Sometimes the best judge of leadership is the ability to run a meeting. Even though the bar is low, many leaders fall short.

Members are known to quit volunteering if they attend a meeting that was poorly managed. There was no agenda, the chairman started late, or there was no significant outcome.

Here are seven principles to support better meetings.

The first rule is to have a purpose. Is there a priority or recommendation that provides a good reason to convene?

Too many groups meet “because we’ve always done it this way.” Or just because it is on the calendar and it is “nice to gather colleagues.” If you waste peoples’ time, they will be less likely to volunteer in the future.

The second rule is that meetings have specific start and ending times. Everybody is busy, so try to limit meetings to 90 minutes.

It is important to start on time, but it is critical to finish on time. If you are behind on the agenda, ask the group if it is OK to just focus on the most important action items. If time allows, cover the less important items before adjournment.

Meetings are not a time for show and tell. There is business to be achieved. Reading reports or hearing updates amongst colleagues is not the best use of time.

The third rule is to encourage discussion. Outcomes and participation are best if attendees know it is OK to deliberate and challenge a proposal. It is better to have the tough conversations than to allow “groupthink” to occur, passing recommendations because others make it sound like a good idea.

A fourth rule is to welcome disagreement. Invite persons to question or challenge recommendations and motions. The chair’s aim is to “get it right,” not to be right. Orchestrate a meeting where the focus remains on the issue and not on personalities.

Fifth, be sure nobody dominates the conversation. Even the chair may have to speak last or set aside the gavel when offering an opinion. Nobody wants a motion rammed through the meeting.

Promote fair expectations at the beginning of the meeting, or “ground rules.” “We welcome discourse, but each person will have one opportunity to speak to the issue, unless they have a new thought to share. No one will be able to speak more than twice.”

Ask everyone to organize their thoughts before they speak. Encourage them to use cogent bullet points instead of rambling paragraphs. You want to hear solutions, not problems. Let them know time limits might be set, such as each person will be limited to a minute or two before hearing from others.

The sixth rule is to ask everyone to respect the outcomes. They should speak up inside the meeting, not disagree in the parking lot after adjournment.

Try this technique. Before the vote, ask if everybody if they will support the outcome. It is easier for people to commit before the vote is taken than to hear about dissent after the meeting.

Finally, the seventh rule is to express gratitude. Appreciation is the key to continued participation. Simply saying, “Thank you, I appreciate your time and commitment today,” goes a long way among colleagues and volunteers.

Running a great meeting is not hard. Be present and respectful. Start and finish on time. Have a purpose for meeting and postpone if there is no need to convene.

A free guide to Committee Responsibilities is available to help committee leaders.