One of my biggest pet peeves is unproductive meetings. In fact, I dislike unproductive meetings so much that I began to study what it takes to facilitate great meetings—and meetings that matter.

Thinking through meeting design and facilitation has been my way of trying to lessen the burden and suffering that I and others experience when we’re stuck in a bad and unproductive meeting.

This list of Ten Rules for Highly Effective Meetings is born from experience and the principles of Organizational Physics. You can apply them to your own meetings and improve them by 30% or more.

Think about that figure for a moment. How much time and energy do you personally spend/waste in meetings each week? And how much does your entire company spend/waste each week? It’s likely a big and costly number.

A change in approach to how you organize and run meetings can have a dramatic impact on your bottom line. Meetings will take less time, consume less energy, and result in better decisions and faster organizational velocity.

Why Have Meetings at All

There’s a lot of noise on the internet right now telling you that the best solution to bad meetings is to get rid of meetings altogether. Slamming meetings isn’t a new trend. Here are two of history’s most prominent management gurus on meetings:

“Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

“Either you meet or you work. You cannot do both at the same time.” – Peter F. Drucker

I used to be in this “get rid of meetings so we can work camp” too. But I came to a realization. Trying to get rid of meetings, or attempting to automate them away through the use of AI, is like trying to get rid of the nuclear family. Both families and meetings exist for a reason. Being part of a good family is one of the most valuable and satisfying things we can experience in life. On the other hand, a bad family experience can suck the very life force out of you and everyone involved.

Meetings are similar. You’re going to need to have them no matter what. You want good ones that serve a purpose, not bad ones that suck out your soul.

The Evolutionary Purpose of Meetings

If you want to truly improve something, you need to understand its evolutionary purpose. I’d like you to reflect for a moment about why we humans meet at all.

If you were to ask an anthropologist about why humans have engaged in meetings throughout history, from the cave to the boardroom, they’ll tell you that we meet to exchange information, to strengthen our social bonds, and to make collective decisions.

From a systems perspective, there is yet another important reason behind why we meet. We meet in an attempt to better manage the complexities of our environment. This should be intuitive. We have finite energy in time, but no two individuals have the same capabilities, and no two individuals see a situation in exactly the same way. It takes a group to manage change well, and the group must come together to make and implement the right decisions despite constantly changing conditions.

If we did not have a complex, ever-changing environment to manage, and no resistance to change to overcome, then we could do away with meetings. Until then, buckle up your chin strap, because if you want your company to thrive, you will need to run highly effective meetings that result in smart decisions being made and implemented quickly.

The Hidden Cultural Benefits of Running Better Meetings

In my experience, most executives feel that their meeting structure and cadence is already satisfactory. It’s not really an area for optimization. However, what I’ve seen time and again after deploying these meeting rules into several hundred expansion-stage companies around the world is that they are consistently surprised at the positive cultural, situational awareness, and teamwork improvements that occur when these meeting rules are implemented.

For example, here is an unsolicited video testimonial from Vijay Sondhi, CEO of NMI, about the impact these Ten Rules for Better Meetings have had on the culture, situational awareness, and teamwork of his extended leadership team, what he calls the “ELT” in the video. Reposted with his permission.

If you’ve watched this video above, then you’ll have to agree that it’s pretty cool how a well-designed meeting structure and process can have a big impact on your culture, including:

  • Better teamwork
  • Better situational awareness
  • Better accountability
  • Better decisions
  • Better results

Now that the stage is set, let’s review these ten rules for highly effective meetings and then I’ll share some tips for implementing these meeting rules within your own company. Some of this will seem simple and obvious, but stay with me. Also, this is a long article, so you’ll want to refer to it again. If you like this way of thinking, consider bookmarking it.

