Making meetings work

Scary data!

Time spent in meetings has been rising by 8% to 10% annually since 2000 (Bain & Co.) with middle managers spending 21 hours a week in meetings and senior managers spending up to 28 hours per week in meetings!

Research highlighted in Harvard Business Review shows that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings.


How do we relieve this pain?

Sam Kaner’s 2007 slightly modified model outlines six types of meeting goals:

1.    Share information
2.    Advance the thinking
3.    Improve communication
4.    Build community and capacity
5.    Make decisions
6.    Obtain input

Before we work through any of the above goals, I think we also need to ensure that a meeting is actually needed. I’ve been in far too many weekly or team meetings which exist based on habit rather than real need.

The quick-fire visual summary

When planning a meeting ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Why?  Identify exactly why a meeting is needed
  2. Which?  Identify the topics to be discussed
  3. What? Be clear on objectives or outcomes (ie what you want from the meeting)

If proceeding with your meeting, move on to the next planning steps – they are ‘inform’ and ‘structure’.


  • Identify who needs to be involved in the decision
  • Make sure they know exactly what is to be discussed & why
  • Identify the information the needs to be supplied beforehand
  • Ensure everyone comes armed with the information needed to make a decision


  • Structure the sequence of topics in a logical order (Strategic>Tactical>Operational)
  • Allocate time to each topic based on its importance
  • Develop focus questions

Allocate meeting time based on importance of the issues

Strategic issues
These normally relate to the longer-term future of the group and should be the main focus of the meeting. They should be given significant discussion time – preferably at the start of the meeting. Allow time for group input, discussion of alternatives and recommendations

Tactical issues
Involve medium-term impacts and should require less discussion time. They can also be delegated to subcommittees for their recommendation

Operational issues
Normally relate to daily business functions and should can be handled towards the end of a meeting.  Reporting on these prior to the meeting will also help free up time for questions.

Set up the meeting space

Highlight the focus questions for each part of the meeting. These should articulate clearly what you need from the group. It may help to write up (for yourself and for the group) a focus question for each topic or decision to be made.

PS – want to give your team a helping hand to build its meeting facilitation skills? Contact Andrew to discuss a targeted and tailored in-house training program



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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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