If this meeting goes really well what would be the result? What would be different? What would we have?
Figuring out precisely what you want at the end of the meeting fuels the engine and guides the steering wheel. Do you want a decision? A list of options? A plan of next steps? A good feeling about one another? If you don’t determine the outcome how will you know if you successfully reached it?
More than any other factor, a vaguely described outcome is responsible for meetings that last too long. You don’t know when to stop because you don’t know where you’re going. If you planned an hour but achieved the desired outcome in 20 minutes you can adjourn. If you realize you can’t get there without additional resources you can close and meet again when you have them.
What needs to happen? In what order? What processes shall we use?
Once you know the purpose and the outcome you want (the “what”) you can choose which route to take (the “how”). If the purpose is to solve a problem and at the end of the meeting you want an action plan then a number of steps must take place. In order to determine actions you need a solution that everyone understands and agrees to. In order to reach agreement you might want some discussion about obstacles to the chosen solution. Before that, you choose this solution from among many suggestions based on selection criteria that everyone thinks are important. And first and foremost you need a clear statement of the problem so that everyone is starting at the same place.
When you’re planning the meeting look at the outcome you want and work backwards from there. What will you need to have in order to produce that deliverable? Each step should build on the one before.
Without any kind of design a free-form meeting will end up with everyone talking at cross-purposes, following his or her own line of interest. This can be chaotic and time-consuming, and you may or may not end up with your desired outcome.