How to Lead a Winning Meeting

 The other day I had the privilege of playing golf on the Monterey Peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with two former Stanford Golf Team members who graduated in 1975. Dave Baskins, Senior Partner with Baskins/Hoetger Wealth Management, and Lane Nonnenberg, a retired Executive with Hewlett-Packard, who is now a faculty member at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. After our round, Lane and I chatted about his experience in the business world and his new role in teaching undergraduate and MBA students. A theme that Lane reiterated is how managers/executives are more facilitators than teachers. Both of us talked about the manager/executive’s job in meetings is to “hold the space” for knowledge and experience to be shared. Both of us concluded the role of a facilitator is different than what many business people are conditioned to envision.

 Research concludes that executives feel 50% of meetings are a waste of time.[1]World-class CEOs such as, Andy Grove and Alan Mulally, see their management team meetings as a major link-pin to operational success. What causes the discrepancy with so many executives? Why do half of the executives see meetings as a waste of time? In my experience, I find two key elements that must be present in order to lead a winning meeting. First, is the leader’s world-view, in how he/she sees their role; the second is more mechanical, the actual internal components of the meeting.  The leader/facilitators experience and values are blended with the component parts to create a top notch business experience.

 Here are some of the key components to an effective meeting.

  • Start with an engaging question, the one I always use is, “What is going exceedingly well in your life today?” All participants answer.
  • Facilitator presents the draft purpose for the meeting and the participants edit it if needed.
  • Facilitator then presents the draft agenda and participants make changes if needed…this includes a clear start time and ending time.
  • Agenda items are all about making decisions, carried out with measureable actions, with certain participant(s) being accountable and responsible for taking action and reporting results (these decisions, actions and accountable people are all recorded in writing).
  • Meeting closes with each participant talking about what he/she learned during the meeting today.

 The facilitator’s role is a lot trickier, because it deals with both one’s experience and emotional intelligence. You are the team-leader, the person with the power and the person who controls the effectiveness of the meeting. A strong leader/facilitator understands the basic purpose of his/her team is to: 

  • Have a clear structure for running the meeting and adhere to it (see above).
  • Be clear with each member of the team that they are responsible for their own individual actions, and the impact of their actions will reflect the success of the team.
  • Understand the best decisions will be made through the intelligence of the whole team, not by the facilitator.
  • Hold each team member accountable and responsible for the action items that fall on his/her shoulders.
  • Be disciplined and skilled at crafting questions to make the decision-making process engaging.

Leading an organization is not a conceptual or theoretical exercise but a practical experience. We learn in business by doing. Learning to create winning meetings is an on-going action-based experiment. The basic principles outlined above will assist the people involved in the meeting by helping them steer clear from the definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”

 Meetings run by authoritarians are a major reason why 50% of the meetings are deemed a waste of time. Why have a meeting to tell people what to do? If you want to experiment with creating winning meetings, experiment with developing yourself as a facilitator and follow the structured principles outlined in the article. In my 25-year experience of executive coaching, winning meetings lead to increased profitability.


[1] A network MCI Conferencing White Paper. Meetings in America: A study of trends, costs and attitudes toward business travel, teleconferencing, and their impact on productivity (Greenwich, CT: INFOCOMM, 1998), 3.