Back to Basics: Making Your Meetings More Effective

change-management meetingI’ve been studying and writing about organizational meetings for years. And I’ve offered lots of tips, techniques, and “rules” for making your meetings matter – to the organization, to your staff, and to yourself.

But I haven’t spent enough time discussing why making meetings matter is so important. In other words, what is the business case for changing the way you design and lead meetings?

To do that we have to look at the two dimensions of effectiveness:

  • Improving outcomes:  better decisions, more creative solutions, higher levels of participant engagement, strengthened working relationships, and happier participants;
  • Reducing costs: fewer meetings, shorter meetings, and more efficient meetings, leaving more time for people to get their own work done.

It really is that simple. Let’s look in detail at what improving outcomes and reducing costs really means. And then next week I’ll suggest several specific actions you can take to improve your meeting Return on Investment.

I’m presuming here that the “Why?” is obvious – enhancing organizational effectiveness on the one hand, and reducing costs, on the other.

Improving Meeting Outcomes

Obviously, different meetings produce different kinds of outcomes, and some outcomes are more important than others for any particular meeting. For example, a decision-making or problem-solving meeting essentially requires an effective decision or a solution.

On the other hand, a persuasion meeting’s success depends on your ability to change the participants’ minds about a particular issue and action. And the outcome of an inspirational meeting depends on how energized the participants are at the end of the meeting, and how much their behaviors change afterwards.

But even if on the surface the group failed to achieve its basic purpose, it is worth remembering that the participants may have forged new relationships, learned important facts about the issue or each other, or generated new ideas that will eventually produce even more meaningful results.

In other words, determining whether (and how) a particular meeting achieved the outcomes you wanted is complicated, even if the concept of improving outcomes is simple.

I find it helpful to assess my own meeting experiences in four specific ways:

  • Did the meeting achieve its primary purpose? How close did you come to resolving the issues that led to the meeting in the first place? Is there clarity about the decision, or the problem resolution? Do the participants understand what will happen next as a result of the meeting, and – most importantly – does everyone understand who will do what by when? In other words, is there clear accountability for carrying out the actions that were agreed on?
  • Was the meeting efficient? Was the time well spent? Did the meeting include only those people who needed to be part of the decision, or of the process that produced that decision? Did the meeting last only as long as was needed?
  • Did the meeting enhance the participants’ capability for future actions? Every meeting is a step on a journey towards enhanced team maturity, or capability. Even if you weren’t able to resolve a pressing problem, if you made progress and improved the working relationships among the participants, you should consider the meeting at least a partial success.
  • How do the participants feel about the meeting? Admittedly, this is a purely subjective dimension, but the collective wisdom of the meeting participants is a powerful indicator of how effective the meeting experience was for them.

Reducing Meeting Costs

There are at least four kinds of costs associated with meetings:

  • Participants’ time – clearly the most important and largest cost of any meeting
  • Cost of the meeting room and associated equipment and supplies (for example, audiovisual support like an LCD projector and screen, audio or video conference technology if used, refreshments, and so on);
  • Cost of preparing for the meeting (e.g., time to prepare a slide deck, cost of printing out handouts, inviting participants and noting their responses); and
  • Travel Costs– which can be trivial if all the participants are local, but is substantial if some or all of them must travel any significant distance to attend the meeting

As noted, the participants’ time is generally the biggest cost. Rick Gilbert, author of Speaking Up: Surviving Executive Presentations, has estimated that an executive committee meeting in a Fortune 500 corporation can easily cost upwards of $30,000 an hour!

While most meetings are not that expensive, the participants’ time is often overlooked, or considered a sunk cost (even though there is clearly an opportunity cost – what else could they have done during the time they were in the meeting).

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Yet one of the most effective ways to reduce a meeting’s cost is simply to conduct fewer meetings, or to shorten the ones you do hold. One organization I know saved literally thousands of hours of employees’ time over the course of a year by simply reducing weekly standing meetings from one hour to thirty minutes each. And no one complained that they couldn’t get everything done in those thirty-minute meetings!

All this sounds relatively simple, but how often do you, or anyone in your organization, pay thoughtful attention to the quality of your meetings and/or their costs?

Next week I’ll offer several specific suggestions for improving your meeting Return on Investment, including actions you can take right away to upgrade both the skillsets and the mindsets of meeting leaders throughout your organization.

For a longer exploration of what makes meetings matter and how to improve meeting outcomes, order a copy today of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age (link is to the book’s page on However, you should contact me directly for volume discounts).

And call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by applying my P4+ model to your own meetings. Isn’t it time to upgrade the skillsets of all your meeting leaders?