#1. Respect the Time

Time is our rarest commodity—and respecting it comes in different forms. The first and most obvious way is: start on time and end on time. If a person is habitually late, or takes up too much of time on their own issues and needs, it’s a way of saying, “Hey, my time is more valuable than yours.” Even worse, if one person is allowed to circumnavigate the rules of timeliness, then others will try to quickly follow suit. That 9am scheduled meeting now habitually starts at 9:20am and this has a negative cascading effect on all the other work and morale in the company.

The same thing happens when a meeting runs over time. This has a cascading effect that can eat away at our productivity for the rest of the day. If you’re in a meeting that needs to run longer than anticipated, call it out and ask the participants if they can make the sacrifice to extend beyond the predicted time. If they can’t, then excuse them or end the meeting and reschedule.

The more insidious disrespect of time occurs when the team is only half present to each other. You know the scene. The meeting structure and content is so disengaging that people are peering at their screens, reading and responding to chats or doom scrolling on their social media feed. One of the main benefits to deploying these ten rules for highly effective meetings is that they help to optimize time in meetings, which can radically improve the presence and engagement of the team members.

Time Management
One of the most impactful ways to respect time in a meeting is to set up the agenda correctly. When planning your timelines for a meeting, you should give yourself enough time to get everyone on the same page with the same data set before attempting to make a decision. You can read more about how to do this below under Rule #5, as well as a tip near the end of this article How to Set an Agenda: The 70/30 Rule.

#2. Defreeze the Group to Start and Reinforce at the End

These two practices of defeezing the group at the start of the meeting and reinforcing at the end are simple ones with benefits that compound over time.

Defreeze at the Start
Defreezing the group is a technique used at the start of a meeting to bring participants into the room and invite them to be fully present and participate. We ask a simple reflective question and we go around the room, allowing each attendee to give their brief answer. This helps to quickly bring mind and body into the meeting space (whether virtual or physical). For example, you could ask a defreeze question such as, “What are you celebrating in your life or work this week?” Or, “What’s got your attention right now?”

Why is it necessary to defreeze at the start? Because despite showing up on time physically, everyone brings their own state of mind to the meeting that can produce a kind of “absence.” Maybe they’re thinking about their last phone call, what they’re going to have for lunch, their date tonight, or the fight with their spouse. Defreezing will quickly center the group and create shared focus.

One of the hidden benefits of asking new defreeze questions over time is also that it helps the team members to get to know one another and build camaraderie. “Hey, I didn’t know that about Bob. We share that in common. That’s pretty cool.”

Defreeze Questions that Build Shared Bonds
Here’s a list of over eighty defreeze questions that I have found helpful in building shared team bonds over time.

Reinforce at the End
To “reinforce at the end” means doing two things. First, you review what was accomplished in the meeting, what decisions were made, who is accountable for next steps and by when, and what the next course of action is. Second, you close out the meeting by asking each participant to answer a reinforcement question.

For example, in Strategic Execution Team Meetings, the standard reinforcement question to ask each member at the end of the meeting is, “What was your key take-away from today and how will you support moving the business forward this week?”

Did you notice the difference between the defreeze question and the reinforcement question? The defreeze question asked at the beginning of the meeting is designed to center the team for the meeting. The reinforcement question asked at the end of the meeting is designed to get the team back into action mode after the meeting. The highest authority in the room should speak last. This is to show respect for their position. Following their answer to the reinforcement question, they may provide any final remarks to officially close out the meeting.

#3. State the Meeting Purpose Up Front

Have you ever found yourself in a meeting but not sure why it was called or what it is for? This is an easy fix by making it a habit to state the purpose of the meeting up front. Leading with the meeting purpose is also a way for attendees to verify if they should even be in the meeting, or if their time is better spent elsewhere.

As an example, here is the meeting purpose I use for Strategic Execution Team meetings. This is the team and meeting driving forward the short-range tactics of the longer-range strategy:

The purpose of the Strategic Execution Team (SET) is to oversee short-range tactical decision-making and implementation of our strategy. The goal is to follow a sound process that leads to good team-based decisions that we implement fast. IMPORTANT: This does not mean decision-making by consensus. It is participative decision-making with authority vested in the Implementer, the one individual who is in charge of the implementation.

