10 Essential Strategies for Leaders to Conduct Highly Efficient Meetings

Meetings are a daily essential in management, and making meetings efficient is a must for leaders.

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01 – Typical Characteristics of Inefficient Meetings: Lack of Preparation, Lack of Focus, Lack of Execution, Lack of Time Control

According to relevant survey data, 90% of people attending meetings tend to be unfocused, with wandering thoughts, and 73% of people engage in other activities during meetings.

In fact, most meetings are often boring, with up to 50% of meetings exceeding their scheduled time. This is one of the reasons why most people dislike meetings.

These types of meetings often lead to one-person shows where the boss dominates, while other participants remain silent or even fall asleep. Some meetings go off track frequently, extending beyond their scheduled time, becoming inevitable.

The phrase “lack of preparation, lack of focus, lack of execution, lack of time control” accurately summarizes the characteristics of such meetings.

Poor meetings also lead to poor decision-making and are the root cause of boring, inefficient meetings that fail to address any problems.

02 – Similarities Between Meetings and Movies

If you were given 2 hours, would you choose to attend a meeting or watch a movie? More than half of the people would choose to watch a movie.

Comparing movies and meetings and observing their similarities and differences can be quite interesting.

Similarities between movies and meetings:

  1. Both movies and meetings have similar durations. The runtime of a movie falls within the range of 1.5 to 2 hours, and the duration of most management meetings and regular meetings falls within the same range.
  2. Both movies and meetings have set times and locations. The start time of a movie is well-defined, and the venue for watching the movie is also fixed. Meetings are the same, with the meeting room and time being predetermined and communicated to participants.

While movies and meetings share these similarities, the key to comparing them lies in their differences.

03 – Essentially: Why Do Most People Prefer Watching Movies?

Differences between movies and meetings:

  1. The audience cannot influence the plot of a movie or its outcome; participants can influence meeting agendas and results.

The plot of a movie is determined by the screenwriter and director and is unrelated to the audience. Even if the audience is fully engaged, they cannot change any plot developments or the ultimate fate of the characters. In contrast, meetings are different; they encourage participants to get involved, share valuable insights, and drive meeting outcomes. During meetings, participants can impact the agenda whenever they wish.

  1. Movies have limited relevance to our daily work and life, while meetings are highly relevant.

While watching a movie, we might be moved to tears by certain scenes or inspired by specific lines of dialogue. However, fundamentally, watching a movie is primarily for leisure, entertainment, and relaxation. Movies do not lead to substantial changes in our lives.

Meetings, on the other hand, are different. Meetings are a daily activity within organizations, often being one of the most frequently used management tools. They are held to address matters closely related to our work and life, and we cannot choose to avoid them because they are organized by the organization, consume our time, and demand our participation.

In contrast, watching a movie requires us to invest our own time and money, and we can choose whether or not to watch it.

So, here’s the question!

After comparing the two, it seems that everyone should choose meetings, which offer greater participation, interaction, direct relevance to life, and potentially higher economic benefits. Yet, when given the choice between watching a movie and attending a meeting, why do most people choose the former?

04 – How to Make Meetings Less Boring? Inject the Drama and Conflict of Movies into Meetings

The reason meetings are often boring is the lack of drama and conflict. What attracts us most in movies is their dramatic nature. Drama in movies arises from the relationships between characters, emotional conflicts, and plot conflicts.

It can be said that conflict is at the core of a great movie.

A good movie must hook the audience within the first 10 minutes (only then will they stay engaged for the next two hours) and provide a story filled with twists and turns, unexpected events, and elements that both conform to and defy expectations.

Meetings, on the other hand, are different. In many cases, meetings tend to focus on avoiding tense situations and ending the agenda on time. Especially in some one-person-show meetings led by top executives, no one dares to voice opposing opinions, and participants other than the boss remain silent. Conflict is virtually non-existent.

However, drama and conflict are crucial to maintaining engagement in meetings. To prevent boredom, meetings must ignite and provoke conflict.

For an interactive, highly relevant, inescapable meeting activity that can change one’s work status and future, we can make it more interesting than watching a movie.

