How to run an effective business meeting: A step-by-step guide
Running a business meeting can be challenging. This guide shows all the steps involved in organising and conducting effective business meetings.
It’s no secret that the success of any company relies on successful business meetings. Effective meeting management, therefore, is perhaps the most fundamental skill that leaders need in order to guarantee the future success of their organisations. With many companies embracing virtual meetings, the need for effective meeting management is brought even further to the foreground. It is integral to collaboration, as well as making swift and impactful decisions in your organisation.
With this in mind, it is troubling that many organisations struggle with successful meeting management, with only 17% of leaders reporting that their meetings are productive.1 To help address this, we have compiled a step by step guide on how to run a meeting. This guide has been created using:
- A list of frequently asked questions from clients that we are already helping
- Sherpany’s years of experience in effective meeting management, and
- Academic research from the field of meeting science.
Before we dive into the guide, we will begin by answering a few essential questions to develop a common understanding. These are issues that we frequently encounter when helping companies to implement successful business meetings.
What is meeting madness?
Meeting madness is a serious and insidious phenomenon in many organisations. It is a toxic blend of both too many meetings, and unproductive meetings, which erodes the value that meetings create and destroys opportunities for meaningful collaboration. Organisations who fail to address the issue of meeting madness and end their cycle of bad meetings risk squandering vast amounts of resources, both in terms of financial and human capital. When organising and running effective business meetings it is your responsibility as a leader to end the meeting madness. Our step-by-step guide will help equip you with the skills to do so.
Why are effective business meetings so important?
Meetings are, perhaps, the most powerful management tool at your disposal as a leader. Business meetings allow for swift decision-making, collaboration, and discussion. They bring together the necessary expertise and experience from a range of participants into an elixir of strategy, planning, and action. Even with huge shifts in the way that we conduct business, the importance of meetings shows no sign of reducing, and their importance to the way that companies operate cannot be understated.
Meetings are significant because they:
- Increase speed to market
- Facilitate decision-making
- Reinforce organisational culture and leadership
- Accelerate innovation and agility
- Increase engagement and teamwork
What is the Azend® framework for meeting management?
Recognising the vital nature of meetings and how they contribute to organisational success, we developed the Azend® framework to help organisations to optimise their meeting management. When implemented successfully, this simple and holistic framework underpins the entire formal business meeting process. It guides meeting management in the three dimensions of organisational productivity: people, process, and technology.
Successfully applied, the Azend® framework speeds up decision-making, increases ownership of meeting outcomes, and makes leaders more productive. This business meeting guide is entirely based on the meeting process best practices defined in the Azend® framework.
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What are the different types of business meetings?
Meetings can be informal, semi-formal, or formal in nature. Leadership meetings, however, are formal in their structure, and so throughout this guide, we will focus on formal meetings. With this in mind, there are a number of different types of meetings that are woven into your company’s ability to create value.
These can be broken down into six categories:
- Decision-making meetings - These are vital to pushing projects forward and ensuring alignment between different key stakeholders. Decision-making meetings are perhaps the truest form of business meetings.
- Problem-solving meetings - Solving problems as a collective is powerful, and problem-solving meetings are an effective means of finding solutions or compromises to difficult challenges. First, all possibilities are presented and then are discussed until a way forward is agreed upon.
- Planning meetings - Agreeing objectives and setting a roadmap is a key use of business meetings that should not fall by the wayside. Discussion, sharing ideas, and determining a way forward is vital for every organisation.
- Reflect and improve - In the software community, these are often referred to as ‘retrospectives’ and can be held at a team, division, or company-wide level. In order to know what to improve or change, organisations must take the time to reflect and offer opinions as a collective on what has worked, and what hasn’t, in a candid manner.
- Hybrid meetings - Some business meetings might be a combination of numbers 1-4. For instance, in a single meeting you might approach both decision-making and problem-solving, or reflection and improvement might take place as a part of a planning meeting.
- Manager one-to-one meetings - Rather than having a tangible outcome, these meetings should be viewed as an opportunity to build relationships and ensure that managers and direct reports share a common vision of the bigger picture.
We have reviewed the meaning of meeting madness, identified why meetings are so important, and explored the different types of business meetings that can be utilised. We are now ready to begin our guide to the steps involved in organising meetings.
