The first step in making your meetings and other conversations matter is to be more intentional about them.
However, because every one of us engages in work-related conversations of all kinds every day, it is highly unrealistic to suggest that you spend time thinking through every conversation before it takes place.
So let’s focus on formal meetings. Every meeting you set up and hold consumes scarce corporate resources – time and money. Don’t walk into any meeting or significant conversation without thinking through the basic variables, being clear about your purpose and expectations for the meeting, and sharing those expectations with the invited participants.
What information will you share during the meeting? What information do you want to learn? What decisions will be made? What commitments do you need, and from whom? How will you get to where you need to be?
I find it most helpful to use my P4+ model as an organizing framework or checklist for my meeting preparation. For a basic overview of the model itself, see “Making Your Meetings More Meaningful.” For now, here’s a quick review:
- Purpose. Why are you calling the meeting? What are your desired outcomes? Is the conversation intended to exchange information, to change participants’ minds about some issue or challenge, to inspire, or to move people to action? In Steven Covey’s words, “Start with the end in mind.” Or, as I like to put it, dream about your destination (dreaming highlights the value of thinking Big, of reaching for higher purposes, not just mundane outcomes).
- Participants. Who will you invite to participate in the meeting? Or, more appropriately, who should be participating? What relevant knowledge and decision authority to they bring? What are their talents, their learning styles? What do they know about each other? What are their roles and relationships? What do they already know and feel about the topic or the Purpose of the meeting?
- Process. What agenda will you follow to achieve the meeting’s Purpose? What sequence of topics do you want to lead the group through? Who will lead each portion of the conversation? Will there be distinct phases to the meeting (e.g., information exchange, debate, decision-making)? Or will the conversation be more free-flowing? Will there be meeting minutes or other “products” generated during the meeting and shared afterwards?
- Place. Is the meeting face-to-face or is it distributed? If it’s face-to-face, what kind of space and furnishings will support your Purpose and desired Process? What technologies, if any, will be available to support communication and documentation of the conversation?
Whether any particular conversation is effective, and achieves your objectives, depends intimately on these four critical components and their interactions. Making them explicit in your planning for the meeting gives you a structure to follow that makes it much easier to know whether you are on track during the meeting itself.
But remember that I am a major advocate of collaborative leadership, a style and mindset that guides a meeting but doesn’t control it in the traditional sense
I am strongly in favor of a collaborative approach to meeting leadership; I believe that power-sharing and a “listen first” mindset is central to being an effective leader in today’s networked economy. However, please understand that I am not advocating an “anything goes, any time, hands-off” approach.
A collaborative leader still has to lead: careful preparation enables you to define your meeting’s purpose and desired outcomes. Establish, and stick to, a clear agenda, and push hard for closure during the meeting, including resolution of outstanding decisions and/or problems. I’m calling for a new kind of leadership, not for any abdication of your leadership responsibilities.
But once you are adequately prepared, it is also important to steer with a loose hand. That is, don’t let your preparation overly structure the real-time give-and-take of an open, free-flowing conversation.
I like to compare meeting leadership to white-water kayaking or canoeing; an expert kayaker keeps his/her eye on the ultimate destination while reacting sensitively but naturally to the immediate ebb and flow of the river. If a kayaker presses too hard against the current he will quickly get off course, or even capsize. Go with the flow, but stay focused on the destination.
Ultimately leading meetings well is as much an art as it is a science. Again, it’s all about your mindset; act as a first among equals, not as a dictator or autocrat. Be respectful, listen to your colleagues, and focus on drawing out and leveraging their talents and ideas.
The key to leading a meeting like that is being well-prepared and knowing where you want to end up. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
How do you prepare for your meetings? What are your keys to success? Which of the four “P’s” matters most in your experience?
If you want to explore these ideas in greater depth and learn how smart leaders apply them in real-time, register for my free webinar “Redefining Leadership for the Digital Age.” I am holding it this week, Tuesday, April 26, at 1 PM Pacific time.
Register at this link, and even if you can’t attend live, and I’ll send you a free recording of the one-hour program.
Registration URL: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7124403613916859139
Webinar ID: 146-058-459
Contact me today for a free 20-minute strategic conversation about how you can make all your meetings and other corporate conversations both productive and popular. To explore what is possible, please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter.