Make Your Meetings Matter

Like most people, I've spent my fair share of time in meetings at work during which stabbing myself in the eye with my stainless steel Zebra ballpoint pen began to seem like a good idea. 

Anything to get me out of that room. 

Anything to change the scenery.

Anything to end my forced participation in something that added no value to my existence whatsoever. 

But the truth is that workplace meetings are often necessary. And when they're done well, they can have a positive influence on everyone involved. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that a rhythm of well-run meetings can, in the long run, save time and boost productivity. 

For supervisors, meetings are one of a handful of distinct leadership opportunities. Another one, which I discussed previously, is ensuring high-quality early socialization experiences for newcomers.

The key is to make your meetings matter. 

In a study I led and published (with my esteemed coauthors), I specifically analyzed supervisor-led workplace meetings. Our data, which came from 291 working adults, suggested that supervisors and their meeting participants can benefit from two sets of behaviors. 

The first set of behaviors has to do with fairness. Supervisors, in meetings that they lead, should be extra-mindful of treating everyone within their meetings with dignity and respect. As a supervisor, you're under a microscope. People notice what you do and take cues from your behavior with regard to how they should act. In a meeting that the supervisor is running, the supervisor has a public venue in which team members can directly scrutinize what the supervisor says and does with even more intensity than normal. 

Therefore, it's particularly important for supervisors to be role models of respectful behavior that engages everyone in a positive way during meetings that they run. 

The second set of behaviors has to do with how they actually run the meeting. To the extent possible, supervisors should attempt to do the following in meetings that they run:

  • Be organized and plan ahead
  • Schedule meetings well in advance
  • Actively demonstrate that you're interested in what people have to say
  • Start meetings on time
  • End meetings on time (or early if appropriate)
  • Schedule meetings at convenient times if at all possible
  • Provide an agenda beforehand and ask for input on items to discuss (this may not be necessary for daily huddles or kickoff meetings)

Although we didn't explore it directly in this particular study, I would also add that it's important to ensure that the right people are in the meeting, that the meeting topics are ones of relevance to the participants, that you actively keep the conversation on topic and that you don't have meetings just for meeting's sake. If you don't need to have an in-person meeting to accomplish your goals, don't have a meeting. If you want meetings to go quickly, try holding them while everyone is standing up. This works well for 10-minute huddles or daily kickoffs--don't sit down, don't get comfortable. 

For longer meetings, if they're absolutely necessary, people typically appreciate food. 

In our study, we found a number of benefits to these sets of behaviors--demonstrating fairness and running meetings well--in supervisor-led meetings. First, these behaviors may increase the quality of the relationship overall between supervisors and their employees. Second, these behaviors link to positive perceptions of the organization overall. And finally, these behaviors tend to correlate with a higher level of what we called "meeting citizenship behaviors." These are behaviors of the meeting participants themselves, and they include:

  • Expressing their true opinions
  • Communicating their ideas
  • Speaking up
  • Volunteering information to help solve other people's problems
  • Trying to make the meeting more productive
  • Disagreeing when appropriate
  • Providing input on the meeting agenda
  • Being prepared for meetings

Clearly, it seems that supervisors have a distinct opportunity to positively influence their people and the organization overall by running high-quality meetings. Be they project meetings, weekly staff meetings or daily stand-up team huddles, the meetings that we call and run as supervisors are frequent chances for us to demonstrate leadership.

So if you want to be a great supervisor, one key way to begin is to make your meetings matter. The benefits are clear. 

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: www.benbaran.com