Effective business meetings: The steps involved in organising meetings
While it sounds like a rudimentary task, organising an effective business meeting can be challenging, and is something that organisations all over the world are still struggling to do effectively. Based on our years of experience, coupled with the latest research, such as the work of Professor Steven Rogelberg in the field of meeting science, we have produced a guide to help leaders to navigate the steps involved in organising effective meetings.
Broadly speaking, an effective meeting can be broken down into three phases: pre-meeting, the meeting itself, and post-meeting. In this guide we shall explore each phase of successful meeting management in detail.
The pre-meeting phase: How to plan an effective business meeting
The pre-meeting phase accounts for 80% of the success in achieving an effective meeting. Ensuring that participants are notified in a timely manner, creating and circulating an agenda ahead of time, and allowing participants to contribute fully to the pre-meeting process are some of the most important steps involved in organising meetings overall.
How to arrange a meeting
In order to arrange your business meeting effectively, you must start by identifying the purpose. At this stage it is vital to have a go/no-go check-point, to make sure that a meeting is even necessary in the first place. As some meetings are recurring in nature, you will need to evaluate these regularly to ensure that this approach is still effective. If your recurring meetings are found to not be effective, then take the necessary measures to recalibrate your business meetings so that they have greater impact. An important question to ask yourself at the go/no-go stage is ‘Can the objectives be achieved in a more efficient way?’
According to our Azend® framework for productive meeting management, ‘a meeting only comes to be when necessary.’ Planning an effective meeting is broken into two stages:
1. Determine the objectives of your business meeting
Different types of business meetings will have differing objectives, and these need to be very clear at the outset of the planning process. A good question to ask here is ‘When it is over, how shall I judge whether it was a success or a failure?’ - and unless you have a very clear requirement from the meeting, there is a significant likelihood that it will be a waste of everyone’s time.
2. Arrange the meeting
Once you are clear on the objectives of your meeting, you can begin arranging your meeting. At this stage, it is important to consider how much time is required, rather than accepting the default of your calendar system. The goal here is to get as much value from people as possible, in as little time as possible.
Create an effective agenda
When drafting the agenda for your business meeting, it is important to consider what you are trying to achieve, whose expertise will be the most valuable, and how to control and optimise the time you are asking for from other people. To do this efficiently, use a meeting agenda template. Using a robust template makes the process of drafting your agenda quick and easy, and enables you to progress quickly on to the next step: choosing your participants. In an ideal world, to make the most of your people’s time, it is important to only involve individuals in the areas of the meeting to which they can meaningfully contribute.
An effective meeting agenda gives structure to a meeting and ensures that participants have a thorough briefing of the objectives and contents of the meeting ahead of time. As previously mentioned, this process should also allow participants to contribute fully ahead of the meeting, which may even lead to certain items being resolved before the meeting has even begun. Creating an effective agenda includes:
1. Defining agenda items and setting clear goals
Breaking agendas down into clear, stand-alone items is a vital pre-meeting step that many organisations miss out. By distilling your agenda into discrete items, you are able to set objectives, owners, participants, and time estimates for each. This level of granularity allows you to plan your business meetings deliberately, helping to identify topics that require specific attention before the meeting, as well as those that could even be solved through email or other channels.
2. Assigning participants and roles
Assigning meeting participants is a fundamental step in ensuring your business meetings are efficient. Selecting individuals who are best placed to meaningfully contribute to specific agenda items means that your meeting will be impactful, and reduces the likelihood of having spectators present. Collaboration-based meeting participation guarantees that individuals are only present for the agenda items that are relevant to them, and reduces the time wasted in meetings significantly.
3. Gathering relevant information
Gathering all relevant information for each agenda item is essential in facilitating a successful business meeting. This includes background information on each agenda item and any data and reports that will enhance participants’ ability to achieve the item goals. Going through your agenda ahead of time and collating all necessary information will ensure that your meeting remains on course and that you are prepared to manage your meeting successfully.
Prepare for the meeting
Preparation is fundamental to the success of your business meetings. According to our Azend® framework for meeting management: “To enable a productive meeting, participants prepare in detail for their agenda items. Participants start collaborating asynchronously by asking clarifying questions or contributing towards resolving items. It is possible that agenda items get resolved at this stage and execution of resulting action items can start.”
Therefore, there are two steps to preparing for effective meetings:
1. Prepare individually
In order to conduct a successful business meeting, it is essential for participants to prepare individually first. Individual preparation ensures that the agenda flows easily and that the focus on meeting objectives remains sharp. Once participants are aware of their roles and responsibilities in the meeting, they can begin to prepare individually to ensure that the maximum value is created during each agenda item. This step is vital to ensure that all collaboration is effective and timely.
2. Collaborate asynchronously
Asynchronous collaboration involves two or more people working together, but not at the same time. Collaborating asynchronously means that actions are being undertaken individually, with effective channels of communication in place to ensure alignment. At Sherpany, we use technology to asynchronously engage with our peers on agenda items. We ask for clarification on the agenda and pre-discuss controversial topics with the adequate participants. This leads to focussed, effective, and shorter business meetings.
How to run an effective business meeting
The second phase of managing effective meetings involves the process of how to run a meeting itself. In this section of the guide we will explore the necessary steps involved in running meetings to ensure that they are productive.
Conduct the meeting
Having carefully followed each of the pre-meeting steps, you will now be in the best possible position to conduct your business meeting successfully. With roles predefined and agenda items explained in detail ahead of the meeting, participants are able to arrive fully prepared, and with a clear understanding of the objectives of the meeting.
Facilitating effective business meetings
Every meeting needs a facilitator. The individual who keeps the meeting moving, leads discussions, and keeps participants engaged. A good meeting facilitator should also identify problems that need to be addressed, and lead the problem-solving process. A great meeting facilitator, however, should do all of this without risking bias in decision-making. This level of impartiality is vital to running effective business meetings.
One of the key responsibilities of the meeting facilitator is to set and enforce the ground rules of the meeting.
Set the Ground Rules
Setting the ground rules for meetings is essential for giving clarity to the business meeting process and ensuring that all participants remain aligned with the objectives of the meeting. With many organisations adopting virtual meeting practices, these ground rules only grow in significance. The ground rules are as much about etiquette as they are about outcomes, and ensure good manners as well as efficiency.
The ground rules for a well-managed meeting can be broken down into a number of simple steps. These include:
- Stating views and asking genuine questions. This moves arguments and monologues to conversations, ensuring participants can understand everyone’s point of view.
- Sharing all relevant information. This gives participants a comprehensive set of facts, allowing more effective problem solving and decision-making.
- Using specific examples and agreeing on what important words mean. This guarantees a common understanding with respect to terms and definitions.
- Explaining reasoning and intent. This gives clarity as to how conclusions are reached and helps participants to see where reasoning differs.
- Focussing on interests, not positions. This involves a shift from arguing about solutions to identifying needs that must be met in order to solve a problem. This reduces conflict and democratises the problem-solving process.
- Testing assumptions and inferences. This means that the team is only making decisions with valid information.
- Jointly designing next steps. This ensures that all participants are committed to moving forward together as a team.
- Discussing undiscussable issues. This ensures that any ‘elephants in the room’ that might be hindering results are discussed, items that can only be resolved in a team meeting.
Once the ground rules are established, the meeting facilitator should consider the range of techniques that they will employ to maintain engagement, enhance collaboration, and, ultimately, ensure the meeting is effective.
Use different techniques to facilitate the meeting
When deciding how to run a meeting in your company, you should be sure to avoid generic introductions. Simply asking “How is everyone doing?” won’t cut it. Facilitating effective meetings involves achieving buy-in from all individuals in the meeting, and there are a number of different ways to do this.
Some different techniques for facilitating productive meetings include:
- Ice-breakers - Here it is important to avoid corporate jargon and anything too serious, and opt instead for something lighthearted. Games such as a ‘one word pulse check’ can appease awkwardness and strengthen bonds between co-workers.
Connection before content - Asking questions to one another that challenge your comfort zones is a powerful means of getting everyone engaged and energised for your business meetings. Questions such as ‘What is one doubt about a project you are currently working on?’ is a good starting point for this.
Use Q&As effectively - Question and answer sessions are a fundamental way of ensuring engagement. Don’t be afraid of silence here, leave plenty of time until people answer, even if it feels a little uncomfortable.