Tune into what I’m trying to accomplish with this statement of purpose above so that you can create one for your own meetings. The first sentence explains why we are meeting. The second states the goal of the meeting. The third states our philosophy or approach to solving challenges together.

Meeting Purpose: Why We Are Meeting + Our Goal + Our Philosophy

Let’s say you are hosting a sales team meeting. How might you craft the meeting purpose? It could sound something like this:

The purpose of the Sales Team Meeting is to help us understand how we are performing against our sales targets, to come together as a team to help one another, and to develop creative solutions to sales challenges. Our goal is to align on the right new tactics to achieve our collective objectives. It is up to each of us to be accountable for our own sales performance, but it is up to us as a team to achieve shared success.

It only takes thirty seconds to state the meeting purpose yet it pays huge dividends when orienting the team to why we are meeting, our goal, and our overall approach to getting things done.

#4. Call Out Who is the Decision Maker and Who is the Facilitator

There are a minimum of three roles assigned in every meeting. One role is the decision maker, the other is the facilitator, and the other is the role of creative contributor, which is held by all participants. Let’s break these down.

The Decision Maker
Many meetings get bogged down because it is unclear who has authority to actually make a decision. The solution of course is to call out who is the authorized decision maker up front at the start of the meeting. In Organizational Physics, our philosophy is to push decision-making authority down to the actual implementer—the individual accountable for the successful completion of an initiative. However, if that’s not your organization’s philosophy, then just call out who has authority to decide on the best course of action for this initiative.

To clarify, yes, this means that the actual decision maker must be present in the meeting! Why? For the same reason that it isn’t effective to have a jury trial without the jury present. The reason we are meeting is to better manage a complex and changing environment by helping the implementer to make smarter decisions. If they are not present, there is really no point in having the meeting.

The Facilitator
My experience is that facilitated meetings are measurably more productive than un-facilitated ones. The main reason is that it can be very difficult for one individual to play the role of decision maker and facilitator at the same time. Both roles, facilitator and decision maker, require a different focus, pace, orientation, and mindset. Both roles need to be energized by talented people.

The role of the facilitator is to ensure that a sound process is followed by the team and to help the decision maker make a wise decision when its time to do so. Anyone on the team can be a facilitator, but a good facilitator has had facilitator training and is people oriented and process savvy. They naturally attract and extend trust and respect by virtue of who they are, not necessarily their title in the company.

Creative Contributors
Everyone in the meeting, including the facilitator and decision maker, must bring their full creative selves to bear to help find smart and creative solutions to the problem or opportunity.

If someone is not able to contribute in a meaningful way (because of either their lack of knowledge and experience of the current situation or their lack of involvement in downstream implementation), then they probably shouldn’t be in the meeting.

5. Gather Data From the Team Before Generating Insights and Making a Decision

Better data leads to better decision making. “Data” isn’t just quantitative however. It also includes qualitative information and perspectives from different team members. Because we all interpret data from our world differently, you’ll have a better outcome if you first gather and review data and generate shared insights together as a team before attempting to reach a decision.

Jeff Bezos recently did a podcast with Lex Fridman and one of the most popular clips is where Jeff says, “In every meeting I attend, I always speak last.” This concept applies to this section of the meeting rules. Why does he speak last? Before attempting to sway or make a decision himself, he practices reviewing the data and getting multiple perspectives and ideas from all team members first. The best ideas often come from unexpected places. The goal is to create the space and opportunity for shared understanding and new insights to emerge.

I can’t over-emphasize how important it is to build a shared picture of reality before attempting to make a decision. Yes, no dataset is perfect. Yes, some data may be missing or incomplete. Yes, you must make the best decision anyway with the data that you do have available. But if you don’t first take the time to build shared consciousness on the current reality, then you’ll definitely make poorer decisions and the team will struggle on implementation. In a phrase, “slow down to go fast.”

