Meetings should have a clear beginning, middle and end to ensure that attendees understand what decisions have been made and what their responsibilities are, writes Elizabeth Doty. “[L]eaders should take the last five minutes, as the meeting winds down, to guide the group in assessing what worked and what didn’t,” Doty writes.
Years ago, I found myself sitting at a conference table, observing a client team that had just had an aha moment. About halfway through an hour-long discussion, they figured out the root cause of a customer service issue that was plaguing the business.
But then they got caught up in the excitement of their discovery and lost track of the meeting agenda. As a result, when the leader prepared to ask the group for solutions, he noticed everyone sneaking glances at their laptops and phones. Time was up, and the team members began to make their apologies and trickle out of the room without making any decisions about how to solve the issue.
In my last few posts, I have argued that leaders need to set the tone in the first five minutes of their meetings and then actively design the middle to keep people energized and productive. These steps are critical, but they are not the whole story. Leaders also need to be thoughtful and deliberate about how they end meetings to ensure the team walks away with clear decisions and shared commitment to implementing the next steps.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. In many cases, participants do the difficult, creative work of diagnosing issues, analyzing problems, and brainstorming new ideas but don’t reap the fruits of their labor because they fail to translate insights into action.
Or, with the end of the meeting looming—and team members needing to get to their next meeting, pick up kids from school, catch a train, and so on—leaders rush to devise a plan. They press people into commitments they have not had time to think through—and then can’t (or won’t) keep to.
Either of these mistakes can result in an endless cycle of meetings without solutions, leaving people feeling frustrated and cynical. Here are four strategies that can help leaders avoid these detrimental outcomes, and instead foster a sense of clarity and purpose.