The Four Dimensions of a Successful Meeting

Smiling interview panel holding score cards

How do you know your meeting has been successful?

This question came up during one of the research interviews for my new book (Making Meetings Matter: How Successful Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age), and I’ve been pondering it for some time.

At one level the answer is straightforward; it depends on how well, and how completely, the meeting achieved your initial purpose(s). If you set a goal of reaching a group decision, or designing a new marketing campaign, or resolving a budget conflict, and you achieve that purpose, then it’s easy to say the meeting was successful.

Or was it? Like all other human experience, meetings have multiple outcomes and consequences, and the quality of the group’s decision – or invention, or problem resolution – may not meet your expectations, even it was adequate for the situation.

More importantly, you may have made progress even if you didn’t achieve your ultimate goal.

Even if on the surface the group failed to complete its task, 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 mattered is complicated. I find it helpful to assess my own meeting experiences in four specific ways:

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 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?

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.

Why does it matter?

Because the only way to improve your meetings over time is to assess what happened, learn from your experience, and do what is needed to change the outcome.

Some time ago I described the practice of conducting an After-Action Review (or AAR) at the end of a meeting (see “To Live is to Learn,” November 3, 2014; that post also included an overview of the Dewey learning cycle – Plan/Act/Observe/Reflect and Redesign).

I said there, and it bears repeating, that while it may be unrealistic to hold a formal AAR following every meeting; spending the last five minutes of a meeting leading a group debrief on how the meeting went and how it could have been improved is an important part of building a long-term corporate culture that values constructive conversations. That debrief also sends an important signal that you care about the meeting went and you want to do better next time.

My good friend Jim Horan, creator of the One Page Business Plan, likes to end his meetings with a simple but powerful question to the other participants: “What will you do differently as a a result of this conversation?” If the answer is “Nothing” then you have to wonder if the time and energy that went into the meeting could have been spent more effectively doing something else.

Pay attention  to how every one of your meeting goes, and learn from your experience. Just remember these four concepts:


And don’t ever forget: if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it.

Note: This post is excerpted from Chapter Eight of my forthcoming book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age. Follow that link to visit the book’s website, where you can sign up for advance notes about the book, download other excerpts, connect with other readers, and contribute to my ongoing research about what makes for a good conversation.

Contact me today for a free 30-minute strategic conversation about how you can make all your meetings and corporate conversations both productive and popular. Please download this brief overview of my new service offering for making meetings matter to explore what’s possible.