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words
My favorite way to create shared consciousness across a team is to use a picture to build context. I use a lot of pictures when facilitating meetings. One example is the Organizational Physics Strategy Map. With a little bit of teaching to your team, you can use this map to place any business, product, or initiative at its current lifecycle stage and quickly get a shared understanding of what the next set of moves should be. While no map is the actual terrain, the right picture can a very powerful tool to help create context before making a decision.

6. Assign the Who, What, and When

Don’t assume that a decision is clear until it’s been written up in the central Action Plan and agreed to by the implementer or decision maker. At a minimum, this means recording Who is the implementer for this initiative; What successful completion of the task looks like; and by When it will be completed (according to the implementer).

It is usually worthwhile to spend some time in the meeting asking the implementer how they plan to tackle a given task and who they want support from, and then allowing their fellow team members to give feedback and perspective on their proposed approach.

As an example, the facilitator could ask Sara, the implementer of a decision, “Sara, what is your plan to complete this task? What are the next steps?” The rest of the team can then respond and give ideas to Sara on her approach, which usually leads to a better understanding of the real issue and faster implementation among those involved because they had a chance to be heard and shape the decision.

7. Attendees Should Reach the Minimum Critical Mass

Who should you invite to a given meeting? It’s not as simple as saying, “Keep the meeting size small enough to feed with two extra large pizzas” to quote Jeff Bezos, or to blindly state that “This meeting is for C-Suite executives,” or for “Directors and above.”

The reason why is that if you recall, the real purpose for a meeting is to manage the complexity of the environment. Doing this successfully and repeatedly over time is not only a challenge because the environment is constantly changing, but also because you and everyone and everything around you has mass and this mass must be managed. Here’s what I mean.

A company’s mass does not refer to its size or volume, but rather its resistance to change, which exists within its internal people, processes, systems, incentives, structure, and culture, as well as within its external customers, industries, governments, societies, and markets in which it operates.

“Managing the mass” is the key to successfully leading a company over time. By implementing a good decision quickly, the organizational mass can build up and sustain momentum. When a decision is made poorly or implemented too slowly, the company’s momentum slows down and it risks being overtaken and becoming obsolete.

In general, when inviting meeting attendees, you’ll want to keep the meeting as small as possible while ensuring the critical number of people who can help you to manage the mass (i.e., resistance to change) surrounding this decision.

This means that every attendee should have high:

  1. Influence. Either by virtue of their role in the organization or by their knowledge, connections, and expertise regarding this type of decision;
  2. Insight. They can help to make or shape smarter, more well-rounded decisions that solve the root cause;/li>
  3. Integrity. There is high trust amongst the group that each individual means what they say and will follow through to help implement the decision quickly.

This means that if you don’t have a critical mass of attendees with the requisite influence, insights, and integrity to make a good decision and follow through, then you have deeper problems beyond a poor meeting format. However, a good meeting format will also help to unlock the influence, insight, and integrity of the entire group.

*On Gathering the Mass
There’s a more technical definition of how to truly gather the mass beyond just the “influence” of the attendees. I’ve written extensively about this in Part IV of my book Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business. It is worth reading for deeper insight into this core concept alone. The bottom line is that if you want to execute fast, then you must first gather a critical mass behind the decision.

8. Avoid Meetings Just to Have a Meeting

We all have some fear of missing out. It’s also lazier to just sit in a meeting than it is to take action on creative work. The inertia of the status quo is also real. All of these things can contribute to a “death by meetings” culture where its all meetings, all the time and little actual work is getting accomplished.

So how do you instill a mindset in your culture that if a person isn’t adding or receiving value from a meeting then they shouldn’t be there? The best way is just to run fewer, more productive meetings with the right set of attendees. These types of meetings are focused and engaging, and result in better decisions. However, there is also usually a need to clean up past bad meeting habits. Let me give you a real-world example.

