Business can’t get done without productive meetings, but a CEO or manager can run into problems moving forward with your team. Unfocused debates waste time and stall important decisions, decisions that are critical to the success of your business. Although discussion and reasoning should be a part of any decision making process, there has to be resolution at some point. If you have experienced slowdowns in making major decisions, you know the troubles that pointless debating can cause. Breaking through these logjams can help you move forward and get more done.

We spoke with Robert Sher, business author and principal of CEO to CEO, about making meetings more efficient. His experience as an executive coach and author of “The Feel of the Deal: How I Built a Business Through Acquisitions” has given him insight into how to lead effective meetings and make progress with a team. Here are his top four tips for focusing and streamlining the debate process. Implementing these steps in your own meetings can lead to quicker and more effective resolutions.

Establish clear leadership:

“A well facilitated meeting has a person who controls the debate,” said Sher. He explained that maintaining a single point of control helps the meeting move along and keeps things streamlined. A leader should be designated before the meeting starts, and the leader establishes and facilitates a process for the meeting. In most cases, this reduces problems in the meeting. If the team reaches an impasse, the leader can step in and make a decision – which is essential to moving forward. Without a leader, the debate will turn circular and progress will be stalled.

Allow time for professional and productive debate:

Team members should be afforded the time and space to debate the issue at hand, while keeping things professional. Although debate may feel uncomfortable at times, it’s necessary. The leader should encourage team members to express their views within the parameters of the meeting. Side discussion can derail the decision process and undermine the leader’s authority. Encourage deep and rich debate in the meeting – or series of meetings – so that all opinions are heard. New ideas and approaches can only be discovered if team members are allowed to discuss freely.

Establish project management of complex decisions:

Some decisions require more than one meeting – and may even take months to hash out. Large decisions need guidance and facilitation over the course of several different meetings. “The key to avoiding backtracking and re-debating such complex decisions is to run the process like a project,” says Sher. Specific written steps with deadlines can help the team move forward on the project. The leader should make sure that there are tasks for each step and that those tasks are completed before moving forward.

Write it down to stay focused:

“It is not real if it’s not written,” says Sher. Documenting the debate process is critical. It clears up confusion and helps the whole team move forward. Be sure to include:

  • The decision itself
  • Who is responsible for implementing the decision
  • Alternatives that were considered (and why they were not chosen)
  • Perspectives that guided the decision
  • Expectations of the decision after it is implemented

These details will help the team remember the environment that produced the decision, and eliminate resurrecting old debates.

With these four steps, you’ll be able to lead your team toward a decision, while still making room for debate and discussion.

For helpful advice for CEOs, visit Robert Sher’s website CEO to CEO and register for the newsletter “The Insomnia Factor” , which helps guide business leaders as they navigate critical passages. At the site you can also read Sher’s other published works and find more about his book.

Courtney Ramirez
Research Analyst, Pacific Business Centers (rebranded as Pacific Workplaces)

Courtney’s research for Pacific Business Centers focuses on tracking emerging business trends and best practices – with an emphasis on how they affect business operations, technology, and the future of work trends.