What CEOs know about running effective meetings


High-performing CEOs approach meetings in a way that maximises time and keeps the conversation focused.
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The corporate world’s heavy meeting culture consumes most executives’ working week. This is problematic as every moment spent inside a meeting creates an opportunity cost not to be able to attend to other important work.

When we consider the volume of time spent locked in rooms discussing business vs the time available to do the business, it makes sense to invest time and energy in ensuring meetings are as effective and efficient as possible.

High-performing CEOs approach meetings in a way that maximises time and keeps the conversation focused on the topics and issues that will have the highest impact with supporting strategic objectives.

Often this is through tight meeting disciplines, processes and expectations that begin before the meeting itself, as well as how the discussion is managed within the meeting.

Here are eight ways CEOs ensure their meetings hit the mark.

1. Accountability

Many CEOs have a no-spectators policy for executive meetings. Everyone in attendance plays a function in the meeting and has a level of accountability for the discussed subject. This forces executives to carefully consider the best use of everyone’s time when selecting meeting participants, freeing broader teams to do the work they need to.

2. Content on the day

Having a ‘no slide read’ policy and using slides as a springboard for discussion only ensures meetings are dynamic and have high engagement. There’s an expectation that pre-read materials have been read, leaving the allotted time free for robust and focused discussion to meet the purpose and objectives of the agenda item rather than covering the background.

3. Discipline

Having water-tight disciplines that sit behind meetings creates a no-surprises culture and ensures everyone’s time is respected. It includes guard rails for decision-making during the meeting and setting the expectation that pre-reads are submitted well in advance to allow space for thoughtful consideration before the meeting. This keeps the conversation focused and helps prevent burnout by removing the expectation that reading preparation will happen outside hours, making this a choice rather than a necessity.

4. Valuing silence

CEOs allow space for silence in meetings, recognising that everyone processes information differently. They can artfully balance the need to keep a meeting moving and time with allowing room for an idea to breathe and settle in the moment. 

5. Culture

They ensure all voices are welcome and don’t tolerate toxic behaviour or cutting others off. They’ll always return to the person who needs to be heard and will call out any conflict. They also know what happens beyond the meeting is important too. In the interest of healthy teams and healthy dynamics, they’ll check in privately if they sense a message or decision hasn’t landed well for someone.

6. Trim the fat

CEOs regularly take a critical view of their meeting commitments in partnership with their assistant. They assess where the business is, whether a cadence should be adjusted, or if a recurring series of meetings no longer makes sense. They’re also highly conservative with the time offered in their schedule and understand that keeping timing tight produces a tight conversation. It forces all meeting participants to arrive with clarity on the purpose of the discussion, the decision-making required and the desired outcome. 

7. Pre-thinking

Circulating talking points in advance of less formal meetings, such as one to one catch ups, helps ensure the meeting is an efficient use of time for both parties. This practice allows thoughtful consideration of topics in advance and the opportunity to assess whether the time together is needed, opening up the potential to save time when nothing is pressing to discuss. 

8. Reflections

Reflecting or debriefing after large meetings can be a helpful mechanism to determine whether the content was an effective use of time and if the culture inside the meeting itself was conducive to open discussion and healthy challenges. They can balance keeping the debrief focused on ensuring it doesn’t become a navel-gazing exercise or a complete rehash of what has already been discussed. They conduct the debrief in a way that is a clinical dissection of time and effort spent versus reward and encourage real-time feedback.

While it takes considerable effort and energy to assess meeting practices and disciplines and embed any changes regularly, it’s an important way to support a healthy organisational culture.  

It’s a practice that can eliminate reactivity and time wasting and help ensure focus is spent on the issues that matter most. 

It also goes a long way to help prevent employee burnout across an organisation by providing room to breathe and focus on high-impact priorities. 

Rachael Bonetti is the founder of Elevating Corporate Support.