How to run a meeting.

Leaders who know how to run a meeting well can improve the odds of achieving maximum performance and efficiency.  On the other hand, it is easy for an organization to lose itself to an endless series of bad meetings.This note addresses the three stages of a good meeting, meeting roles, and how to increase the odds of a successful meeting by putting together and driving to implement a good plan for the meeting.

Meeting Stages

All meetings occur in three serial stages: the ramp-up to the meeting, the meeting itself, and the follow-up to the meeting.  In a real sense, successful meetings begin well before they start and end well after they are over. Specifically, a meeting begins when it is first conceived and its planning starts.

The Ramp-Up gets meeting stakeholders involved so that when the meeting starts they hit the ground running.  The idea is to bring to the forefront of their thinking matters which will be covered in the meeting so that they walk-in prepared, with a point of view, and ready to participate and not just wing-it, work on-the-fly or off-the-cuff.

Every Meeting has Three Parts

The exhibit to the left shows the three meeting stages. The area on the left represents the Ramp-up to the meeting. The oval in the center represents the Meeting itself where the top of the diagram is the beginning and the bottom is the end of the  meeting. The area on the right depicts the Follow-up stage and suggests what happens after the meeting.

To bring attendees “into the room” ahead of the meeting, the Meeting Owner with help from their Facilitator (see meeting roles below) may:

  • send the agenda and advance reading materials to those who will attend in order to give them the chance to read, think, develop points of view, and generally get ready to participate.  They may not read all of what  is sent but it will be their choice and if most do prepare then that will become the norm and those who do not prepare will look foolish.
  • review material being prepared in draft form with agenda-item owners to be sure they are on target.  The odds of having a great meeting and of achieving superior results go way up when the meeting owner sits down with each of those who have speaking roles ahead of the meeting to make sure each item is on track to achieve desired results, push-up performance, and determine how to impact, guide, and use what is coming to maximum affect.
  • distribute the POAD (see below) and invite meeting attendees to comment on agenda items, suggest additional items, and share their thinking on key topics; this gets people to feel a sense of worth, ownership, and concern for the meeting and its purpose to increase the odds that they will internalize the meeting’s importance, decide they want the meeting to go well, and take positive steps towards helping to achieve targeted results.

all in advance of the meeting.

Many meetings are recurring.  A series of meetings on the same subject, with excellent preparation, facilitation, and follow-through can be an effective way to make a lot of progress on a specific agenda; such as managing a business, a unit, a product, a client, or a functional area (e.g., sales, marketing, or development).

The illustration below graphically depicts such a series of

A Series of Well-run Meetings Provides a Platform for Continuous Improvement

meetings on a single subject such as product status meetings, a monthly Managers Meeting, quarterly Client Account reviews, weekly Strategic Initiative reviews, Policy Committee meetings, and All Hands meetings.

The idea is to see each meeting not as an isolated event but as integral to building on the one before and feeding the next. In this way a series of meetings provides a solid foundation for governance to ensure top performance on any aspect of operations.

Meeting Roles

Below is a list of key roles in most meetings. Sometimes the same person fills more than one role. For example, the Scheduler might also be the meeting Owner. Some roles cannot be effectively performed by the same person; for example, it is virtually impossible for the same person to simultaneously do a good job in the roles of Owner, Facilitator, and Recorder.

Owner: The person who decided to have the meeting and who is the primary author of the meeting’s Purpose, Outcomes, Approach, and Deliverables and who is responsible for its agenda, content, handouts, and for publishing meeting record upon completion.

Scheduler: The person who schedules the meeting to accommodate those who are required to attend, readies the meeting room with space, seats, equipment, refreshments, and provides other administrative support as required.

Facilitator: The person who works with the meeting  owner to understand their goals and to make sure they are met. Toward that end, the facilitator keeps the meeting on track and on time and reviews and enforces agreed upon ground rules.

Recorder: Records action items, key insights, and decisions on a shared display (on a white board, newsprint, overhead, or large post-it sheet) for all to see as they are consolidated in the meeting and distributes in draft after the meeting and helps the meeting owner consolidate input to finalize and distribute. See sample Meeting Record Template.

Required Attendees: The people invited to the meeting who must attend. If they cannot attend then the meeting needs to be rescheduled so that they can. Some may have the job to prepare and present material in the meeting.

Optional Attendees: Those invited to the meeting who can attend if they want to and are able to, but the meeting will proceed even if they are not present.

Monitor: The attendee who tracks and processes individual and group behavior relative to agreed upon meeting ground-rules (see below).

Meeting Plan (POAD)

The meeting owner, often with the help of a trained facilitator, a trusted close-in adviser, or one or two of the key attendees, thinks through and documents the meeting’s Purpose, Outcomes, Approach, and Deliverables or POAD for short.  Every meeting worth having has a plan that addresses its POAD.  Prepare and publish a document that fleshes out each section.  

You will dramatically improve the odds of getting what you want when you are clear about what you want.  A POAD makes clear what you want from a meeting and so dramatically increases the odds that you will get it.  Once the POAD is prepared, it is a matter of orchestration to achieve meeting success. See Executive Session POAD for an example.

Purpose — explains why the meeting is to be held so that attendees understand the reason for their attendance as individuals and as a group. Completes this sentence with as much specificity as possible:

 The purpose of the meeting is to...”



The following examples finish the sentence above:

  • “…decide whether to include post-award deliverables in Vendor Portal.
  • …review plans and progress towards developing more business at the Department of Homeland Security.”
  • …review the progress towards completing assigned tasks on the Citibank installation to identify risks and mitigation strategies”
  • “…determine what is most important to change next to maintain targeted growth trajectory.”

