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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • March 30, 2010
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How to run highly important meetings 

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Most managers (and many leaders) spend far too much time and effort trying to plan important meetings.

I don’t mean the set-in-stone regular weekly, monthly or quarterly meetings that are part of the ‘operations’ function – I mean those one-off meetings / retreats / off-sites that are part of the planning process, and are usually put together to address a major strategic issue (a new product offering, an acquisition, a down-sizing).

Detailed agendas are circulated, revised, withdrawn, redrawn, recirculated. Briefing books or decks are prepared, critiqued, rehearsed, redesigned, distributed, withdrawn, revised again and redistributed.

Finally, everyone arrives in a suitably appointed room replete with refreshments, and proceeds to either completely ignore the agenda and briefing books so expensively provided, or, on the other hand, follow them so slavishly the meeting becomes an exercise in dry futility.

That’s why the outputs from most important meetings suck.

The answer? Simple:

  1. The more important the topic under consideration, the more important it is to have background information available – but that’s where it should be – in the background, ready to inform the discussion, not guiding it.

  2. The more important the topic under discussion, the less important (and the more disruptive) a fixed agenda becomes. 

Instead of using an agenda, here’s how to set the framework for a highly important strategic meeting:

  • At the front, two flip charts and someone who is reasonably competent at facilitation.
  • The facilitator asks the question: “What are the most important questions we need to ask and answer about this subject?”
  • Go.

What About You? What Do You Do To Ensure Your Meetings Deliver?

Let Me Know In The Comments Below!


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  1. This post and the 'Once and For all Growth Team…' posts are excellent in their brevity and recommendations for effective meetings with one acception. The link to a NINETEEN SEVENTY SIX Harvard Businiess Review definition of Meetings through me for a loop. Especially the extended section on 'papers'. The content is mostly accurate, but a much more contemporary and easy to read perspective is Cameron Herold's 'Meetings Suck'. Here is a great example of his wisdom – https://cameronherold.com/meetings/three-roles-every-meeting-needs/

    Thanks Les!

    1. Hey Johnny – good to hear from you as always!

      Point taken. I’m personally not really much interested in ‘contemporary’, though I do understand that ‘contemporary’ equates to ‘relevant’ for many people, and maybe that’s true.

      I still think anything Peter Drucker wrote in the 1950’s far surpasses most of what passes as business advice these days, even though he wouldn’t (if he was still alive) recognize a fax machine if he saw one, let alone a meme :-).

      Hope all is well with you and the team there at ClubWAKA! – Les

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