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Is your day filled with meetings that result in wasted time? Creating a thoughtful agenda is the optimal way to set your meetings on the right path. But sometimes, you just don’t have the bandwidth or — let’s be honest — the habit of writing a full agenda. In this case, what’s the one thing you should do before any meeting?

Define the meeting’s desired outcome.

In my work helping teams and organizations improve their meeting culture, I’ve found this act to be the single most important element of any meeting, whether it’s an impromptu conversation or a planned meeting.

This act defines what success will look like for your meeting. Without it, you’re just a group of people gathering for a conversation with no clear purpose: Pleasant, maybe, but not effective because you’re unlikely to move work forward. A meeting’s desired outcome is the specific result you want to achieve in the meeting.

By first identifying the meeting’s objective, you can then decide who to invite, assign them pre-reading materials, and design an agenda that will facilitate the team to achieve the desired outcome. It also helps you to consider whether a meeting is the most appropriate way to achieve the goal or whether an email or other form of communication might suffice.

OK, so you’re ready to commit to defining desired outcomes. How can you do so effectively?

Write a meeting objective as a noun, not a verb.

The best way to write a meeting objective that you can actually measure is to begin with a noun, rather than a verb. This is a subtle and important difference. It’s easy and compelling to write verb statements such as “to decide” or “to brainstorm,” but these are not specific, measurable outcomes.

When you write an outcome that begins with a noun, you’ll have taken a meeting activity and turned it into a concrete result. You can then use this as a metric to determine if your meeting was successful. Set the meeting objective to clarify what you’ll accomplish, not just what you’ll do during the meeting.

Try using any of these phrases to write strong, desired outcomes:

  • A list of…
  • Agreement on….
  • Alignment on …
  • A decision on…
  • Ideas for…
  • Events scheduled…
  • Stronger relationships among…
  • Completed…
  • Enriched version of…
  • Answers to…

When you establish a desired outcome, you reframe meetings as a collaborative context where things get done.

How do you use the desired meeting outcome?

Once you’ve written a concrete outcome, don’t forget about it! Remind yourself and your team of what you’re trying to achieve in these ways:

  • Add the desired outcome for your meeting to the meeting agenda. 
    Aim to send the meeting agenda to participants at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting to set expectations and allow participants to mentally prepare.
  • Verbalize the desired outcome at the beginning of the meeting. 
    With everything going on in a day, meeting participants don’t always remember what meeting they’re walking into. Before you begin with the first agenda item, state the desired outcome out loud to make sure everyone is working toward the same goal.
  • Ask if you have achieved the desired outcome at the end of the meeting. 
    At the end of a meeting, quickly recap decisions and next steps and refer back to the meeting objective. Did the team achieve it? If yes, congratulate the group for its focused conversation and good work. If the group wasn’t successful, try to understand why. Did the conversation wander off track? Did the group not have the necessary information or people in the room? How can you avoid this in the future?

As you begin to use desired outcomes to guide meeting conversations, your meetings will become more efficient, productive and, dare I say, enjoyable.

 

This article is originally published on Inc.com. Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash.

Enjoy this article?

Make sure you download a free chapter from Meeteor’s upcoming book, Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging and Enjoyable Meetings, before it’s available in November, 2017.

Mamie Kanfer Stewart

Mamie Kanfer Stewart is the Founder & CEO of Meeteor. She is passionate about making work-life better through good process.

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