I had a coaching client with the core values of Make It Fast, Make It Easy, Make It Fun, Make It Right. These four values were the rallying cry of the entire company. The spirit behind them is that everything the company did should be made fast, easy, and fun. The employees were consistently encouraged to identify anything that wasn’t fast, easy, and fun and to rip out and redesign any inefficiencies to making it so. To “make it right” meant that it was expected and acceptable to make mistakes, but any mistakes made needed to be made right.

One of the things the company identified that wasn’t fast, easy, and fun was that the number of standing meetings kept creeping upwards. The words “too many meetings” and “ineffective meetings” kept showing up repeatedly in their annual Entropy Survey. The company’s head of Business Alignment deployed software to track the total number of meetings as well as the number of meetings each individual was sitting in each week. A few of the biggest meeting attenders were interviewed to figure out if it was a problem or a symptom or an underlying issue.

To reverse this trend of death by meetings, the CEO in their regular weekly strategic comms to the entire company, began to reinforce a change in meeting culture. The message was that if an employee wasn’t getting or receiving value from a meeting, then the should excuse themselves. A decision was also made to record and publish meetings by default in the company wiki. That way, anyone in the company could watch the recording. This resulted in a measurable reduction in the number of meetings and in the amount of time spent in meetings.

This anecdote illustrates how to make any type of cultural shift, including ending a death by meetings culture. The first step is to identify the problem/opportunity. The second step is to establish a baseline measurement. Third, develop a plan to improve the baseline and reinforce the desired values and behaviors from the top down using your Culture System. The fourth step is to measure again and continue to optimize. Unless you do these things, nasty little habits like too many and ineffective meetings will become the norm.

9. Record Meetings and Use Them to Build Shared Consciousness

The faster the rate of change, the more you must invest in creating transparency and context across your company. Like the example I just shared, one straightforward practice to building shared consciousness is to record meetings by default and publish the recordings on the company wiki, accessible by id and password. This way, if others want to have context and understanding on what’s happening elsewhere in the org, they can always watch or listen to the recording.

Save Half the Time
My favorite aspect of recording meetings is that I can choose to listen at 1.5X to 2X speed, saving me twice the time as listening live.

To be clear, you’ll get push back to recording meetings from your legal department (which doesn’t want an evidence trail) as well as your IT security department (who doesn’t want proprietary information easily shareable). There’s always a good excuse to not having information transparency. But the faster the rate of change, the more you must invest in creating transparency and context across the entire org. If not, if there’s low shared consciousness, then the company will act slower and won’t be able to manage change as effectively.

10. Instill a Bias for Action. It’s Fine to Disagree and Commit.

Have you ever been on a team stuck in analysis paralysis? I’m willing to bet that’s mostly because the single decision-maker wasn’t identified by name at the start of the project and at its associated meetings.

What happens in situations like this is that everyone involved holds an opinion and most teams unconsciously value consensus. Therefore, a lot of energy and effort is spent trying to shape a decision so that everyone feels happy. This is the proverbial road to hell paved with good intentions.

A truly healthy team must have bias for action where there’s fierce debate up front before a decision is made, but also fierce commitment to supporting the decision-maker in their decision after it is made. Put another way, consensus may be nice but it can’t be a requirement to making smart and timely decisions.

When I am coaching a new Strategic Execution Team, our first formal decision is to adopt a set of three shared Operating Agreements. There’s a sentence in the third agreement that says:

If you are presented with a proposal that you fully understand but still don’t agree with, a perfectly acceptable response is “I disagree and commit!,” meaning that the implementer can count on you for your aid and support.

The reason for this sentence is to help a team “agree to disagree” on a given approach and still support the implementer during implementation.

If you don’t believe me that this practice of calling out the decision-maker will make a difference in helping your team end circular debates, just try this test the next time your team is stuck. Have the facilitator stop the debate and call out the decision-maker by name. Then ask him or her, “OK, what’s your planned approach for this action item? And who do you need support from?” Only after the decision-maker is identified and the team has heard from them on their proposed approach, should you open it up to the rest of the team to share other perspectives and feedback on the decision-maker’s plan.

