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Leading a management team's meeting effectively

Recently one of my coaching clients asked me to observe him as he led his company's biweekly management committee meeting with the eight department heads who report directly to him.

While he believed that as a CEO he ran management meetings fairly effectively, he wanted to turn good meetings into great ones with the help of feedback from a non-biased outsider.

The meeting I attended was supposed to finish within three hours but it took four hours instead. Afterward, I gave the CEO both positive and negative feedback, which he accepted with an open mind.

Because he places a lot of trust in me, he asked me to show him how to lead the next meeting. I agreed, but I wanted to prepare the other participants beforehand by holding a one-hour briefing.

In the briefing I told them that at the next meeting I would be serving as chairman while their boss would observe as he wanted to learn about improving the quality of their meetings. I presented some guidelines so that they could arrive well prepared and be fully engaged, with the right expectations.

The objectives of the meeting, I told them, would be to share updates on what had happened over the previous two weeks, to discuss what would happen in the next two weeks, to make mutually agreed decisions on critical issues, and finally to provide a leadership development opportunity for everyone.

I emphasised the leadership development part. Why?

Because the meeting is the command post for all of the company's critical activities. It's a place where all senior leaders exercise their leadership capabilities and judgement. It's a leadership lab to learn, observe and contribute in all aspects. It's critical that everyone can contribute their input and wisdom. Hence, the majority of the meeting time should be for fruitful discussion, not routine update information.

We wanted to keep the meeting to three hours, but the tradition at this company was for each department head to be allocated 15 minutes. I agreed to maintain that, which filled two hours. That would leave the CEO one hour to lead a meaningful executive discussion.

Nevertheless, each department head must be thoroughly prepared to use his or her 15 minutes as effectively as possible. I gave them these guidelines: The first five minutes would cover three key department actions in the past two weeks, the next five minutes would cover three key actions in the future, and the last five minutes would be for open discussion of critical issues of interest to others.

Most people are unable to manage the last five minutes, because the issue they choose is of limited interest. We agreed it must relate to more than three department heads. If an issue relates to only two department heads, it should be discussed outside the meeting. Most people are not good at one-on-one discussions of problems and worry that they could become confrontations, so they bring such issues to meetings where there is protection in numbers. This has to change.

Further, if the issue can't be resolved within five minutes, the CEO will "park" it on the whiteboard. He will decide later whether to revisit it during his allotted one hour.

Next, I suggested best practices I have learned from others. To prepare an effective 15-minute presentation, one needs to:

1. Be concise, specific, get to the point.

2. Don't beat around the bush.

3. Don't spend too much time on background and context.

4. Don't brag about how much effort you've made.

5. If people want to learn more they will ask.

6. Anticipate questions as much as you can.

7. Have a lot of backup information for the questions.

Then, I presented the ground rules for engagement: Everyone must listen attentively -- it's a matter of respect. No smartphones, tablets or laptops allowed. Everyone needs to pay full attention to the presenter; we need your wisdom, not just your body.

The last tip I offered was on preparing to ask questions. While you're listening to the presenter, you should ask yourself:

1. How does this topic relate to our external customers?

2. How does this topic relate to my department?

3. How can I add value to the presenter?

4. How can I support him to achieve his objective?

5. What risks could be involved if we implement this?

6. What is my concern?

7. What positive thing can I comment on to the presenter?

One week later, I chaired the meeting. At the end, I asked everyone for feedback. They agreed that the meeting had been more constructive and effective, and to apply this model for future meetings. They proposed that since this was an effective process, in future the chairmanship would rotate among the different department heads.

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at