a) have two or more meetings or (b) reorganize your business.
2. Make the meeting’s purpose specific and limited. Make sure all the attendees know what that purpose is beforehand.
3. Set a reasonable time limit. Most meetings are much longer than they need to be. Set a shorter time limit than you think you need and press people to finish on time. If you do, they probably will.
4. The meeting should be broken up into at least two parts. In the first part, the problem or opportunity should be presented and commented upon. This must be as “open” as possible. Try to limit the number of objections that arise during this period — including your own. One way to help this process is to suggest that all objections be handled later on. In the second part of the meeting, problems and implementation should be dealt with.
5. Let someone else — the next-most-senior person in the room — state the purpose and objectives of the meeting. This will give you a chance to find out if you are on the same basic track. It may also be a good chance to get a feeling for where everyone is, roughly speaking, on the issue at hand.
6. In the beginning, ask only open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”).
7. When people ask you for your opinion, as they inevitably will if they’ve been trained to follow your lead, turn the question around toward them: “What do YOU think about it?”
8. During the meeting, make a mental note of anyone who hasn’t said anything. After others have chimed in, ask his opinion.
9. If you can’t engineer a sensible plan of action from the group, put one together yourself. But talk about it as if it had come from them. (In fact, much of it should have come from them.)
10. Ask the next-most-senior person to create — on the spot — a written action plan with specific deadlines and identified responsible executives.
[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]