10 Easy Ways to Run a Lean Meeting

I try to apply “lean thinking” into all aspects of life, not just to work and certainly not just to construction projects (if you ever meet me in person, ask me to tell you how I manage my family’s weekly grocery list). When trying to inspire lean thinking in others, I encourage them to pick something that bugs them – it doesn’t matter what it is – and work their way backwards from there. The goal is to make life easier by reducing waste and/or add value; finding ways to simplify the process by speeding up or eliminating steps and handoffs wherever possible.

Here’s a real-life example. Site meetings bug me. Often they start and finish late. Usually, there is no agenda – or if there is, it might be unstructured. Meeting notes and action items are blurred, don’t get sent out to attendees in a timely fashion, and no one looks at them until 10 minutes before the next meeting (which probably means they weren’t completed).

With these pain points in mind, I changed how my meetings are run which resulted in considerable improvements in the effectiveness of my meetings. Feedback from both clients and co-workers was very positive. The following points offers some practical and easy to implement suggestions to improve your meetings:.

1. State the meeting’s objective
At the top of your meeting agenda, state the objective. The objective should answer what we’re there to discuss, what solutions we’re intending to deliver, and what decisions we’re going to make. This helps to narrow the focus of the meeting.

2. Allocate time for each agenda topic
Breaking up the meeting’s objective into agenda items will allow you to divvy up the time of the meeting, allowing a set number of minutes for each agenda item. The meeting is unlikely to over-run because it has been outlined for efficiency, and everyone is clear how long they have for each item.

3. Assign a time-keeper, note-taker, facilitator
If you want to honor the clock, you’ll need someone to be responsible for that. The time-keeper tracks the allocated time, and documents the actual time used. The note-taker is responsible for capturing action items and meeting notes and the facilitator is in charge of managing the entire process.

4. Start on time, finish on time
Don’t wait for stragglers – start on time. Once people learn that you don’t wait for them, they’ll make extra effort to be there on-time. Respect everyone’s time by keeping to your schedule and not allowing ancillary items or conversations to derail your meeting. Use a parking lot for any topics/issues that arise that are outside the scope of the meeting but require further discussion.

5. Differentiate meeting notes -vs- action items
“Who said what” is different from “who needs to do what by when” – you’ll want your note-taker to separately track both so the difference is clear and action items aren’t lost.

6. Assign responsibilities and a due date for action items
Things that need to be taken care of, answered, learned, or followed up on should be assigned to specific people. Document these action items with the name of the responsible party. As each one is identified, clarify and indicate the expected delivery date.

7. Articulate the next meeting’s objective
When wrapping up this meeting, set your plan for the next one. Articulate the objective now, with everyone in the room so you’re in agreement and expectations are managed.

8. Establish the time, date, facilitator, note-taker, and time-keeper for the next meeting
The more work you do here to set things in stone for your next meeting, the easier it will be for everyone. Rotate the roles so you have different people managing different parts at each meeting. This also helps to build empathy for the roles within the team.

9. Perform a quick Plus/Delta evaluation on the meeting
Take a minute or less at the end to perform a Plus/Delta. Plus = what was good; Delta = what needs to change/be done better. Ask: did we stay on track? Start/finish on-time? Did we meet our objective? Did we clarify next steps? Did everyone participate? Was this time well spent? What can we do to improve this process for the next meeting? Note the Plus/Deltas in the meeting minutes.

10. Complete the meeting notes live, and send them immediately afterwards
Because you’ve captured meeting minutes, notes, and action items as they happened, the final document is ready to distribute at the conclusion of the meeting. Take a few minutes to review the minutes, add in more detail if needed, and then send. Your attendees will receive the minutes while the meeting is still fresh and action items are clearly defined. Everyone is aware of the next meeting date and objective and who needs to accomplish what in advance of said meeting.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, I know I will never be “done” making changes to this process and every new meeting yields some small detail that makes the next one better. The feedback I’ve received tells me I am onto something and I hope you feel inspired to look at your meetings and how you might make them leaner. Click here if you’d like a copy of my meeting agenda template.


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