5 Tips For Running Effective Meetings, Courtesy of Steve Jobs
Jobs was referring to product, of course. At a meeting after he replaced beleaguered Apple CEO Gil Amelio (who Jobs thought a "bozo"), he asked executives to tell him what was "wrong with this place." He answered his own question: "The products SUCK!" Jobs could as easily be speaking of meetings. Quantity does not make up for lack of quality. And, yes, most meetings SUCK! As a leader, running effective meetings is one of your most important tasks: how do you get it right?
A Steve Jobs-Style Meeting
Jobs was famous (or infamous) for this temper. He was a bully; he threw tantrums - and incredibly effective meetings. Love him or hate him, revile him or respect him, Jobs gave meetings in the same sleek, streamlined shape that defines Apple's iconic products. What can you learn from his example?
1. Get the Mechanics Right
Barack Obama once invited Steve Jobs to a meeting of tech moguls. Who turns the president down? Steve Jobs. He said Obama had invited too many people. A function of his considerable ego - or the intuitive knowledge that the bigger a meeting is, the less is accomplished? We'll go with the latter. Limit your meetings to people who absolutely need to be there. If someone can add more value elsewhere, don't invite them. Simple as that.
He also ensured that someone "owned" each agenda item. This was called the "directly responsible individual," or DRI. People know who was responsible for what and it boosted engagement and accountability. Does each item on your agenda have a DRI?
2. Share Your Passion
When he wasn't passionately berating employees, Jobs was passionately articulating his vision. In a brainstorming session with NeXT engineers, he said, "More important than building a product, we are in the process of architecting a company that will hopefully be much more incredible...than the sum of its parts." People wanted to be a part of that goal. Does your team buy into your vision as ardently?
Architect Daniel Burnham, who rebuilt Chicago after the great fire of 1871, said, "Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men's blood." Be bold; create a plan that will ensure your company is much more incredible than the sum of its parts - and then communicate that vision, and the strategies that'll help you achieve it, in meetings. You won't catch anyone dozing, that's for sure.
3. Hire Great Minds - and Challenge Them to Become Better
Steve Jobs demanded the best, and then he demanded more. In meetings, while engineers and developers discussed products, problems, and solutions, Jobs relentlessly pushed for more. And he got it. When he worked at Atari with Steve Wozniak, for example, he challenged Woz to create a game called "Breakout." His future-Apple counterpart said it would take months; Jobs said he could do it in four days. It was impossible, and Woz did it. Use meetings to encourage your people to achieve better results. Push them, and see what they can accomplish.
4. Prevent Meeting Hijackers
We have all been in meetings that have been derailed by someone's opinion (someone's long, long, long opinion that may or may not be helpful to the discussion). In the NeXT meeting, for instance, a participant becomes impassioned about a topic and talks...and talks. Finally, Jobs smoothly interrupts and pulls the meeting back to its focus.
To keep people from taking over a meeting, set a clear agenda. Give people their say; and when they've had it - and continue to speak - step in. Get back to the agenda and the matters at hand.
5. Look Ahead
When a NeXT staffer lamented a past failure, Jobs jumped in: "I don't want to hear, 'Just because we blew it last time, we're going to blow it this time.'" Instead of dwelling on the past, or on mistakes, focus on creating the future that you want for your organization. Seem like a lofty goal for a simple meeting? That's what you should be aiming for. That's the way you'll use your time most efficiently and effectively.
While Steve Jobs had his own unique brand of leadership (much of which you wouldn't want to emulate), he did know how to hold a great meeting. "It's really clear," he said, "that the most precious resource we all have is time." It's certainly one of your organization's most valuable resources; make the most of it in every meeting.