I’ve been working with several leadership teams recently to help them become more efficient and effective, particularly in their meetings. It’s a simple process that makes a big difference, particularly optimizing the time the teams spend together. When one client asked how to tell if the process was working, I shared the criteria I use to evaluate the quality of a meeting. I figured it might be helpful to you, too.
Meeting Evaluation Criteria
There are several criteria I’m paying attention to if I’m assessing the effectiveness of a meeting.
The first questions I ask are about preparation. Without preparation, most meetings are filled with aimless opining. They go on longer than the discussion merits and often require follow-ups because there was insufficient information to support a decision. Total. Waste. Of. Time.
When I evaluate preparation, I go one agenda item at a time. Was the owner clear on the purpose of the discussion? Did they have a primer document that set up participants to contribute? Did they choose an effective structure to facilitate the deliberations?
If the presenter was a guest to the team, there are additional questions to ask. Had the item’s sponsor prepared the presenter by sharing the goals of the discussion, the context, and anything that might derail the debate? More on having guests here.
Then I gauge the preparedness of the participants. Did they read the primer? Were they ready to add value? Was the value based on evidence rather than just opinion? Did they represent their different positions and perspectives effectively?
One of the most important measures of meeting quality is whether the content was suitable for the forum. (To avoid the old “meeting that could have been an email” problem.) Unfortunately, most meetings are filled with one-way monologues without attention to what gets on the agenda. As a result, they add little value, infringe on individuals’ accountability, and make people feel the team is a waste of time.
When evaluating the value of the agenda items, I’m assessing whether the topic needed to come to a meeting. Did the team contribute to the proposed plan or the decision, or did it come in fully baked and leave in exactly the same form in which it arrived? My position is that the most important thing you can do in a meeting is have conflict. Productive conflict, of course. If you’re not disagreeing, debating, challenging, and struggling to come to the best plan of action, what the heck are you doing?
Was the interaction focused on answering questions at the right level? At the executive level, I expect the team to primarily answer “why” questions with a few “what” questions. The departmental level should focus on answering “what” and “who” questions. For the most part, teams should avoid answering the “how” questions and leave those decisions to the people who will do the work. Leadership teams that spend time solving the “how” questions tend to be remarkably inefficient (and overbearing).
One final thing I’m looking for is that more agenda items add value proactively than reactively. For example, are the discussions focused on what’s coming and how the team will shape the response (anticipating, envisioning, defining, delegating) or on what’s wrong with work that’s already been done? There are undoubtedly essential discussions after work is completed, including those focused on evaluating, course-correcting, and learning. However, the more teams focus on adding value proactively, the less likely they will have to rework, firefight, or crisis manage.
A team is a group of individuals and evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of a team requires an eye on how each of those individuals contributes. Without each person engaging, many meetings lose the value of diverse contributions. They over-emphasize the perspectives of a few vocal members, tolerate people being silent, and generally make teamwork into a spectator sport.
When I’m judging the success of a meeting, I look at the amount and quality of each person’s contributions. For example, did the person take up a proportionate amount of the airtime, or did they dominate or shrink into the background?
It’s not just about how much they contributed but also how they contributed. Who was asking great questions and opening up the conversation, and who was shutting it down? Who was reflecting on what they were hearing and adding to the ideas of others, and who was doing a poor job of listening and building?
Drive to Action
You might have heard me use the gymnastics expression “stick the landing” to talk about an effective end to a meeting. Without a tidy close, most meetings are just modestly interesting conversations with no impact on the course of events. Instead, they leave misalignments, set team members up to disappoint one another, and erode confidence in the value of the team.
Was there a clear action step attached to each agenda item? Was there an ambiguity left in the commitments, such as leaving terms undefined? Did each action step name a person who is responsible and a date for when it needs to be done?
Meeting Assessment Tool
When you put those criteria together, you can evaluate each agenda item on a 2×2 grid based on how worthy the conversation was of the team’s time and how well the team used the conversation to add value. I invite you to share this evaluation sheet with your team and try it in a few meetings. It will create an important discussion about using your time more effectively. You might not like your assessments for the first while, but you’ll see how quickly people make a change when the quality of the agenda items is an open discussion.