development leadership

Flightplan : How to run a meeting

Usually, you don’t need a meeting to make a decision. If you can do it with a quick discussion and a single follow-up email to confirm, do it.

Kick-off, stand-up and retrospective meetings are important to:

  • introduce team members to each other;
  • plan work and review progress; and
  • set tasks for improvement.

Avoid other meetings if you can, but a well planned meeting is preferable to a long, winding email trail.

Cut your meeting time by 90%

The only goal for a meeting is “to decide and commit.” No other objective is worth meeting for.

The Acid Test

  • Pick a red marker and search your agenda for terms such as “discuss,” “update,” “review,” and other non-decisive verbs. Cross them out and see what is left.
  • Then put any remaining item through the following three-question test:
    • What will we do differently if we succeed in this meeting?
    • Why do we need to meet to accomplish this?
    • How will this help us further the goal of the team?

I bet that 90% of your meeting time goes away.

General tips

  • In my experience, people who have met in person are far more likely to talk to each other – kick-off meetings should always be in one room (no phones, no VC, plenty of tea and biscuits) unless you have a very good reason not to.
  • As short as possible, but no shorter
    • If you’re chairing the meeting, don’t be afraid of telling people to shut up, or to defer the discussion until after the meeting.
    • Book some contingency time. For a 30 minute meeting, plan for 25 minutes, for a 60 minute meeting, plan for 50, so there’s time to summarise and re-schedule for further discussion if necessary.
    • If you get through the agenda early, finish the meeting early. Respect everyone’s time.
  • Have an agenda
    • And stick to it.
  • Assign tasks
    • There’s a risk everyone will see a task as somebody else’s problem. If it turns out someone can’t do a task for whatever reason, it can always be re-assigned.
    • Don’t expect people to volunteer.
    • If there’s no tasks to be assigned, there’s no point having a meeting.
  • Provide feedback at a specified future date
    • This is a lot more important than I expected – especially with retrospectives
    • Where the actions aren’t immediate, keep the actions visible and explicitly tick them off at the next meeting
    • If there is no next meeting, because there’s no further decisions, schedule an action to feedback results to the attendees
    • Record actions and feedback where everyone (including potentially other projects) can refer back to them so they can see when and why decisions were made.

4 replies on “Flightplan : How to run a meeting”

I 100% agree that the way meetings are generally done is a waste, and your tips can be very helpful…

On the other hand “a quick discussion” is a form of a “meeting”…..

Also there is more than just “decide” where “people together” rather than “an individual in isolation” is advantageous…

I begin these up, because I foresee people taking parts of your post too far, and a potential negative backlash [I have already had two people forward me links to it…]

Liked by 1 person

This was a post I originally wrote for a particular team, but I thought it had wider relevance. Polemic was very important to get through to certain individuals. I was very much trying to get away from a culture where in any panic we had 45 minute meetings 3 times a day


I’d be interested to hear what they say. In my experience, the best way to challenge thinking is to stop doing something, and then reflect on what works and what didn’t. Obviously can’t do that for everything, but no scheduled meetings for a month might help you understand what benefits your meetings give you.


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