Just this little shift, first assign the Who before discussing and debating the What, will transform your meetings. It’s OK to disagree and commit, but we must support the implementer to be successful in the best way they know how.

The Ten Rules for Highly Effective Meetings in Action

Let’s see how these ten rules work in practice by sitting in on a product roadmap meeting at the fictional Acme Co.

Frank Facilitator is a senior dev at Acme Co., which provides a subscription-based business-to-business software platform for industrial applications. In addition to his full time role as senior dev, Frank also facilitates the product roadmap meetings.

Ingrid Implementer is the company’s lead product manager. She hosts a bi-weekly product roadmap meeting every other Tuesday at 2pm. The meeting attendees usually include her, Frank, and seven others from across the company in sales, customer support, tech ops, brand marketing, product R&D, and customer success. Yesterday, to prepare for the meeting, Frank pinged Ingrid via Slack to understand her desired outcomes and to share his approach for today’s product roadmap meeting.

It’s now Tuesday, 2pm. Frank Facilitator starts the meeting promptly on time by asking each attendee a defreeze question: “What are you celebrating in your life or work this week?” Asking this defreeze question has a noticeable effect on centering and bringing up the energy of the group.

Frank then states the meeting purpose: “Welcome everyone. This, as you know, is the Product Roadmap Meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to review recent product performance together and to set clear priorities for the next product development sprint. Our goal is to build an amazing product that engages and delights our customers, now and over time. Our philosophy is to make two to three big strategic product bets per year while continuing to iterate and improve our core product.”

Next, Frank clarifies roles, “I’m your facilitator today, Ingrid Implementer is the decision maker. You have all been invited here because of your unique experience and perspectives from different vantage points in the company, and we value your creative contributions to the product.”

Frank continues, “We’re going to follow this six-step agenda for our meeting today. for those of you who are curious, this agenda comes right out of the agile retrospective playbook. This is a 75-minute meeting and it’s important that we follow a sound process so that we make the right decisions:”

1. Set the stage (10 min)
2. Gather data (15 min)
3. Generate shared insights (15 min)
4. Decide what to do (20 min)
5. Create action plan (10 min)
6. Reinforce (5 min)

After setting the stage, Frank Facilitator prepares the group to gather data. He says, “We want to have a shared picture of the current reality before we decide what to do next, so I’m going to turn it over to Brandy in Brand Marketing to review the latest product dashboard metrics.”

As Brandy begins to give a short narrative of the latest product dashboard metrics, the team has a lot of questions and opinions about the data. Frank knows not to let the team to engage in premature debate or solution finding. “OK, I’ve got these questions captured as a hot item to assign later, let’s come back to process,” he says. Notice what Frank did there. He’s a wise facilitator. He used the authority of the process to keep the group on track versus trying to rely on his personal authority.

After Brandy finishes the dashboard review, Frank asks each member of the team for any additional feedback or anecdotes related to the product from their areas of the business and captures those items on the white board.

Next, Frank asks Ingrid Implementer to review the progress on the last sprint and the current product roadmap and priorities. Frank allows for additional questions and reactions from the team but still does not allow for premature solution finding.

Once Ingrid has completed her review of the current roadmap, Frank goes around the table and asks each person to consider all of the data and questions that arose today, and based on that new dataset, to individually write down their top product priorities and solutions. Frank gives them a few minutes to do this and then accumulates patterns on the white board.

Ingrid reviews the new patterns compared to the current product roadmap and does a high-level cost/complexity analysis. Frank asks her for her new perspective. Ingrid says, “Thank you everyone. I see the issues on the board and considering the overall business needs, I think it could make sense to swap feature X with feature Z this sprint. I know this doesn’t meet everyone’s needs perfectly but it seems like the best course of action considering all the trade offs and opportunities.”

