The Secret to Productive Meetings


How many times have you attended a meeting and been forced to listen to someone present a report for the first thirty minutes?  Perhaps they even did it by reading bullets off of powerpoint slides.

Ideally you don’t want to be spending your time in non-donor meetings at all.  We discussed that in my post on how to avoid meetings and maximize those you can’t.  But if you’re forced to be in the room, you certainly don’t want to be listening to a report on past activity.

Meetings aren’t for reports (or powerpoints).  Reports can easily be distributed via email and read on our own time.  Meetings are for discussion, collaboration and strategizing.  Using meetings for reports is a terrible waste of time and talent, yet so many organizations do it on a weekly, if not daily, basis.  This is especially true in the nonprofit sector where we put a high value on building collaboration and cohesion.  Collaboration and cohesion come through discussion, not reporting.

What’s the solution?  I’ll offer two …

  1. Start with a five minute (max) executive summary of the report that was distributed in advance of the meeting.  The remaining time can then be utilized to harness the brainpower in the room.  This is a good transition technique to not presenting the report at all.  Eventually you want to get to the point where you simply ask “Are there any questions about the report that was distributed in advance of this meeting?”
  2. Implement a consent agenda for standing meetings.  A consent agenda is a meeting practice which packages routine committee reports, meeting minutes, and other non-controversial items not requiring discussion or action as one agenda item.  The expectation is that attendees will have reviewed all of the documents in the consent agenda in advance for the meeting.  Then, the person running the meeting simply asks “Does anyone have anything they would like to discuss from the consent agenda?”  You quickly address any questions or concerns and move on.  If a vote of approval or acceptance is required, that can be done with one vote for the entire consent agenda.  This is an excellent tactic for nonprofit board meetings (and it’s how I start every single one).

So what’s the secret to productive meetings?  It’s a simple change that’s hard to do … get the reports out of the meeting.