Encourage active participation - Ensuring that all participants actively participate is central to a successful business meeting. Making sure that all opinions are heard, positivity is expressed, and negative complaining cycles are ended quickly, will keep participants engaged and ensure optimal contribution from all those involved.
Focus on achieving goals efficiently
Leading effective meetings involves a laser-focus on objectives. Keeping your meeting on track can be difficult, however sticking to a well-planned agenda, tracking time, and knowing when to move certain conversations offline are all powerful tools in your arsenal as a leader. In order to be able to stick to your agenda, you must know it. Spending the time familiarising yourself with the items and the flow of the meeting ahead of time is time well spent. Finally, making sure all participants are aware of the goals of your business meeting and maintaining collective alignment is imperative. All of this will help ensure that your business meetings stay focussed on achieving your goals efficiently.
Define action items and write minutes
The outputs of a successful business meeting are actionable follow-up tasks, and clear meeting minutes. Having follow-up tasks that are assigned to individuals builds in accountability and ownership, and means that there are tangible outputs from the meeting.
Well-managed follow-up actions should include the following:
- A clear description of the action
- An overview of why it is important
- Clear definition of ownership
- An indication of the level of priority, and
- A time frame in which it should be completed.
Meeting minutes should be a clear digest of the topics discussed, the decisions taken, the follow-up actions agreed, and the individuals they were assigned to. Minutes from a business meeting should provide a clear, auditable trail of the meeting’s narrative.
Post-meeting phase: How to follow-up on your business meeting
The third phase of successful meeting management occurs after the business meeting has taken place, and it includes essential steps to ensure that the maximum value from your meeting is captured. Here we will explore the steps that you should follow after your business meetings have finished.
Follow-up after the meeting
After your business meeting has finished, it is important to follow-up with participants to ensure that materials are distributed, outcomes are communicated, and next steps are defined. This step is paramount in ensuring that your discussions and decisions turn into tangible actions. With a dedicated meeting management platform, such as Sherpany, you can keep all participants abreast with updates without needing to lift a finger.
Your follow-up communications should include:
- The meeting minutes, once finalised
- An overview of key decisions
- Agreed actions from the meeting, along with who they are assigned to, and
- Next steps.
Finalise and distribute the minutes
As soon as your business meeting has concluded, it is essential that the meeting minutes are finalised and distributed. The quicker the minutes are distributed, the quicker the follow-up actions will be executed. Therefore, this task should be done as quickly as possible. It may be that some areas of the minutes need refining, or fleshing out with greater detail.
Gather meeting feedback
An essential, and often overlooked, step in the management of your business meetings should always be gathering feedback from all participants. This information will help aid the process of continuous improvement. Feedback will flow into regular meeting retrospectives, in which teams define focus points to help improve their meetings ahead of their next retrospective.
Execution is the last step of the post-meeting process. A meeting is only effective if it leads to tangible results and outcomes, and so executing on the action items from your business meetings is the lifeblood of meeting success.
Use technology wisely
Finally, you should make the most of the technology that is at your disposal throughout the meeting management process. Technology plays a pivotal role in helping organisations to move towards a productive meeting culture. Meeting management tools help organisations to successfully move through the three phases of the meeting process seamlessly, and enhances collaboration whilst doing so. In an age where individuals and organisations have become more familiar and comfortable with using technology to conduct business as usual, adopting a meeting management technology should be considered a priority.
Whilst there are many different ways of providing administrative support for meetings, it is important to consider and address the challenges for meeting administrators. Meeting management technology can significantly reduce the burden on administrative support staff by making the pre-meeting, meeting, and post-meeting phases as streamlined and seamless as possible. This will help free up their valuable time to focus on creating value rather than overcoming administrative hurdles.
Effective business meetings: Creating value, rather than eroding it
This concludes our guide on how to organise and run a meeting. By following these steps before, during, and after your meetings, you can begin to end the cycle of meeting madness and move towards a meeting culture that focuses on creating value, rather than eroding it.
If we have whet your appetite for positive change, then why not read more about the Azend® framework and the ways that we at Sherpany are helping organisations to transform their ways of working?
1 ‘Decision making in the age of urgency’, by Iskandar Aminov et al., McKinsey, 2019.