For leaders, they can try to follow the structure of movies to make meetings more engaging:

  1. Set the Stage from the Beginning: Leaders can establish a sense of drama within the first 10 minutes by presenting challenges or emphasizing risks. This helps participants understand the stakes involved. For example, highlight the dangers of making bad decisions, emphasize an impending competitive threat, or imbue participants with a sense of mission related to the broader impact on customers, employees, and society.
  2. Actively Seek Out Conflict: Leaders should prioritize addressing important issues where consensus cannot be easily reached. If team members are reluctant to participate in discussions, leaders must compel them to do so. At the same time, confront each issue head-on and encourage those who are uncomfortable with conflict to engage.
  3. Real-Time Permission and Encouragement for Conflict and Debate: When team members engage in dynamic debates, especially if they are attempting to engage with others for the first time, leaders can interrupt their speeches and remind them that it is the right thing to do. This behavior by leaders encourages participants to maintain enthusiasm for debating the issue and continue advocating for their positions without fearing personal animosity or hesitating to speak up.

05 – Beware of the “Stewpot” Meeting, Avoid Trying to Achieve Too Many Goals in a Single Meeting

The so-called “stewpot” meeting gathers leaders from various departments, all hoping to make the most efficient use of this meeting to address multiple goals.

Topics such as sales strategy, expenses, potential mergers, employee reward programs, budgets, and brand positioning are all intended to be discussed in the same meeting.

However, this becomes the biggest structural problem faced by meeting leaders—throwing all the topics that need to be discussed into the same meeting, like a poorly prepared, overcrowded stew.

The end result is that many problems and goals may be discussed, but nothing is implemented after the meeting.

The biggest issue with stewpot-style meetings is the lack of structure. To address this problem, we must first clarify the purpose of the meeting.

Generally, meetings serve one of three purposes:

  1. Information Sharing: Exchange information, share perspectives, and express positions.
  2. Problem Solving: Address issues that span across positions, departments, responsibilities, and authorities and provide solutions.
  3. Decision-Making: Make decisions and reach conclusions on alternative courses of action.

If we try to address all three of these purposes in a single meeting, it often leads to the “stewpot” situation.

06 – Your Company’s Meetings: The “King” Model or the Professional Soccer Team Model?

In some organizations, especially during weekly or monthly meetings, they resemble a monarchy. Each department head or vice president reports on their department’s work to the boss. The boss sits in the center, much like a king, listening to the “knights” reporting and then providing various comments.

For some leaders, this “king” model feels great, especially when they see everyone nervously performing.

However, if meetings serve this purpose as a leader, the effectiveness of the meeting can be imagined.

Of course, many leaders believe that meetings are for exchanging information, gaining insights, expressing their own thoughts, and understanding what their subordinates are doing.

So, the more common type of meeting is where each department reports one by one. To demonstrate their authority, leaders will critique and even question the accuracy of certain data, often taking up half or even two-thirds of the meeting time.

This type of reporting-focused meeting can make the person about to report feel anxious and those who have already reported feel relieved. Ultimately, only two or three people are fully engaged in interactive discussions, while others have their own thoughts. The effectiveness of such meetings is something you can probably imagine.

So, as a leader, how can you achieve the first purpose of a meeting, exchanging information?

Here, leaders can ask themselves a question: Do bosses need to know the situation of their subordinates and do subordinates need to know their superiors’ thoughts, and should peer departments understand what each other is doing through meeting reports?

Let’s take the example of last year’s World Cup: The scoreboard in the football stadium provided clear and detailed data on various aspects of the game—home and away teams, remaining time, score, foul count, number of attacks, and shots on target, among other statistics.

As a result, whether you were a coach or a player on the field, you had a very clear understanding of the team’s current situation because the information on the scoreboard was easily comprehensible.

This allowed them to understand how much time was left and what efforts and changes they could make to influence the game’s outcome in their favor.