Frank then asks each team member for their questions and feedback to Ingrid’s new proposal. Frank gives each attendee the space to be heard without interruption. When someone speaks out of turn, Frank catches it and says, “OK, good reaction; it’s just out of sequence. We’ll get to you in turn. Right now, we’re giving each other the full opportunity to be heard.”

Once all of the feedback is on the table and shared consciousness has been built up, Frank returns to Ingrid and, with a strong bias for action, asks her for her decision. Ingrid replies, “Yep, good feedback everyone. I’m going to combine two features into this sprint, which is a creative approach that I hadn’t seen until this meeting. Therefore, here are the new sprint priorities for the next two weeks…”

Frank reinforces the meeting by reviewing what was accomplished and the new assignments in the action plan. He closes the meeting by asking each person a reinforcement question: “How was the meeting for you today, and how will you help to drive the business forward the rest of the week?” Frank makes sure to ask the head of Product R&D, who amongst these team members is the longest serving employee, to speak last. This is a nice way of honoring the experience and precedence of the early founders.

After the meeting, in addition to the latest product roadmap, Frank sends out the updated action plan which records Who is accountable for What tasks including what success looks like, and by When each task will be completed. One of the team members was assigned an action in the action plan to answer the questions that arose during the dashboard review.

A recording of the meeting is automatically uploaded into the company’s wiki where anyone in the company can watch and comment. The CEO usually watches the recordings and is known to contribute ideas and suggestions to the roadmap after listening. Any ideas contributed in this way are considered as ideas only, even those from the CEO, and are not treated as decisions yet. Only as inputs into the next product roadmap meeting.

The product team will meet again in two weeks to review progress against this sprint and to help Ingrid identify the next best path forward. If necessary and helpful, Ingrid could invite in others to attend who have expertise in a particular area, but she always seeks to keep the meeting to the minimum number of attendees who can help her to make smart decisions that get implemented quickly downstream.

Through this regular meeting cadence and the ten rules for highly effective meetings, the product team has become a very high-performing one. The team members have gotten to know each other as friends, not just colleagues. They measure and track their progress over time. And they consistently make well-informed decisions that they all help to implement quickly against changing conditions. In Organizational Physics parlance, Ingrid is consistently gathering in a critical mass in order to execute fast.

How to Have Fun Enforcing Meeting Rules

As you read these rules, you may be asking, “OK, but how do we enforce them?” “What happens if someone refuses to follow the rules?” It’s a good question. Here’s how.

I want to acknowledge that just the word “rules” is a loaded term. But think about your favorite game or sport and you’ll notice something. Without clear rules and consequences, it wouldn’t be much fun to play them at all. I want you to take the same spirit with these ten rules for better meetings. These are basic rules and there must be consequences to breaking these rules. But this doesn’t mean the consequences need to be onerous or take all the fun out of being on a team. On the contrary, the right set of rules and consequences can make it a hell of a lot more interesting and fun to be part of a team and play the game together.

Here is list of some example fun consequences to apply for rule breaks in meetings:

  • The “Soundtrack Serenade”: Play a random, cheesy song and make the rule-breaker dance to it.
  • The “Office Olympics”: The offender must perform a silly office-themed athletic feat, like chair-spinning or paper-clip tossing.
  • The “Reverse Chair Challenge”: The rule-breaker must sit on a chair in reverse, facing the backrest, for the remainder of the meeting.
  • The “Impressionist Hour”: The offender must impersonate a famous person or character for the rest of the meeting.
  • The “Puzzle Penalty”: The rule-breaker must solve a jigsaw puzzle or brain teaser before rejoining the meeting.
  • The “Costume Catastrophe”: The offender must wear a ridiculous costume for the remainder of the meeting.
  • The “Word Wizardry”: The offender must replace a common word in their vocabulary with a ridiculous, made-up word for the rest of the meeting.
  • The “Dramatic Reading”: The rule-breaker must read their update in a dramatic, over-the-top manner.