Outcomes — Targeted outcomes can be hard or soft. Hard outcomes are things you can see or touch such as a decision, a document, or a list. Soft outcomes might be feelings or thoughts, such as leaving a meeting feeling energized. To define targeted outcomes , answer this question:

“At end of the meeting what needs to occur for it to have been time well spent?”.

  • Make sure meeting outcomes are aligned with organization goals.
  • Limit list of outcomes to three to five.
  • Display outcomes for all to see, debate, and refine.

Hard Outcome Examples

  • Design specifications for a new feature of our product.
  • A list of things we want to keep the same in our organization.
  • A chart showing who at NASA we want to talk to about what in order to get on track to delivering more value there.
  • A chart showing who at a known new prospect we need to talk to in order to be sure they understand ways to increase productivity in their operation and where we fit in.

 Soft Outcome


  • Participants leave feeling energized.
  • Meeting owner feels supported by their team and by management.
  • Management is assured that their assigned team is on track to complete their work on time, on target, and on budget.

Approach — The steps that a meeting goes through to accomplish its Purpose and to achieve its Outcomes.  The approach includes the agenda which plays out in the meeting but it also includes what is done ahead of the meeting and afterwards to ensure success.

Each element of the approach has a link to the purpose, an outcome, and/or a deliverable, someone who is assigned to make sure that its goals are met, a topic, leader, beginning and ending time, and related materials.

A well-planned agenda:

  • Balances high-energy topics with those that are more intense.
  • Allows time for thoughtful discussion.
  • Includes breaks when meetings run over long periods.
  • Makes clear how attendees are to think about the item; specifically is it to provide information or is it to generate input or to reach a decision.

Deliverables — Good meetings produce something specific that is fed back into the organization so that operations are enhanced in some way; such as:

      • Clarity as to who executive team members count on for what
      • A decision as to who to promote
      • A list of important calls to make to existing clients and associated scripted messages
      • Who at a key prospect will be spoken with by whom about what, how, and when.
      • A design approach to implement a key new feature

Meeting Tips

  • Ensure your meeting  does not under-perform for one  of these eight specific reasons.
  • Model target organization culture in all meeting phases.
  • Open with a check-in including an ice-breaker to get attendees “in the room” and to get to comfortable with each other.
  • Agree on a signal to invite participation such as raising a hand or turning a name-plate on end.
  • Agree on another signal to point out ground-rules violations.
  • Arrive before the meeting starts and end after it is over to take full advantage of important interactions that take place in those moments.
  • Begin on time even if not everyone is not present as a sign of respect for those who arrive on time, and to reinforce to latecomers the importance of punctuality.  Agree on a penalty (e.g., a fine) for those who arrive late.
  • End on time.
  • If a meeting is scheduled to occur at meal time provide food or advise attendees ahead of time to bring their own or to eat ahead or to plan to hold off until afterwards.
  • The meeting Owner and the Facilitator should monitor the meetings’ progress to determine if its Purpose and Outcomes are on track to being achieved and to drive to stay on schedule towards that end or, if necessary, tweak what is going on even possibly preempting the agenda in order to accomplish the most important goals.

Open the Meeting

At the start, the meeting Owner, with the Facilitator, should:

  • Welcome Attendees and thank them for coming.
  • Introduce the Recorder and Facilitator.
  • Review the agenda. Be sure Attendees understand what is coming and give them a chance to ask questions and propose last minute upgrades.
  • Review the targeted Outcomes.
  • The Owner starts the meeting but does not dominate it.

Guide Meeting

  • If the meeting is one of a series, set the context, summarize the work of previous meetings, and review the status of key action items, results, and impacts.
  • Keep discussion focused on planned agenda items. Use a “parking lot” on a shared-display (news print, white board, etc.) to record topics or comments not on agenda for later processing.
  • Look to the Facilitator to make adjustments if conversation gets off track or loses steam and to watch the clock and keep on schedule.
  • Ask attendees how to handle unexpected circumstances and needs such as breaking from the agenda or overrunning the meeting end time.

Ground Rules

At the beginning of each meeting the facilitator asks the group to agree on and commit to follow meeting ground-rules (see: Post on Meeting Ground-Rules). Add or adjust rules as appropriate to give power and ownership to the group and to accommodate special circumstances.  Appoint an attendee to monitor performance relative to the ground-rules. If a rule violation occurs, agree on whether and how the monitor should intervene; e.g., by flashing a signal (for example, holding up a yellow card).

If the Monitor fails to intervene when a violation occurs, the group brings it to the Monitor’s attention and asks them to follow the agreement. If the Monitor does not agree or consistently fails to perform the function, the role should be reassigned. If a single person gets more than three exceptions, they may be asked to leave the meeting. If they fail to leave, the meeting may be adjourned at the discretion of the group and or the meeting Owner.

Close the Meeting

Consider these guidelines when closing the meeting.

  • End on time and on a positive note.
  • Invite the Recorder to review their notes out loud prior to breaking up.
  • Review actions and assignments and time to complete.
  • Set the time and date for the next meeting.
  • Set expectations as to when the meeting record will be distributed in draft and then in final form.
  • Agree on how Attendees will talk about the meeting with others in the organization.

Distribute Meeting Record

The Owner works with the Recorder to compile during the meeting and to edit and distribute finalized meeting notes to the Attendees within a few days using the Meeting Record Template. Note that the meeting record does not need to include who said what but does need to record key decisions, insights, and action items reached and agreed to in the meeting.

For a more comprehensive coverage of how to have a great meeting please also see How to Make Meetings Work, by Michael Doyle and David Straus.

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