Similarly, if your company needs to spend a lot of time during meetings to hear reports from various departments to understand the current status of the organization, the distance from the goals, and the problems encountered, then the decisions, action efficiency, and targeting of your organization can be easily predicted!

07 – The “Six-Step Meeting Method” for Efficient Meetings Proposed by Lancioni

In Lancioni’s book “Damn Meetings: How to Make Meetings More Efficient,” he introduces the six-step weekly tactical meeting method:

  1. Lightning Round: Each person has 30 seconds to state the 2-3 most critical things of the week; list everything; merge similar items without explanations, discussions, or details.
  2. Benchmark: Create a goal chart; color-code the progress of goals, green for healthy, red for warning, yellow for normal; add the red-flagged goal items to the list.
  3. Create the Meeting Agenda: Include items from the Lightning Round list + red-flagged items; prioritize by importance and create today’s meeting agenda.
  4. Strategic Parking Lot: Place significant projects from steps one and two that require extended discussion (more than 15 minutes) here to be addressed in future special meetings.
  5. Commit: Discuss based on the meeting agenda and record action plans; set a timer for 15 minutes before the meeting ends, and decide whether to extend or conclude if tasks are unfinished. The recorder reads out the action list, and each person commits; silence = disagreement.
  6. Cascade Downward Communication: Determine which matters from today’s meeting need to be communicated to other team members, who will be responsible for communication, and identify what should remain confidential; ensure communication is completed within 12 or 24 hours.

08 – Reports You Hear May Not Be True! The Effectiveness of Information Depends on the Leader’s Communication

In fact, the information provided by subordinates during meetings may not always be entirely accurate.

When providing consulting services related to organizational health, I often ask leaders questions such as:

  • How much one-on-one time do you spend with your direct subordinates?
  • How often do you conduct one-on-one meetings?
  • Is the conversation in these meetings more guided questioning or work reporting?
  • Do you issue orders or even reprimands?
  • Do they speak more or do you, as a leader, speak more?

These aspects are closely related to the quality of information exchange.

If leaders genuinely want to understand their subordinates’ true work situations or whether they need help, they should engage in more questioning and listening during communication. For example:

  • What challenges are you currently facing in your work?
  • How is the progress of this project or the goals you are working to achieve?
  • Are there areas where I can provide support and assistance during this process?

Leaders can also inquire about subordinates’ growth and collaboration with other departments. By genuinely understanding their subordinates’ statuses, a highly effective meeting doesn’t need to spend too much time listening to work reports.

09 – Key to Problem Solving in Meetings: Build Trust, Drop Defensiveness and Concerns

When it comes to problem-solving in meetings, several scenarios may arise:

  1. Lack of Pre-communication: Issues are presented directly in the meeting without prior communication with the relevant parties. This can lead to defensiveness and hinder effective problem-solving.
  2. Passing the Buck to the Boss: Participants expect the boss to make decisions without thoroughly understanding the issues, causing many meetings to end without resolution.
  3. Concerns About Presenting Solutions: People may withhold their true thoughts in meetings due to concerns about the consequences of their proposed solutions. This reluctance can stifle brainstorming, innovation, and creative problem-solving.

To address these issues, it’s essential to create an environment where everyone can speak freely. You can list the pros and cons of each proposal without committing to one, allowing participants to voice their opinions without fear of repercussions. This approach reduces pressure, enhances discussion efficiency, and promotes the emergence of better solutions.

10 – Leaders Should Clarify Their Role in Different Types of Meetings: Information Provider, Facilitator, or Decision Maker?

Whether it’s for individuals or organizations, making choices decisively is essential. When decisions are made correctly, the right steps can be taken, leading to success.

However, if leaders make too many decisions, their subordinates may lose the ability to make decisions. As subordinates lose this ability, leaders will need to make more and more decisions, creating a vicious cycle.

Therefore, it’s crucial to clearly define the type of meeting, its purpose, and the leader’s role (information provider, facilitator, resource provider, or final decision maker).

Leaders’ participation in meetings should help them run more efficiently, rather than becoming one-sided monologues. Leaders should foster a culture of shared responsibility and decision-making among their subordinates.

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