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A better way to run meetings

Terry Frost

Meetings are where a lot of important decision making takes place, so why do they often feel so unproductive, ask Aaron De Smet, Gregor Jost and Leigh Weiss, writing for McKinsey Insights.

Many business leaders spend their days going from one meeting to another with precious little to show for it. Decisions that could and should be made quickly will often drag on needlessly, breeding delay and frustration.

You may not be able to control the meetings hosted by others, but you can certainly prepare better for those you’re leading yourself – it will help you achieve the goals you’ve set and work out what’s disrupting the decision-making process.

The authors suggest asking yourself some specific questions:


Are regular meetings the default setting in your organisation when decisions need to be made? Do they actually achieve anything or do they simply take place because they are on the calendar?

It’s common, over time, for recurring meetings to become heavy on discussion and light on decision. Are your regular meetings still necessary? Could they happen less frequently? Perhaps the burning issues are already being decided by another method or in another forum?

The authors cite the case of a healthcare business where a recurring growth-committee meeting had gradually become a much broader discussion forum rather than focused on specifics like strategic partnerships, mergers and acquisitions, and new lines of business.

“Meanwhile, the company’s executive committee (which included several of the growth-committee members, along with the CEO) also met routinely to cover the same ground – and was making the decisions.”


Do decisions need to be made at your meeting? Or is it simply an opportunity for sharing information and discussion?

All too often the reason for meetings is blurry and indistinct, even when the topic is well defined. This is a sure recipe for confusion and disinterest – after all, what is the point of endless talk around a subject with nothing actually getting done?


The authors cite an advanced industrial company where recurring monthly meetings about whether new products in mid-development should be dropped or pursued went on for hours and achieved little. The mix of people present – some heavily invested in the products – and the lack of evidence about potential success meant that discussions went round in circles. Key information, that could have been researched in advance, was often missing.

To remedy the situation, a leader was brought in at chief-of-staff level to ensure all necessary advance work was done and documentation provided in advance so everyone was well prepared. This person also structured the meetings with clear division of discussion and decision-making sections.


Decisions made in meetings don’t always have everyone’s full commitment so it’s vital to convey the implications and plan the next actions very clearly.

“After all, a decision only matters if it can be implemented. The broader challenge, of course, is making sure that everyone feels a stake in the outcome.”


Everyone at your meeting should be aware of their purpose for attending and what is expected of them. It’s important for each individual to know exactly what their role is and how they might be instrumental in the decision-making process. And you need a clear overview of what they should contribute.

The authors advocate using a responsibilities “cheat-sheet” to break people down into:

  • decision makers with a vote;
  • advisers who give input and shape decision;
  • recommenders who present the pros and cons of a situation, but can’t vote; and
  • execution partners who implement the decision.

Guest attendees are all well and good, but don’t be tempted to open the floodgates to “tourists” from inside or outside the organisation who don’t need to be in the meeting. Do, however, be sure to thoroughly communicate the outcomes widely afterwards.


Use these questions to plan your meetings carefully and there’s a good chance you’ll soon be achieving swifter and better decisions.

Source Article: Want A Better Decision? Plan A Better Meeting
Author(s): Aaron De Smet, Gregor Jost and Leigh Weiss
Publisher: McKinsey Insights