Running Effective Meetings

Published by Richard Feloni on on 30 September 2014

You may have become so used to bad meetings that you've accepted them as a necessary evil to slog through. Terrible meetings plague all kinds of companies, from startups to major corporations.

But a well-run meeting is something different. "It's the most efficient way to present data and opinions, to debate issues, and yes, to actually make decisions," Google's former CEO and current chair Eric Schmidt and former SVP of products Jonathan Rosenberg write in their new book "How Google Works."

Schmidt and his team developed a set of meeting guidelines to turn "demoralizing time wasters" into opportunities for efficient organization and morale-boosting. We've summarized below the way Google approaches meetings:

1. Every meeting needs a leader.

"A meeting between two groups of equals often doesn't result in a good outcome, because you end up compromising rather than making the best tough decisions," Schmidt and Rosenberg write.

They recommend designating a clear "decision-maker," so that everyone in attendance knows who has the final word.

2. The meeting needs a clear purpose and structure.

A meeting that stretches on for much longer than it should most likely lacks a clearly defined purpose and structure. The decision-maker, Schmidt and Rosenberg explain, needs to "call the meeting, ensure that the content is good, set the objectives, determine the participants, and share the agenda (if possible) at least 24 hours in advance."

The decision-maker is then responsible for summarizing the meeting's resolutions and email tasks to every participant and anyone else who should be informed within 48 hours.

3. Meetings used for sharing information or brainstorming still need owners.

Schmidt and his team realized that if they took a loose approach to meetings that were based on idea dispersal or generation, what seemed like a fun session on paper became just another waste of time. There are no exceptions to the first two rules.

4. Have a meeting only if it's necessary.

"Any meeting should have a purpose, and if that purpose isn't well defined or if the meeting fails to achieve that purpose, maybe the meeting should go away," Schmidt and Rosenberg write.

If you find yourself attending a regular meeting only of out habit, it's probably time to redefine the meeting's purpose or else scrap it altogether.

5. Don't include more than eight people.

Everyone at a meeting should be there to give their input. Bystanders are wasting time that could be spent being productive, and too many eager participants lowers the quality of the conversation. Share the results of the meeting with those who would otherwise have been observers but could still benefit from the information.

6. Include only the necessary people, and no more.

"Many times we have walked into an 'intimate' meeting with a senior executive from one of our customers or partners, only to find the room full of people," Schmidt and Rosenberg write. They can't control what their customers or partners do, but they can control their own side and bring along as few people as possible.

Especially for these types of important meetings, Google encourages its executives to attend only if they are needed as part of the deal, not if they are looking to feel important.

7. Strictly follow time constraints.

Start and end on time, and leave the room at the end to summarize the discussion. If the meeting needs to run long, then incorporate appropriate time for breaks into the schedule.

And if you wrap things up early, don't feel like you need to fill in the remaining time. The sooner everyone gets back to work, the better.

8. Be fully present in the meeting.

If you take the above rules seriously, then the only meetings you'll attend are the ones you're needed in. So make sure you're actually paying attention and not sitting in a group while you catch up on email on your phone or laptop.

Schmidt and Rosenberg say that, at Google, this is the hardest rule to follow, and they've given up telling employees to close their laptops. "But it's still a good rule!" they write.