7 Steps to More Effective Meetings

Meetings fill an increasing number of hours in the workday and yet most employees consider them a waste of time. According to a survey of U.S. professionals by Salary.com meetings rank as the number one office productivity killer (Dealing with office politics was a close second, according to the 2012 survey).  But there are ways to run effective, efficient meetings. Here are some tips:

1.    Make your objective clear
A meeting must have a specific and defined purpose. Before you send that invite, ask yourself: What do I want to accomplish? Are you alerting people to a change in management or a shift in strategy? Are you seeking input from others on a problem facing the company? Are you looking to arrive at a decision on a particular matter? Stand up meetings with vague purposes such as ‘status updates’ are rarely a good use of time.

2.    Invite the right people
When you’re calling a meeting, take time to think about who really needs to be there. If you’re announcing a change, invite the people who are affected by the announcement. If you’re trying to solve a problem, invite the people who will be good sources of information for a solution. When people feel that what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to them or that they lack the skills or expertise to be of assistance, they’ll view their attendance at the meeting as a waste of time.

3.    Stick to your Schedule
Create an agenda that lays out everything you plan to cover at the meeting along with a timeline that allots a certain number of minutes to each item and email it to people in advance. Once you’re in the meeting put that agenda up on a screen or white board for others to see. This keeps people focused.

4.   Take no Hostages
Nothing derails a meeting faster than one person talking more than their fair share. If you notice one person monopolising the conversation say: ‘We appreciate your contributions but now we need input from others before making a decision.’ Be upfront about it. Establishing the ground rules early on will create a framework for how the group functions.

5.    Start on time.  End on time
If you have responsibility for running regular meetings and you have a reputation for being someone who starts and ends promptly you will be amazed how many of your colleagues will make every effort to attend your meetings. People appreciate it when you understand that their time is valuable.  Another note on time: don’t schedule any meeting to last longer than an hour. Sixty minutes is generally the longest time workers can remain truly engaged.

6.    Ban Technology
The reality is that if people are allowed to bring iPads into the room they won’t be focusing on the meeting or contributing to it. Instead they’ll be emailing, surfing the web or just playing around.

7.    Follow up
It’s quite common for people to come away from the same meeting with very different interpretations of what went on. To reduce this risk send a memo highlighting what was accomplished to all who attended within 24 hours after the meeting. Document the responsibilities given, tasks delegated, any deadlines and what are the action plans – who is responsible for what.  That way everyone will be on the same page.

Meetings truly can be valuable and productive. You just have to take the steps to make them that way.