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March 13, 2015

HBR: The best way to end your meetings

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on May 21, 2018.

The key to having a productive meeting is figuring out how to end it, writes Paul Axtell in the Harvard Business Review.

The science—and strategy—behind having a 'great meeting'

Meetings are essentially conversations. "To maximize their impact, you need to actively design the conversation," Axtell writes. This means managers should ensure their meetings are well-designed [u1] by setting a goal for the group, actively managing the discussion, and closing with everyone on the same page about the next steps.

Closing a meeting effectively is a skill many managers do not develop, Axtell says. He shares five tips for bringing a meeting to a productive close:

Get concerns out in the open. Groups act more effectively when they are united, Axtell observes. Simply asking the question "is everyone OK with where we ended up?" at the close of a meeting ensures concerns are heard and allows adjustments to be made as needed.

Set next steps. "In order for a conversation to lead to action, specific commitments must be made," Axtell writes. Managers should set clear deadlines and assign specific tasks to team members. Axtell suggests managers ask the group: "What exactly will we do by our next meeting to ensure progress?"

Recognize value. Teams are motivated by recognition. Meetings are a good opportunity to validate a colleague's contribution by providing specific feedback on how he or she has added to a discussion. Axtell suggests avoiding phrases like "that was good" in favor of more impactful statements like "Let me tell you the five things I'm taking away from your presentation."

Acknowledge excellence. Axtell also suggests highlighting specific contributors for their work. Managers should be careful not to give praise too often, but doing so selectively can be motivating and incent productive behavior.

Ensure completion. Managers should make sure the group has had a chance to discuss all relevant parts of a topic, Axtell says. Failing to do so risks having to discuss the same topic at a later date. Axtell suggests managers close a meeting by asking "Is there anything else someone needs to say or ask before we change topics or adjourn the meeting?" (Axtell, Harvard Business Review, 3/11).

The science—and strategy—behind having a 'great meeting'

There are about 11 million formal meetings in the United States every day—and more than half of them may be unproductive. Why? Because many meetings are inefficiently run. They don't set or achieve clear goals. And we hold them out of habit.

Drawing on best practices—as well as lessons from across our own organization—we've created this useful infographic to guide if you really need a meeting (and if so, how to maximize everyone's time).

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