Going to a meeting today? Rather go deep into cable and sit through seven episodes of Paint Drying Classics?

No one wants to run a bad meeting – but everybody knows that most meetings are run badly.

Learning by example, when it’s our turn, it’s difficult to ignore the years of accumulated lessons at bad-meeting-school. Here’s my top ten:

  • Invite everybody who could possibly have an opinion.
  • Be vague about the subject, try Sales Update or Marketing Plan or Our Strategy.
  • Don’t prepare.
  • Have no objective and don’t even think about an agenda.
  • As soon as the start time arrives, run out to grab a coffee.
  • When someone arrives late, explain everything they’ve missed in great detail.
  • Don’t make decisions and under no circumstances convert anything into action points.
  • Don’t recap at the end of the meetings.
  • Call an end to the meeting only when half of the attendees have wondered off.
  • Never send out a summary, ever.

Nobody can make you a great facilitator but here’s how to set up for success.

  • No political appointees – invite only the people who matter for this meeting. It’s up to you to decide what that means but don’t invite people to stroke their ego or just because “you should”
  • Give it a name – something meaningful, like Sales Challenges for Q3, or The Market’s Moved – Changes to the Marketing Plan. Meetings should be about action and bland Update-type titles set you up to inspire boredom.
  • Think – sort out your objectives, agenda and speakers. What do you want from the meeting?
  • Commitment – there seem to be electro-magnets dragging every meeting off track. Over time it’s possible to build a reputation for running meetings that people want to attend and that gets things done. If the purpose is clear, it’s ok to cut the flab and stay on course.
  • Fire up a communiqué – spend the last few minutes of every meeting (every single one) writing a short summary of what was agreed, actions to be taken, and what should be communicated to people who weren’t there. These last few minutes are often the most productive session of all.

All the preparation in the world won’t help with hard core stragglers who turn up late and suck the life out of momentum, particularly if the most tardy are the most senior. Asking around, it seems the two most effective ways of dealing with habitual high-level offenders are, 1) telling them privately, pleasantly, but to their face, that they are affecting the performance of the team, and 2), fetching them personally five minutes before the meeting starts.

Wrestling a problem to the ground with a few close colleagues should be one the most fun things you can do in an office. Better than tv anyway.