What are the six steps to running the most effective meeting possible?
Dick Axelrod founded the Axelrod Group, a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change. His clients include Boeing, Harley Davidson, Novartis, and Coca-Cola. His book is Let's Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done. I recently interviewed Dick for the LEADx Podcast to delve into the steps needed to make meetings worthwhile. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: You have a model that you call ‘Meeting Canoe.’ Could you summarize this model for me?
Richard Axelrod: The ‘Meeting Canoe’ is our framework for effective meetings. It's a different way of looking at what happens in the meetings. It has six steps that show you everything from how you greet people at the door to how you sum things up at the end. Let me just say what the six steps are: The first one is our ‘welcome.’ They’ve got to welcome people into the room. They’ve got to ‘connect’ to each other and to the task. You’ve got to ‘discover’ the way things are. You’ve got to think about what people's hopes and dreams are. We call that ‘eliciting people's dreams.’ Eventually, you're going to have make some ‘decisions.’ You ‘sum’ it up at the end. Those are the six steps.
Kruse: I use one of your ideas around ‘welcoming.’ it really did change the way I start my meetings. Share with us some ideas of how do we do the ‘welcoming’ step well.
Axelrod: The first thing to have in mind is it's more than just saying, “Welcome.” People have to feel welcome in the meeting, so that goes to your planning, the way they're greeted at the door. It's sort of like guests in your home. You want people when they come to your home to feel welcome. Then there's some mechanics. One thing we've come up with is what we call the ‘Clean Slate Drill.’ What we see in organizations, people are often going from one meeting to another so the ‘Clean Slate Drill’ is a way of wiping your mind clean at the beginning of the meeting so you can be fully present in it.
It goes like this: at the beginning of the meeting, you give each person 30 seconds to say what do they need to say or do in order to be fully present in the meeting. It can be everything from I'm still reeling from the last meeting that I was in, or I'm worried that I got to pick my kid up from school and this meeting really needs to end on time. It's a way for people clearing out their brains so that they can be present.
Another option that people have found is what's called the ‘Weekend Update.’ At the beginning of the meeting, you go around—and this works really well with meetings that you have on a regular basis—At the beginning of the meeting, you go around the table and you ask people to give them a brief update on what's been going on since the last time you met. Those are just two things you can do to help people feel welcome, but again, it's more than just saying the word “Welcome.” They have to physically feel welcome and that kind of settles them into the space.
Kruse: I’ll ask, “What do you need to forget about?” so they can be truly present in the meeting.
Axelrod: Oftentimes, they'll come up with stuff. They'll say things, “Well, I got to put away my cell phone.” Everybody's got trouble with that, or “I got to shut off my computer so I can be fully present.” By saying that, they begin to create their own set of norms for the meeting.
Kruse: How should we end our meetings?
Axelrod: At the end of the meeting, there's three things that really need to happen. One, you really have to review the decisions and the agreements that were made. You'd be surprised how many times when you review the agreements at the end of the meeting people say “Well, I didn't think we decided on that,” or it could be that you're expecting me to do something and I don't think I should have to do that or I didn't think I signed up for that. It's kind of like preventive maintenance. It clears up a lot of things before they happen.
The second is to identify the next steps. Do we have a roadmap going forward? Do we know the things we're going to do as a result of this meeting? Finally, the last thing is to reflect on the experience. A simple way of doing that is to ask “Was this time well spent?” If it was, what do we need to do to improve it next time so it's even better? If it wasn't time well spent, what do we need to do to make sure that it'll be better the next time? When you do this at the end, your meeting starts to become a smart meeting because in that way, you start to learn from the experience.
Kruse: Then it evolves to where we make sure it's high energy and impactful.
Axelrod: Yeah, because we're taking that conversation that you know is going to happen in the hall and you're bringing it into the room where people can do something about it.
Kruse: I always like to challenge our listeners to get 1% better every day. Challenge us to try something today.
Axelrod: Well, I think I would try out either the beginning or the end. That's when—and we did our research—we found that's the piece that people skip the most. One thing you can do if you're not doing that is really focus on that ‘Welcome.’ Make sure that people feel welcome and that way, they feel psychologically safe in the meeting and they can be more productive. Or if you want to focus on the end, do the three steps that I just mentioned at the end. Review the decisions. Identify the next steps. Ask the question, “Was your time well spent?” Do any one of those things and your meeting will get better over time.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.