How High-Performing Organizations Train Everyone to Run Great Meetings

Teach everyone the essential meeting skills that help them safely navigate your calendars and conference rooms. Then, train every manager and leader in the meeting processes that will improve their team’s performance.

When organizations run consistently great meetings, they achieve their business goals faster and enjoy a healthier, more vibrant work culture.

This truth—that how you meet has an enormous impact on your success—is backed by a growing body of research. More importantly, we know this because at Lucid Meetings, we’ve been focused on solving the bad meetings problem for more than a decade, and we’ve seen what success looks like firsthand in our own business and with thousands of organizations we’ve served over the years.

I can tell you right now, the keys to success aren’t at all what I thought they were 10 years ago.

The Myth: It’s All About People Skills

Like you, I’ve experienced many awful meetings. Painfully slow meetings that never seemed to get anywhere. Obnoxious meetings full of loud arguments between a few people while everyone else checked e-mail and prayed for it to be over. I’ve seen plenty of bad meetings full of people behaving badly.

All throughout my early career, I believed the only way to get better meetings was to get better people. Teach people to listen, to coach, to negotiate, to understand everyone’s special personality traits and adapt to their individual communication styles—it seemed that the requirement for better meetings was to have every team member go through hours and hours of in-depth personal development. Only when we had magically evolved team members would we get good meetings.

It’s pretty hard to hang your hopes for success on only working with magical people. Heck, it’s daunting to think of all we each need to do to become one of those magical people ourselves!

And yet—meetings are critical to get right. Gallup research reported that 70 percent of the variability in an employee’s job satisfaction, performance, and retention can be traced to the relationship with his or her manager. A 2013 study found that the way a manager leads meetings has more impact on that relationship than nearly any other factor. Good meetings make for teams with good performance and excellent retention. Bad meetings drive people away and drag your organization down.

As leaders and managers, we MUST learn to run effective meetings for our organizations to excel.

In high-performing organizations, they do. Here’s how.

1. Teach meeting skills.

High-performing organizations train people how to lead and participate in meetings. Training for meetings specifically—not just in people skills and communication techniques—but in the specific, practical skills anyone can learn to make meetings effective. Skills such as how to take effective notes, how to engage a group, and how to manage meeting time—important skills that are useful in every meeting.

This type of meeting skills training is a lot like learning to drive a car. When we first start to drive, we get in and we learn how to tell the brake from the gas, how to steer, how to adjust the mirrors, and all these skills that help us operate the vehicle safely. Learning how to make the car go safely is critical training. No one should be allowed on the road without these skills.

No one should be allowed to book other people’s expensive time in a meeting if they don’t have basic meeting skills.

But learning how to make a car go doesn’t tell you anything about how to get to your destination. For that, you need a system that helps you navigate from where you are now to your goal. When we drive, we rely on signs, maps, GPS, and a number of systems to get us to our destination.

2. Teach meeting systems.

In addition to training everyone in meeting skills, high-performing organizations establish meeting operating systems that spell out exactly how to run all the critical meetings. Sales teams work from thoughtfully designed sales agendas. Project teams lead focused meetings that move projects forward. Leadership teams run meetings that clearly separate strategic thinking from operational responsibilities to drive performance.

These systems make the process for each meeting clear so everyone knows when they’ll meet, what to expect from each meeting, and how to participate to get the job done. A meeting operating system doesn’t focus on adapting to personalities; it establishes a process for getting to a result that works regardless of the personalities that show up.

In short, success requires training in both meeting-specific skills and implementation of a system in which you can apply those skills.

While that sounds like a tall order, it’s actually fantastic news! It means I was wrong. Magically sensitive and skilled people aren’t required. You can have great meetings with the people you have.

It’s Time to Disrupt the Status Quo

The reality is that most organizations don’t have any meeting training or anything much in the way of a meeting system. Despite how crucial meetings are, fewer than 20 percent of managers in U.S. companies get training in those basic skills that let them operate their meetings without harming anyone’s time. And while executives may spend up to 80 percent of their day in meetings, most MBA programs fail to include a single meeting-specific course in their curriculum.

Our leaders and managers aren’t getting practical training for a huge part of how they do their job. Is it any wonder so many meetings fail?

It’s time for that to change. If you want better meetings and the better performance that will bring to your organization, implement a two-pronged approach to meeting training. Teach everyone the essential meeting skills that help them safely navigate your calendars and conference rooms. Then, train every manager and leader in the meeting processes that will improve their team’s performance.

We can’t reliably create magical people, but we can work to create magical meetings. When you put your training focus on improving the process rather than the personalities, you’ll be amazed to see how quickly this changes the way those same people show up.

J. Elise Keith is the founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings and the author of “Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization.” She writes the Inc.com “Ask the Meeting Maven” column, and is a regular speaker, expert commentator, and enthusiastic champion for better meetings everywhere (as seen in BBC News, SHRM Magazine, Industry Week, and on the Savvy Dentist Podcast). For more information, visit: www.lucidmeetings.com and connect with her on Twitter, @EliseID8.

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