Effective Meetings: The 4 P’s

Executives spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings. Considering their average workweek is 47 hours, you are spending almost half your time in meetings. And yet, most executives think meetings are a total waste of time. Which not only impacts the effectiveness and productivity of the organization, it also severely impacts culture. Many studies have found that one of the most powerful factors in job satisfaction is how one feels about the effectiveness of the meetings he, she or they attends. Where employees who attend a rash of bad meetings are stressed, dissatisfied with their jobs and more predisposed to leave.1

Yet, meetings are a critical lever to leading and managing organizations. Thus, figuring out how to improve highly ineffective and dysfunctional meetings is one of the most common topics my clients want to address. They are tired of wasting so much time and walking away deeply frustrated by the dysfunction they observe on their team and without much to show for it.

While there are a great many causes of  ineffective, culture-damaging and productivity sabotaging meetings, the most common (and most easily fixed) culprit I have found can be found in the agenda (or lack thereof) for the meeting.

Far too often I see a list of topics and rough timeframes to discuss or even worse, no agenda at all and my response is always to introduce and help my clients experiment with the “4 P’s framework” for developing a winning meeting agenda.

What are the 4 P’s?

4 P’s stand for Purpose, Product, Process, Participants

Purpose: The purpose is the “WHY” of the meeting. If there isn’t a clear and compelling “why” or reason for the meeting, cancel it. The purpose should leave those participating in the meeting feeling that it is a worthwhile and consequential way to spend their time.

Product: The product is the “WHAT” you produce as a result of the meeting. This might be a decision, a document, feedback on a draft, potential solutions to a problem, etc. In most cases, the product should be something that is written/codified so that all participants can see where you are landing and it is easily referenceable in the future. 

Process: This is “HOW” you will produce the product and thereby achieve the purpose of the meeting. This should be the key steps you plan to take in the allotted time for the meeting. This is also where you might want to lay out any pre-reading, pre-work, or pre-thinking participants need to complete before the meeting in order to make the most of the time. This in many ways should read like the “recipe” for the product. 

Participants: This is the “WHO” of the meeting. Who are the people that need to be involved and for each, what is the specific role they need to play in order to achieve the product/purpose. Meetings should only include people that have a specific and consequential role to play. If that isn’t the case, they shouldn’t be a part of the meeting.

Common Types of Meetings

  • Decision Making
  • Problem Solving
  • Pressure Testing
  • Information Sharing*
  • Delegating or Coordinating Group Work or Activities
  • Strategic or Operational Planning Planning (including Scenario Planning)
  • Learning (e.g. After-Action-Review)
  • Monitoring Performance
  • Enterprise Risk Management
* Very few meetings should be for the sole purpose of information sharing. A meeting can be a worthwhile way to share information if the information is high stakes, consequential, complex/hard to digest, confidential or stress/anxiety inducing. If not, choose other methods to share the information.

Common Roles in a Meeting





The person(s) presenting the topic, problem/dilemma, work product, decision point, etc for the group to engage in. 

Facilitator or Co-facilitators

The person(s) responsible for ensuring the group effectively moves through the process and inclusively produces the product, thus achieving the purpose of the meeting. 


The person(s) who the meeting is “for”. I.e. who needs to do something with the product of the meeting. They are the person that needs to make the decision the group is engaging in, or is ultimately responsible for solving the problem they are bringing to the group. 





The person(s) who are capturing the key insights from the meeting (including next steps, owners, timelines and any key decisions that were made).


The person that ensures the group is moving towards the product/purpose within the defined time.


The person(s) that have something specific to offer in order to produce the product and achieve the purpose of the meeting.

Pressure Tester

The person(s) who test the viability and likely impact of the decision, strategy, solution, etc proposed as the product of the meeting. Usually because they have a unique set of insights/ proximity/ access to information that will help them best assess the potential impacts/ considerations.

Illustrative Examples

Problem Solving Meeting Illustration


There are some dysfunctional patterns that are emerging on our team. They are holding us back from being an effective team and are negatively impacting team morale.  We can’t allow this to persist unaddressed because it will get worse and further erode our ability to work well together.

Today’s conversation is to do three things:

  1. identify/define the specific dysfunctional patterns;
  2. prioritize which dysfunctional patterns to address first;
  3. brainstorm potential individual actions we each will experiment with to improve our team functioning in those prioritized areas within the next 6-8 weeks.

A document that:

  1. Articulates the various dysfunctions we are experiencing on our team;
  2. Rank orders the list by impact on team;
  3. Selects the top 2-3 dysfunctions we commit to improving as a team;
  4. Includes a recent example for each of the dysfunctions we prioritize;
  5. Captures each team member’s level of commitment/agreement with the dysfunctions we are prioritizing and commitment to try the disruptor they select. (1-5 with one being low/5 being high)


    • Team: Chief Talent Officer sends pre-work asking people to identify and rank order the dysfunctional patterns they observe on our team. For each pattern they see, ask them to reflect on what they may be contributing and something they could try to disrupt that pattern in the future when it starts to happen again. Share their pre-work with the CEO 48 hours in advance.
    • Chief Talent Officer: Synthesizes into rank-ordered trends based on pre-work

During Meeting:

