This blog draws on Antony Jay, How To Run a Meeting, Harvard Business Magazine (March 1976), except where otherwise stated. 

  1. Don’t Have Meetings at All:  Meetings should not be your default option. Resolve what you can through one-on-ones or twos, or phone calls rather than group meetings.  Sometimes five minutes spent with six people separately is more effective and productive than a half-hour meeting with them all together. 
  2. Give a Different Formula to Each Meeting: Don’t follow the same formula for all of your meetings. Allow the need of the meeting to dictate where you are going to hold it, who is invited, what the layout of the room is, and what the content of the meeting will be. [1]
  3. Make Your Agendas as Specific as Possible:  The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more involvement you will get from your participants. [2] The way to achieve specific responses is to keep on asking why. Each time you get an answer ask why again until you get to something useful. For example someone wants to make a book event. “Why?” “To make a particular book the best book of the fall.” In which case the next question would be: “Why does this book matter so much to you?” etc. But if the answer were, “to create the greater sense of connection amongst the participants” then that well lead to a very different type of meeting. [3]
  4. Match the Participants to the Agenda: Analyze the agenda to see whether everyone has to be present for every item, or have two separate, smaller meetings rather than one big one.
  5. Schedule Challenging Issues First: The early part of a meeting tends to be more lively and creative than the end of it, so if an item needs mental energy, bright ideas, and clear heads, it may be better to put it high up on the list. 
  6. Focus on Urgent Topics: Don’t dwell on trivial but urgent items, to the exclusion of subjects of fundamental importance whose significance is long-term rather than immediate.  
  7. Plan for an Hour and a Half:  Very few business meetings achieve anything of value after two hours, and an hour and a half is enough time to allocate for most purposes.
  8. Indicate the Starting and Finishing Times: It is often a good idea to put the finishing time of a meeting on the agenda as well as the starting time.
  9. Distribute Highlights of Proposals: Circulate short proposal papers prior to (or even during) the meeting.  It not only saves time, but it also helps in formulating useful questions and considerations in advance. But the whole idea is sabotaged once the papers get too long; they should be brief or provide a short summary.  
  10. Don’t Include Unessential Topics: Listing “Any other Business” on the agenda is an invitation to waste time.    
  11. The Dialogue Isn’t With You: A good meeting is not a series of dialogues between individual members and the chairman. Instead, it is a crossflow of discussion and debate, with the chairman occasionally guiding, meditating, probing, stimulating, and summarizing, but mostly letting the others thrash ideas out. 
  12. Don’t Dominate: As chairman of the meeting, restrict your own interventions to a single sentence, or two and don’t pull rank.  Your job is to guide the group, make sure that someone doesn’t go off on a tangent or give a three-hour speech, etc. See yourself as the servant of the group rather than as its master. If you want a particular point to be strongly advocated, ensure that it is someone else who leads off the task discussion, while you hold back until much later in the discussion. (You might indeed change or modify his view through hearing the discussion.)  It is much easier for you to show support for someone else’s point; and especially after listening to the arguments. 
  13. Stop the Long-winded Person: Do it by picking on a phrase -it really doesn’t matter what phrase – as he utters it as an excuse for cutting in and offering it to someone else: “Inevitable decline—that’s very interesting. George, do you agree that the decline is inevitable?”
  14.  Encourage the Silent: Many people will be silent most of the time. There are two kinds of silence you must break:
    1. The silence of diffidence. Someone may have a valuable contribution to make but be sufficiently nervous about its possible reception to keep it to himself. To overcome this, solicit the opinions of the least senior person in the room first and work up the pecking order.  Express interest and pleasure (though not necessarily agreement) to encourage further contributions of that sort. 
    2. The silence of hostility – usually the symptom of some feeling of affront. If you probe it, you will usually find that there is something bursting to come out, and that it is better out than in. 
  15. Encourage and Combine Options: Best of all is get a list of all the options and see whether you can select and combine the promising elements from all of them – reducing the options to two or three to choose from.
  16. Let Ideas but not People Clash: Encourage the clash of ideas but discourage the clash of personalities. If two people are starting to get heated, widen the discussion by asking a question of a neutral member of the meeting, preferably a question that requires a purely factual answer.
  17. Squash the Squashers: Although very few suggestions will ever lead to anything, almost all of them need to be given every chance.  Therefore, you as chairman must discourage as sharply as you can the squashing-reflex of some in the room, require the squasher to produce a better suggestion on the spot. 
  18. Stick to Process: Do not allow people to jump ahead, e.g., start proposing a course of action before the meeting has agreed on the cause of the trouble.  
  19. Give Periodic Interim Summaries: “So what has been said so far is ….” This device frequently takes only a few seconds, and acts like a life belt to some of the members who are getting out of their depth.
  20. Stop Non-Productive Discussions: Perhaps one of the most common faults of chairmanship is the failure to terminate the discussion early enough. Stop the discussion:
  1. The moment it seems like some agreement has been reached. 
  2. If you see the discussion is going nowhere. 
  3. If more facts are required before further progress can be made. 
  4. If the discussion needs the views of people not present. 
  5. Members need more time to think about the subject and perhaps discuss it with colleagues.
  6. The next program, etc. will help to alter or clarify the basis of the decision quite soon. 
  7. There is not going to be enough time at this meeting to go over the subject properly. 
  8. Two or three of the members can settle this outside the meeting without taking up the time of the rest.  
  1.  Close on a Note of Achievement: Let’s say the final item is unresolved. However, stress an earlier item that was resolved. Say, “Ok chevra, we have achieved some important things here.”  
  2. Decisions: In our last posting we talked about buy-in by the group to whatever decision gets made. I want to add here that it must be clear to everyone, prior to the meeting, how decisions from the meeting will be reached. By a general consensus? By a majority vote? Or are the decisions left to the CEO?  You can also delegate an unresolved issue to a working party to report and recommend before the next meeting. 

However, even if you do intend to make the decision about a certain issue yourself, you should delegate to the meeting participants some authority. For example, after a decision about whether to do a project has been made, the group can be asked to formulate the detailed action plan. If you withdraw all decision making from the group, they will not buy into the decisions.  

  1. Fix the Next Meeting: This can save hours of trying to schedule later.

[1] Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering

[2] Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering

[3] Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering


Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on Series on Kiruv and Chinuch, Commentary on Chumash and Yom Tovim, The Laws of Outreach, as well as contributing articles.  

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