5 things great business leaders do in meetings

The world's greatest business leaders and their strategies for holding meetings

Business meetings are part and parcel of any corporate role. However, if they’re not run well, they can become time-consuming, expensive and frustrating.

A study by the University of North Carolina in 2022 found that (at organisations with more than 5000 employees) reluctantly going to non-critical meetings wastes about A$39,000 per employee each year.

Done well, meetings can energise a team, boost creativity and drive a company’s goals and mission. Done badly, they can reduce enthusiasm and productivity, kill off original ideas, waste valuable time and damage workplace engagement.

So, how do you achieve the former and avoid the latter? Some of the world’s greatest business leaders have excellent strategies to get the most out of meetings.

Require everyone to be prepared

Every person in the meeting should have done their homework. The last thing you want is staff members who are unable to answer relevant questions or who haven’t prepared. Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is a huge stickler for preparation. If someone has a proposal, she’ll get down to the nitty-gritty quickly. She wants to know how something was researched, how much it will cost, what the methodology was, and the facts to back up any assertions.

When everyone at a meeting has the necessary information, decisions are made more quickly and the time is better spent. You don’t want to have to organise another meeting to discuss what should have been discussed in the previous one.

Set and stick to an agenda

Holding a meeting without an agenda is like going on a road trip without a map. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, it’s easy to veer off course and get distracted.

Former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg sticks to a strict agenda when she holds her meetings. She brings a notebook with a list of discussion points and action items, and crosses them off one by one. When the list is complete, so is the meeting. Focus on your list and keep on track.

Set goals and transform ideas into tasks

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg streamlined the company’s meetings by asking his managers to figure out if meetings were being held to “make a decision or to have a discussion”. If it’s to make a decision, then a decision has to be made. Larry Page, the founder of Google, says all meetings should have someone who has the responsibility of decision-maker. This person keeps people on track and ensures the meeting meets its expected outcomes.

At the end of the meeting, the leader should also delegate tasks to individuals. This way, employees are kept accountable and the project is kept on track. If everyone leaves the meeting with a clear understanding of what is expected of them, then you’re guaranteed to get results.

Keep meetings as small as possible

The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously kept attendance at his meetings to a minimum and was known to throw out people who didn’t have a good reason for being in the room. It’s true that too many chefs spoil the broth, and in meetings too many minds and opinions cloud discussion and progress.

As the University of North Carolina study showed, meetings can also be incredibly expensive if you calculate the hourly cost of each individual attending—especially when they could be doing other, more productive work. Ask yourself who really needs to be there and filter out people accordingly. Other staff members can easily be kept in the loop via email.

Hold micro-meetings

Marissa Mayer managed to hold a staggering number of meetings while at Yahoo. Her solution was scheduling five and 10-minute meetings, instead of half an hour or more. This tactic is successful because it’s easier to bring together all the staff you need for a short time, rather than wait days or weeks for availabilities. The shorter time period means that people are unlikely to go off-track and decisions don’t get backlogged.

Meetings aren’t always everyone’s favourite part of the job, but the secret is to make them work for you. Effective, productive meetings can make all the difference in driving a business forward, so it’s worth taking the time to get them right.

MPI has more than 30 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies uncover the best candidates for their executive and leadership roles. Find out more about our executive search service here or get in touch directly.

Lindsay McPhee
Mining People International