The right task + the right people + the right setting = unprecedented actions.

-Marvin Weisbord, adapted by Claros Group

This week Underwood Talent Development Services Inc. (UTDS) starts a four-part feature dealing with issues related to the planning, execution and follow-up of great meetings. Note well: we said great meetings; not just any old meeting. So, of course, we need to start off by defining what constitutes a great meeting.

Here are six key elements which UTDS considers essential to great meetings:

  1. A clear purpose which is also fit for purpose  i.e. a meeting is the best suited medium to accomplish the task at hand;
  2. The right people in the room[1]  i.e. the people with the required knowledge, skills, information and authority;
  3. Adequate notice  i.e. timely communication including the meeting date and time, venue, duration, required preparation and targeted outcomes;
  4. Effective facilitation: The person chairing the meeting needs to adopt the 5Ps motto  i.e. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.[2]
  5. Timely and aligned action : this element addresses both the when and how (i.e. quality/standards) associated with the implementation of decisions taken during the meeting.[3]
  6. Follow-up and Evaluation : it is absolutely essential to close the loop by reviewing progress to ascertain and ensure that the purpose which was established has, in fact, been met.

Before the Meeting imageHaving established our working definition for a great meeting, let’s now apply our minds to what needs to take place prior to said meeting.

Clear Purpose

So why did you decide to convene a meeting in the first place? Is it that you have information to share? Do you really need a meeting in order to do so? Or could you utilize some other channel to get the information out ? e.g. circulating a report or sending an email If the communication channel you need is one-directional, then a meeting really isn’t your best choice/forum8 The caveat here is that it’s important to ensure that you identify a mechanism for persons to seek clarification if necessary.

Or perhaps, instead of sharing information, you need input from members of your team or external stakeholders. That is indeed a legitimate purpose for a meeting. However, it is essential that you clearly communicate that to the invitees. Otherwise folks could show up to the meeting without the critical information that you need. What’s your chosen format/methodology for seeking the desired input? Will it be via brainstorming? Open discussions? These distinctions should be made and communicated to meeting invitees to enable them to be adequately prepared to contribute.

Sometimes, the purpose for the meeting goes beyond seeking input and holding discussions/brainstorming to actually making decisions. If so, all parties need to be clear on the rules of decision-making. Will there be an opportunity to vote? Will it be decision by consensus? Do you or someone higher up in the organization have veto power Establishing such issues up front can minimize the risk of misunderstandings and dysfunctional conflict.

Right People

Ever sat in a meeting wondering why on earth you were there; whether you were being punished for some unknown offense? The reality is that meeting attendees often feel like hostages. One way to avoid causing such hostage situations is to ensure that you have the right people in the room. And just how do you determine who are the right people? Well that depends on your purpose as outlined above.

You may wish to consider providing invitees with the latitude to delegate attendance to the member of their team who is best equipped to support the meeting’s purpose. This would be particularly appropriate when engaging stakeholder organizations.The President of the organization isn’t necessarily the one who has the knowledge, information or skills that you need. If it’s a meeting where decisions will be taken, you need to ensure that the persons around the table have the legitimate authority and that the entities they represent have consented to be bound by the outcomes of the decision-making process. Otherwise your entire process could be derailed.

Adequate Notice

One of the most common complaints all up and down the organizational chart is a lack of time. Conflicting priorities probably comes in a close second. Therefore, if you truly want meeting invitees to show up for you, it’s absolutely essential that you give them adequate notice and confirm their availability.

However, you want persons to do more than just show up. You want to ensure that they’re optimally prepared. Here again, time is essential especially in those cases where you’re going to be relying on attendees to provide information or contribute to decision-making. Therefore, available/relevant background documents should accompany the meeting notice, and it should be made absolutely clear that the meeting will proceed based on the assumptions that participants have completed the background readings.

Other critical elements to be included in the meeting notice include venue, date and time, duration, meeting format/process and the agenda including targeted outcomes. The final element is particularly important to help invitees answer the what’s in it for me question.

So today, we’ve examined the importance of having a clear purpose, getting the right people in the room and providing adequate notice of the meeting. Next week, the rubber meets the road as we take you through what;s required to effectively facilitate a great meeting.In the meantime, we would love to hear your stories about great and not-so-great meetings that you’ve attended or hosted.

[1] With the increased prevalence of virtual teams and geographically dispersed organizations, meeting rooms need not be a physical space but include online platforms such as Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Zoom etc. Great meeting principles apply no matter the nature of the meeting room.

[2] The specific facilitation elements required for a great meeting will be addressed in part two of this blog series.

[3] The fifth element will be addressed in the third part of the great meeting series while the fourth and final installment in the series will be devoted to the various other considerations which help to make meetings successful.


  • Julie Meeks

    Very useful information here, and I will share with my team for implementation regarding allowing people to delegate attendance. The requirement for follow up and evaluation is especially welcome. I look forward to the other parts to this series!

    • Thanks, Julie. I’m delighted that you think this information will help your team. I look forward to additional comments and feedback as you follow the rest of the series and implement the recommendations.

  • Started using this information today to plan an internal meeting. The format is an open discussion and I intend to solicit input on the implementation of a new process. What I also found useful is sending a few of the major questions we need to discuss in the meeting. Looking forward to the next article in this series.

    • Thanks, Ayodele, for your comment. We?re delighted to hear that you found the blog useful and look forward to hearing how the tips helped you. Great idea to send out the discussion questions in advance. That?s the type of proactive action that helps your meeting attendees prepare to make a valuable contribution.

      Remember to check out the next installment which will be published this Thursday.

  • Collin

    Hi Joan:

    Thanks for your blog.

    Could you please translate adequate time to a best practice lead time or advance notice for a meeting?
    Should you consult with all of the meeting invitees before setting the meeting time?
    Could you provide me with an example of what a progressive agenda looks like?

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