  • [Framing] CEO frames the purpose of the conversation and what we are going to produce.
  • [Share and Feedback] Chief Talent Officer shares her synthesis of the team’s pre-work and facilitates a discussion to
    • (1) achieve alignment on the various dysfunctional patterns (i.e. discuss and refine live to ensure every actively co-signs – no passive acquiescence)
    • (2) land top 3 dysfunctions to work on. CEO is the tie-breaker/decision maker if the team can’t come to a consensus.
  • Each team member articulates a disruptor they commit to trying the next time this situation arises and what help/if any they will need from the team to execute their disruptor. The Executive Assistant will capture the disruptors and any supports/help asked for/offered. Team commits to reviewing this document at the start and end of every team meeting and celebrating each other where they see people contributing the disruptors, workshopping any disruptors that aren’t quite hitting the mark, or brainstorming new disruptors if need be.
  • Presenter: Chief Talent Officer
  • Facilitator: Chief Talent Officer
  • End-user: CEO
  • Notetaker: Executive Assistant
  • Time keeper: Chief Operations Officer

Decision Making Meeting Illustration


I, as CEO, have to make a final decision on which new market we will expand our program to next year out of the 3 viable options our Chief Development Officer and their team have spent the past 12-18 months developing for expansion. They have put together a prospectus laying out their analysis, opportunities, risks, implications, and key operational considerations for each of the options and have shared a final recommendation.

This decision is consequential and high stakes because this is the first time we are expanding our program into a new market and comes with considerable opportunity and risk.

The decision making right we are using here is CEO makes decision with input from executive team. Thus, we will use this meeting to gather your perspective on this decision by utilizing a consultancy protocol.


There are three  products:

  1. Notes capturing the key points of view raised by executive team members during the consultancy for the CEO to refer back to in making the final decision.
  2. CEO’s draft decision and the timeline for landing final decision and what outstanding information they need to land the decision in that timeline.
  3. A codified articulation of what each exec team member would need for them to commit to this decision and rally themselves, their teams and the entire organization around it if the decision differs from what they are proposing (codified in a simple chart).


  • All members of the team review the information packet with the prospectus for expansion into each of the three new markets that was prepared by the Chief Development Officer.
  • Each team member reviews the recommendation being proposed by the CDO.

During Meeting: 

  • CEO’s Chief of Staff (COS) frames up the meeting using the 4Ps and provides a quick overview of the consultancy protocol. (5 mins)
  • The CEO (as presenter) provides an overview of any dilemma with which they are grappling in making this decision and shares the framing question for the group to think about. (5 mins)
  • The executive team asks clarifying questions that have brief, factual answers to help them better understand the context, situation, dilemma. (5-10 mins)
  • The executive team asks probing questions to help the CEO think in new ways, from new angles, about the dilemma. (15 minutes)
  • The CEO listens and records the questions. The CEO may respond to those questions if they want (e.g. “I never thought about it that way.”) The executive team listens with no discussion. CEO restates focus question (5 mins)
  • Executive team discussion lightly facilitated by COS. The exec team talks with each other about the dilemma presented. (25 mins)
  • CEO listens and takes notes on thoughts they want to remember and/or reflect on with the group. The CEO reflects on what they heard and on what they are now thinking about this decision – sharing both what particularly resonated and what decision they would make if they had to decide right now. (10 mins)
  • The facilitator leads a debrief conversation about the group’s observations of the consultancy process and surfaces what each person would need in order to commit/rally around the penultimate decision if it were different than what they would have chosen. (15 mins)
  • The CEO shares what outstanding information they need/actions they intend to take in order to finalize the decision, what specifically they need from the team, and the timeline for making and communicating the decision back to the group. (5 minutes)
  • Decision Maker/End-User: CEO
  • Facilitator: CEO Chief of Staff (COS)
  • Exec Team Members: Consultants (as defined by consultancy protocol)
  • Notetaker and time keeper: CEO Executive Assistant


Most clients intuitively appreciate this framework once I share it with them. It seems pretty straightforward and relatively easy to apply. And for some it is. However, I have found two common barriers with applying this framework.

  1. Time on Task: Applying this framework takes real time people don’t proactively carve out (especially in the beginning as you are building your fluency/skill). You can’t figure out the 4Ps for an Executive Meeting  in the 5 mins between when your last external call ends and when your Exec Team meeting begins (trust me, I have tried and it REALLY doesn’t work)! While it may seem like a big commitment of time on the front end to think through and design your meeting using this framework, I would argue that it saves you exponentially more time on the backend.

  2. It Requires Practice: The 4Ps require you to clarify your thinking and to plan out how you will achieve the objective of the meeting. Like any skill, this takes practice and can be frustrating. Your first few 4Ps likely won’t be great. That’s ok. Keep experimenting with it. Engage your team in helping you get better at the 4Ps. Once you execute a meeting – go back and annotate your 4Ps for that meeting to see where you could have strengthened it using the benefit of hindsight. Be patient with yourself and stick with it.

Please stay tuned for future blogs in this series on effective meetings: 

  • Embracing an End-User Orientation
  • Navigating Group Problem Solving
  • Importance of having a Facilitator or Co-facilitator
  • Power of Chunking
  • How to Engage in Productive Conflict: Disagree… Commit… Rally…