A former Navy SEAL commander says most meetings should be avoided - but if you need to have one, here's how to structure it for success

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A former Navy SEAL commander says most meetings should be avoided - but if you need to have one, here's how to structure it for success

Jocko Willink

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  • Jocko Willink is a former Navy SEAL commander turned bestselling author, podcast host, and leadership consultant. His new book is "Leadership Strategy and Tactics."
  • Willink said that most meetings should be avoided, but if you need to have them, a list of decision points should replace an agenda to keep the meeting as short and efficient as possible.
  • He said that whether you're leading your team or collaborating with other leaders, it is important to subordinate your ego and not quibble.
  • This article is part of our series C-Suite Insider, where we collect the best management lessons from executives and their coaches.
  • Visit BI Prime for more stories.

Jocko Willink spent two decades in the Navy SEALs, including a deployment as the commander of the most highly decorated US special operations unit serving in the Iraq War. But his military career wasn't always filled with excitement. As he rose up the ranks, he had to deal with countless hours of mission planning and bureaucracy.

After Willink retired in 2010, he founded the leadership consulting firm Echelon Front with his second-in-charge, platoon commander Leif Babin. It didn't take long to see that the same team dynamics in the battlefield appeared in the office, and that their leadership principles were as effective in both scenarios.

Willink told Business Insider in an interview about his new book, "Leadership Strategy and Tactics," that one lesson rings true for all businesses: "The number one way to have an efficient meeting is don't have them. People have meetings all the time that are totally unnecessary."

There are, of course, times when you'll need to bring your team together. Here's Willink's guide to keeping them efficient.

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Don't overthink - or under think - your meetings

Willink gave three pieces of advice for structuring your meetings.

Ensure you need to have it in the first place.

When you have people come together in a conference room, you want them engaged with the topics at hand. If you are using your meeting to accomplish tasks that could be more easily done on each team member's own time, you don't need to hold it.

Create decision points.

Using an agenda to structure a meeting is the best way to waste time, Willink said.

"So not, 'We're going to talk about this, we're going to talk about that, we're going to talk about the other thing.' No. It's, 'We're going make a decision on this, this, and this.'"

Keep the meeting as short as possible.

There are exceptions to everything, but for an office meeting, Willink recommends 20 minutes. "If a meeting is going to take an hour then you haven't done enough prep work and you haven't front-loaded people enough with the information that they need," he said.

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Don't let your ego lead to trivial arguments

One of Willinks's leadership mantras is "subordinate your ego." That is, lead with humility and trust your subordinates and colleagues.

If you're having a meeting with your team and you are all tasked with developing a plan, your team members may have ideas that don't perfectly align with what you had in mind. As a rule, however, you should be willing to let your team members follow their own plan if you are confident it can get the job done, even if you would tweak it slightly, Willink said.

That decision allows others to have ownership of their plan, and they are likely to do a better job than if they are given a mandate that they are not entirely on board with.

The same applies in inter-team collaborations. If one of your collaborators wants to tackle a shared goal a bit differently than you're used to, but you still think it will work, you're better off agreeing to it. It works both ways.

"Once you do that and they see that you have an open mind, they're going to be open to your ideas," Willink said.

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Don't overplan

In an interview about their 2018 book, "The Dichotomy of Leadership," Willink and his cofounder, Leif Babin, told Business Insider that over planning can be dangerous.

For Babin, that danger could have cost him his life. During a deployment in Iraq, Babin prepared for a mission that he expected to last at least 24 hours by packing enough to address every possible outcome. He packed as if he were headed into "World War III" as an army of one, he said. But because he brought so much equipment with him, he was weighed down for the long patrol, and it interfered with his ability to lead. From that point on, he was more cognizant of packing supplies for only three or four contingency plans for every mission.

It is important to plan for different outcomes when reaching a decision during a meeting, but it is not worth second-guessing a consensus.

Once decisions are made, stick to them, Willink said in that interview with Babin. "We see businesses sometimes where they invest so much time and so much effort into their planning that they actually never make any progress on getting the project done," he said. "You certainly have to plan but you can't spend so much time doing your planning that you never get anything actually done."

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