Back to Library
Organizational Culture

Zingerman’s 6 Steps to Running a Great Meeting

“Not ANOTHER meeting?!”

Perhaps you’ve heard this or felt this at some point? It can also sound something like “All we do is have meetings around here” or “We have so many meetings there isn’t time to get any work done.”

You’re not alone! As far as we know, there isn’t an organization on the planet for whom “having enough meetings” is a bottom-line target. But neither are we aware of an organization with more than one employee where meetings are not a fact of life. They’re inevitable — like rain or tax season.

The real issue isn’t how many meetings you have, but whether those meetings are effective.

When meetings are generating bottom-line results, there aren’t usually complaints about “too many meetings.” The problem is that many meetings are less productive than we’d like them to be.

What we’ve learned at Zingerman’s is that how to run an effective meeting isn’t a secret. And it isn’t rocket science. But it is a skill.

And like most skills, training and practice produce improvement. What if, instead of bemoaning the fact that your meetings are too frequent and/or ineffective, you resolve to establish some standards for an effective meeting and communicate those standards throughout your organization? We equate this to Step One in the Training Compact – What is expected? And by when?

Establishing Meeting Standards

When we developed Zingerman’s 6 Steps to a Great Meeting, we drew upon what we knew about effective meetings (e.g., having a purpose and an agenda published in advance) as well as the particular hot-button issues for our organization (e.g., side conversations and the many distractions cell phones can bring).

We came up with these steps which we hope you’ll find as helpful as we do:

Step One: Let ’em know the purpose.

Be sure to document the purpose and prepare an agenda ahead of time, using email or paper (or both!) to get the word out. If there is a proposal involved in the agenda, be sure to send it out ahead of time.

Step Two: Be timely and prepared.

The leader of the meeting should try to arrive a bit early and make sure the room is set up for the number of people expected. Everyone attending the meeting should be sure they’ve gotten any pre-work done and are seated and ready to go when the meeting is called to order–i.e. go time! It’s important that everyone is ready to either agree with proposals or to offer concrete amendments/alternatives. The leader also needs to ensure that notes are being taken and that they’ll be distributed once the meeting is over, including any to-do’s. A to-do item is a specific deliverable, with a person assigned to lead the effort and a deadline for completion. Our meetings include a review of “old to-do’s,” with the owner reporting on the status (done, in progress, need to renegotiate the deadline) and then at the end of the meetings there is a review of the “new to-do’s” that came up and were assigned during the meeting. People leave knowing what is expected of them, and by when. And there is accountability for doing what was agreed to previously. Typically people volunteer to “take a to-do” but sometimes a leader will ask an individual “will you take that to-do?”

seminars_and_workshops-092103-editedStep Three: Set technology expectations.

Set clear expectations about cell phone and laptop etiquette. Will ‘open’ laptops be permitted for others besides the note taker/presenter? Be sure cell phones are muted and should someone be expecting a call, they should let everyone know at the beginning of the meeting, including how long they think the call will take.

Step Four: Listen.

Practice active listening and give coworkers the respect of really listening when they speak. Only one person should be speaking at a time—no side conversations!

Step Five: Set up a protocol re: postponement.

If for some reason the meeting needs to be cancelled, rescheduled or relocated, everyone affected should be notified in advance. It’s the responsibility of the person who needs to change/cancel the meeting to contact all parties involved to get agreement on a new time.

Step Six: Appreciate!

Great meetings end with appreciations. Appreciations are a way to publicly thank others in the organization–ir in your life. In a Zingerman’s meeting, vicing an appreciation is completely voluntary, but allowing time on the agenda for appreciations is not. Be sure appreciations are capture in the meeting notes!

– – – – –

Is this list perfect?  Of course not. But it works for us because it provides a structure that helps us be productive, while recognizing our organizational culture. Our list might not be the right list for you, although we highly recommend using “monkeys” (you can call them whatever you’d like!) and ending meetings with appreciations.

There is a lot written on the subject of meetings and Google has LOTS of sources for you to explore. What is essential for any recipe, whether you’re running a meeting or making potato salad, is commitment and fidelity – everyone has to be ‘in’ and following the recipe.

Want to know more about meetings? Here are some additional resources you may find helpful – we sure do!