How to run highly important meetings

Mar 30, 2010

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Detailed agendas are circulated, revised, withdrawn, redrawn, recirculated. Briefing books or decks are prepared, critiqued, rehearsed, redesigned, distributed, withdrawn, revised again and redistributed.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

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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.

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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.