You may have some other ideas on good consequences that match your desired organizational culture but the main point is that you can’t have a high-performing culture without rules and consequences. The rules and consequences must be applied equally to everyone, from the CEO to the entry level employee. The spirit of consequences is to recognize the rule break and to reinforce desired behavior for the good of the whole. Breaking a rule must be just uncomfortable enough so that no one wants to repeat the same mistake twice.

How to Manage Non-Decision-Making Meetings

You will have noticed that these rules have been focused around running effective decision-making meetings. But what about meetings just to share information and get everyone on the same page? The answer is easy: don’t have these types of meetings! Or if you do, record them and share them so others can view them on their own time and pace.

There are many ways to build shared awareness across your company. Video recordings, voice recordings, even email and slack (least effective). Don’t do anything without a clear purpose for doing it. Make a distinction between getting together to have fun, build bonds, share information versus meeting to make decisions. The former is easy. The latter is harder and is where the real leverage is.

How to Set a Meeting Agenda: The 70/30 Rule

When planning your timelines for a meeting, you should give yourself enough time to get everyone on the same page with the same data set before attempting to make a decision. For example, here is an outline of my Strategic Alignment Workshop agenda. This is the basic outline I use to guide a CEO and leadership team to conduct a SWOT analysis and then set the right strategy for their company:

What I want you to notice is that I’m giving more than twice the amount of time for the team to orient to the task, to gather in data and different perspectives, and to generate shared insights than I am to actual decision making! This ratio of 70/30 is usually a good one to follow when planning out your own meetings.

The good news is that if you do the first 70% well, then it’s usually easy to do the remaining 30% and align on the right decision. You’ll find that in such cases, the right decision just sort of falls out naturally, like a steel ball falling down a pachinko game. But if you do the first 70% poorly, you’ll find that decision making is really hard. To put it in a few words, “slow down to go fast.”

How to Adopt These Rules in Your Own Company

I’m a big believer that organizational change must flow from the head down. Therefore, in order to adopt these rules it must come from the head of company, or head of division or department first. This individual must have an intuitive sense that well-run meetings pay big dividends over time and are committed to improving the quality and outcomes of meetings.

If you have such a leader in place, then your next step is to host a kick-off meeting with a critical mass of other leaders to formally adopt these ten rules, or to modify them to fit your needs.

I have to warn you however. This first “meeting rules adoption meeting” can be more frustrating and take longer than you might be expecting it to. You’ll find that some individuals would prefer “not be so formal” or will ask, “Can’t we just get together and talk?!?” For others, the rules and consequences won’t be formal enough.

To help you navigate this adoption meeting, have the attendees read this article first before you host this meeting. Have them write down their questions and reactions to these rules. Then, in the meeting itself, actually follow the rules to adopt the rules! At a minimum, you must set the stage and call out the implementer and facilitator as well as the purpose of this adoption meeting upfront. Otherwise, you’ll find yourselves in an endless circular debate about meeting rules. The negative result will be that you won’t adopt any rules, or will adopt weakened ones because it isn’t clear who is actually making the decision.

Final Word on Better Meetings

Meetings are only necessary to manage change better than you could on your own. If you’re tired of wasting time in unproductive meetings, and you want your organization to perform at a high level, then adopt shared meeting rules. When all the rules and consequences are clear and fair, the game becomes much more enjoyable for everyone. Effective meetings require a decision maker, a facilitator, and a critical mass of creative contributors. In the meeting itself, set the stage by calling out the decision maker, facilitator, and meeting purpose. Gather data and generate shared insights before attempting to make a decision. Record and share meetings and keep track of decisions in a central action plan to allow for shared consciousness and follow-through. At the end of the meeting, reinforce your team’s commitment to action. Keep refining as you go.

Thanks for reading. If you need help in setting up a high-performance meeting culture at your company, or would benefit from facilitator training, feel free to contact us and we can discuss your needs.