If you’ve ever been in a random coffee meeting with an awkward start and end…It’s probably that you weren’t really sure what it was you were meeting about.

Are we just getting to know one another? Who connected us again, and what was that for?? Often these meetings will vaguely end with, “Well… let me know how I can help.”

This is a kind gesture but gets to the root of there not really being any particular reason for being there.

Instead, a meeting with a purpose would end with…

“I’m going to follow up with ___ so we can move ___ forward.”

Or

“Thanks for working through ___ with me, I’ve got some clarity now on next steps and will circle back when the draft is done.”

It’s not that I’m anti-serendipity and chance. Or finding friends this way.  

Rather, knowing a purpose for having a meeting is like having a railing for you to hold on to as you progress through the meeting.

It keeps you focused on the end state.

So, it’s the leader’s job to set the agenda, of which there should really be one clear objective.

Then, what typically happens is people will try and pull the meeting away from that purpose.

You’re there because you want to create the outline for a new feature, but partway through someone begins discussing hiring.

Or you’re in a meeting to create a new set of priorities related to a project but you end up talking about processes and the “how” instead of the “what.”

This lack of purpose creates complexity for everyone involved and leads to time spent without that concrete feeling at the end like you’ve decided or created something.

A meeting is purposeful in that it should solve a problem. You’ve put two or more people’s time together, what can you accomplish with it?

As the leader of the meeting, you facilitate utilizing this collective energy and brainpower to get the best possible result.

You can ask for more choices;

“Hey, I’m not sure if we’ve landed on the right idea here, what other options do people have?”

And importantly, you can guide the meeting to make sure other voices are heard – diversity of opinion is crucial because you want as much information on the table as possible by making a decision.

You can get people to open up,

“Hey, I haven’t heard anything from you ___ and I always love when you do share, do you have something to add?”

You can learn. You can ask for things to be explained to you.

“I know I’m the CEO, but I honestly have no idea how ___ works in the company today, walk me through that.”

So as the leader you're more like a facilitator of information and flow. You establish contexts, like setting up the box for people to play and be creative in. And when things get off track, you pull it back to the present and reset. You remind people of the purpose. And you use as much or as little time as you need.

The segment of time itself is irrelevant, and things can go quickly or slow.

My one last idea to share is that you do want to “waste” a bit of time at the beginning and end of your meeting catching up with people.

You can shift out of the intensity and focus of a meeting and into the light-hearted catch up on a personal level. This is especially important with remote meetings, and matters for getting and keeping a better sense of connection with the people you work with. It’s easy to just kick-off, or even phone in this part, but it builds trust and it feels good.

You probably want to know the “how” for setting an agenda or frameworks related to that. I assume there are plenty of resources and I don’t think it matters as much as you having the purpose set in your mind, and then sharing that context for everyone involved.

So mostly just set a purpose for yourself, even if it’s minutes prior, and then share that with others contextually.

Or, to delight those more organized on your team, share it ahead of time.