No one can deny that meetings are an integral part of any business. Many of us have schedules that are filled with back-to-back meetings. Meetings come in almost infinite varieties: formal, informal, in-person, conference calls, video-based, web-based, status meetings, staff meetings, team meetings, board meetings, management meetings and networking meetings. Purposeful and productive meetings are beneficial to all involved, but it is easy for meetings to get out of control and become a waste of time and money. Learning how to keep meetings on track is a critical skill for good managers and leaders.
First of all, take measures to handle meeting logistics effectively. Schedule meetings in advance. Don’t expect those that you want to meet with to be available on a moment’s notice. Do not wait for everyone to be present before beginning the discussion. Latecomers will soon learn that they need to be on time not only to ensure a productive meeting but to respect and recognize that others’ time is as valuable as theirs.
Provide participants with ample time to prepare the information needed. If an input is needed from a participant prior to a meeting or during the meeting, make sure that it is clear. Make sure that you are prepared with the necessary documentation and information as well. Unpreparedness is one of the main reasons that meetings go awry.
During the meeting, distribute a prepared meeting agenda. Identify the discussion topics with time frames. Assure that the order of the topics makes sense and is logical. Review the agenda before the discussion begins on the first topic. Accommodate changes if possible or suggest that any additional topics brought forward to be addressed in another forum, at another time.
Provide opportunities for all participants to contribute. Be especially alert to anyone that is voicing an unpopular or different view on the subject. Understanding and addressing the minority or dissenting opinion is important in making sound decisions.
Have one of the participants record minutes for the meeting. Identify action items, the responsible parties, and the completion date. Review these action items at the end of the meeting to be sure that there are agreement and understanding among the participants. For recurring meetings, include these action items on the next agenda and note their status. Make the meeting notes available to all participants.
Be aware of the fact that meetings are only one form of communication among team members. Do not allow meetings to become the only method of communicating between participants. Encourage communication between participants outside of the meeting and to ensure progress is made on critical items.
Most importantly, identify the start and end time of the meeting. End times can be used to keep attendees focused and to keep wasted time to a minimum. Make sure that you honor a meeting’s end-time just as you do the start time.
And last but not least, don’t forget these guidelines when you are attending a meeting that you have not organized yourself. Model the behavior that you ask of your meeting participants (be on time and prepared, give your full attention, etc.) If you are unable to attend a meeting that you intended to, delegate attendance to one of your team members as a way to raise their visibility and as a development tool. Provide feedback to the meeting organizer on discussion items and any other relevant issues.