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The best thing you can do to improve your organization – and your state of mind – in 2024 might well be to revamp meetings and make them more effective. Meetings are important, the foundation for making decisions and moving ahead as a group. Instead of bemoaning meetings, let’s dedicate ourselves to making them better in the coming year.

Sanjay Khosla, an executive coach and adjunct professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, recommends focusing on the future in meetings, not the past. “Many companies waste a lot of time,” Mr. Khosla told Kellogg Insight. “Participants wade through long PowerPoint presentations that go into excruciating detail on why deliverables were not met. Too much time is spent analyzing the past rather than focusing on the future. This creates an atmosphere of fear, where the primary objective is often just to please the leader.”

He estimates that 70 per cent of meeting time is spent looking in the rearview mirror and recommends a reversal, devoting 70 per cent to the priorities ahead and 30 per cent to the past.

To keep these regular Business Outlook Meetings efficient, he urges you to ban slide presentations. Instead, participants would be expected to share crisp, synthesized pre-reading a few days in advance. The reading material should include scorecards, with clear metrics that illuminate the progress on various projects since the last meeting, along with highlights about what’s working and what needs adjustment.

In his role as executive coach, Mr. Khosla once sat in on a meeting where a leader commanded his team’s attention from the start, grilling them on missed targets and delayed projects. It demoralized everyone, blocking energy and engagement.

Instead, he recommends starting your meetings with what’s working, providing a positive burst of energy. Look at how to build on those successes. Obviously, don’t gloss over shortcomings, but even with those try to take a positive approach, working together to deal with the issues. “The bias here is toward action,” he says. “You do analyze the past, but rather than defending what happened, you take lessons and turn them into actions. The leadership’s role in this process is to listen, nurture and essentially create a safe environment for people to speak their mind.”

He suggests appointing someone as the “conscience” of each meeting, responsible for keeping everything on track. The individual is there to make sure the pre-reading is delivered clearly and on time; presses to have the meeting maintain its 70/30 focus on the future; reserves time at the end of the session for leaders to make sure each person understands expectations and accountability; and during discussions points out when the meeting is heading on a tangent. “If you don’t have a ‘conscience,’ it’s easy to get distracted,” Mr. Khosla says.

Of course, not all meetings fit his business outlook model. In Harvard Business Review, consultant Amy Bonsall offers another approach to improving meeting by breaking them into three types, each with their own needs.

Transactional gatherings such as daily standups, weekly sales meetings and planning meetings are about getting things done. They need three things to be successful: Shared working documents, screen parity to handle hybrid situations and a host on the lookout for signals of participation. For bigger meetings she recommends appointing an engagement lead who supports the host in ensuring active, equitable participation.

The second type are relational gatherings, intended primarily to strengthen connections, such as off sites, group lunches or team-building outings. They need clear objectives, structured activities and a mix of people from across functions, levels or locations. “Left to our own devices, we go where we’re comfortable: Talking to our teammates, our peers or those in similar circumstances. But organizations need us to have relationships beyond these silos, which relational gatherings can support by deliberately mixing people who wouldn’t naturally gravitate to each other,” she writes.

The third type are adaptative gatherings, which help address complex or sensitive topics where the right process or the desired outcome are not clear from the outset, such as strategy sessions, innovation sprints, career conversations or navigating the organizational impact of a societal issue.

They require a sense of safety and release valves to dissolve tensions. To navigate to conclusions from a place of calm, create separation between discussing options and making decisions. For those together in a room, that might be a coffee break with a shared laugh about something off topic. Online, she suggests encouraging everyone to get outside and not think about the issue.

But they also require something most of us have likely not given any thought to: A malleable, distinct environment. When she was at the IDEO design firm in a variety of leadership roles, almost every client gathering was adaptive and the preference was for rooms separate from team meeting spaces. “Ideal were spaces where furniture was moveable, people could mill around and there was no formal hierarchy implied (board rooms: out!). Space influences how people interact, so the location was the first clue to participants that this was not a run-of-the-mill conversation,” she notes.

Think through those ideas with your team (in a meeting, of course) and vow to improve your gatherings in the coming year.


  • One of the better meeting chairs I have witnessed knows instinctively when to go around the room and have everyone give their opinions before a vote on a sensitive issue, allowing for everyone to clarify thoughts and prodding those who have not spoken to share their thoughts. Not every chair has that skill so that might be added to an engagement lead’s responsibility or be a separate assigned role.
  • Entrepreneur Arianna Huffington’s advice to her younger self: “Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen.”
  • Technology executive Jay Ferro says the three stages of career development are: “1. I can’t wait until I’m important enough to be included in meetings. 2. I feel so important being in these meetings! 3. I will do anything legal, and several illegal things, to avoid these meetings.”

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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