By William F. Brandt, Jr.

Meetings get a bum rap! But, the frequent wrath of meeting goers is largely misguided. The reality is that meetings are vital to organizational success—perhaps that’s why we conduct so many of them. Whatever frustrations we feel about meetings are better focused upon our lack of skills in conducting them. Fortunately, these skills are readily learnable. When applied, they substantially multiply our personal and organizational effectiveness.

Most leaders have little or no awareness of how to properly conduct a meeting or the consequences of not doing so. Participants are often left wondering, “Why am I here?” “What are we trying to accomplish?” “Why is one person dominating the conversation?” “Why can’t we reach a conclusion?” “How could I better use my time if I were not here?” Emotions range from indifference and boredom to anger, cynicism and regret.

After encountering these meeting problems, and realizing that we had no established technique for conducting meetings, my company, American Woodmark, created a methodology that would be applicable to virtually any meeting situation. We established a standard meeting format and found that our meetings were no longer reliant on the skill of each meeting’s leader, but that all meetings improved immensely. Here is our 7-stage meeting structure:

1. Icebreaker 

2. Review agenda

3. Set expectations

4. Content

5. Next step

6. Review expectations

7. Feedback


While each of these “7-stages” were critical, three were unusual to traditional meeting management tools:

3. Set expectations: By asking attendees to state their expectations, the participants created a shared vision for what constituted a successful meeting. Expectations that could not be met were noted at the start thus reducing the disappointment of not being addressed later on.

6. Review expectations: By reviewing expectations at the end of the meeting, there was a recognition as to whether or not the participants’ expectations were successfully met.

7. Feedback. By asking leaders and participants to provide feedback—not only on meeting content but also on the way the meeting was conducted—they became observers of their own behavior and over time increased their meeting-management skills. Finally, as participants became more comfortable being open in their feedback, they typically developed much greater trust with one another.

We trained people in this technique across the company, and established the rule that all meetings would utilize this standard 7-level format. Collective skill levels increased, and our culture reinforced expectations that the format would be followed.

The implementation was relatively painless. People quickly saw that their meetings had a purpose, achieved an appropriate result and did so in a efficient manner. Their effectiveness further supported their continued use. This tool has stood the test of time, and we have found that it has since been adopted successfully in other organizations.

For those institutions suffering from mindless meetings, using the 7-level meeting format will likely create quick and substantial benefits for a relatively limited investment. For this reason, it can serve as one of the first steps of a broader cultural-change effort.


William F. Brandt, Jr., is cofounder and former CEO of American Woodmark Corporation—the third largest producer of kitchen cabinets in America. His books include the winner of 22 Book Awards COMPASS—Creating Exceptional Organizations: A Leader’s Guide and COMPASS TOOL KIT, the teaching companion to COMPASS ( ).

Copyright 2015 © William F. Brandt, Jr.

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