Best Practices

The 5 secrets to leading great meetings

Doing great things takes more than a great vision and a great team, it takes great execution, down to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day organization.

Meetings get a bad rap, and deservedly so — most meetings are disorganized and distracted. But they can be a critical tool for getting your team on the same page.

Over years of iteration while working at Google, Facebook, and Asana, I’ve found a way of doing meetings that ensures we discuss the most important things, quickly and efficiently, and that things never fall through the cracks.

1. Know when to email vs. when to meet

Logistics are best done over a non-immediate communication channel like email or Asana tasks. Detailed status meetings will suck the life out of your day.

But when topics are complex and meaty, don’t create a never-ending email thread. It’s amazing how much time people waste composing and reading carefully-worded essays when a 5-minute in-person chat would resolve the whole thing.

2. Capture goals ahead of time

Throughout the week, as you find those meaty topics, don’t keep everything in your head. Remembering is stressful, and you’ll forget important questions. Just add it to the agenda, in a shared Google Doc or, better yet, an Asana project.

Everyone can do this. By the time the meeting starts, the agenda already includes everyone’s ideas. No more wasting the first 10 minutes figuring out what to talk about.

3. Timebox aggressively

Establish how long you’re going to spend on each topic, and stick to it. Talking about a topic for 20 minutes will probably lead to a better decision than talking about it for 5. But if the topic only deserved 5 minutes, you’re not gonna have a chance to talk about all the other important items. Or, worse, you’ll spend all day in meetings. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great.

4. Make each agenda item a race to clarity

Go through each item: Extract information and perspective from the team, identify next actions, and owners for each action — as quickly as possible. If you’ve extracted all the perspective but it’s not clear what the right decision is, don’t debate or ruminate. Assign someone to think about it and trust them to make the decision — even if it’s not how you would have made it.

5. Guarantee follow through

By the end, you should have a written list of every new action item. Each should have one owner (not two) and a timeline. Keep that list in the same place you’re keeping the running agenda.

Then, when it’s time for the next meeting, you can immediately see all the items from last week. Hopefully, each owner will just nod that they did what they committed to. Now things won’t fall through the cracks, and you won’t spend the first 10 minutes remembering what you decided last time.

The bottom line

When leaders know how to lead great meetings, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.

What’s worked for you for having great meetings? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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