Meetings are often viewed as a necessary evil in business. However, meetings can be powerful tools for communication and business development - when they're conducted effectively.
One survey of business professionals listed meetings as the top killer of productivity. This is ironic since meetings are designed for productivity! Yet many other studies and surveys have concluded that, for most businesses, meetings consume a significant amount of employee time while most employees feel that fifty percent of the time spent in meetings is wasted.
Why We Need Meetings
According to Patrick Lencioni, the founder of The Table Group, and author of the best-selling book entitled Death By Meeting.
“There is nothing inherently boring or unproductive about meetings. They are the activity at the center of every organization, and should therefore be both interesting and relevant in the lives of participants. If we can just turn everything we know about meetings upside down - replace agendas and decorum with passion and conflict - we can transform drudgery into meaningful competitive advantage.”
Most business owners and managers would agree. the problem is that too many employees bought into the misconception that meetings are a necessary evil that we are wise to avoid, doomed to endure, and assume that it is that way.
But it doesn't have to be.
Seven Meeting Best Practices
It is quite possible to run effective, efficient meetings that leave employees feeling energized and excited about their work. In fact, when conducted properly and well, meetings can be seen as a positive aspect of the work and not a burden.
Here are seven management tips for organizing and carrying out effective and productive meetings for any business.
1. Have Clear Objectives With an Agenda
One of the common failings for most meetings is a lack of a clear agenda. There may be a topic, but without a written agenda to guide and restrict the topics to be discussed, any meeting can drag on or be pulled "off topic" and often are.
One person should be designated as a "moderator" for any meeting and be charged with keeping all meeting attendees on track with the stated agenda. This agenda should be made available for all attendees prior to the actual meeting and the template used for the agenda items should include space for meeting notes to be taken.
2. Be Exclusive With Attendees
Everyone doesn't need to be at every meeting. In fact, most companies would probably find that many staff members that are habitually required to attend certain meetings probably do not really need to attend. Keep the number of attendees to an essential minimum.
The topic of the meeting will often determine who really needs to be there. For example, if the meeting is to announce a change of some kind, only invite the people who are affected by the change. If the meeting is to address or resolve an issue, only invite the staff necessary for relevant information or who can help provide a solution.
3. Set a Time and Stick to It
This is the bane of most meetings: they tend to run late. And, in retrospect, most attendees can agree that if only the topics at hand were discussed and everyone involved kept to a time limit, the meeting would have ended on time - or early!
Every attendee should be required to submit to the oversight of the moderator. That includes upper management and C-level staff. Any topic that is not on the agenda should be avoided or, if needed, deferred to a separate meeting. Requiring that every meeting begin and end on time will foster the habit of promptness on everyone's part.
4. Stay on Topic
Establish meeting ground rules and remind attendees of the focus for the meeting. Briefly review the agenda and allow the moderator to monitor and facilitate the discussion. An effective method for dealing with points raised that are "off topic" is to use what has been called the Parking Lot approach.
When someone raises an interesting point that does not relate to the agenda, the moderator should thank the person for their comment or question, and confirm that it goes beyond the purpose of the meeting. The moderator should then suggest that it be pursued either in another meeting or personally, and write it down as a "parking lot" item and include it in the meeting notes to be sent out by email.
5. Restrict Technology
Almost everyone has a smartphone and, if allowed, almost everyone will be looking at theirs once they become disengaged in a meeting. Unfortunately, this access can initiate disengagement simply from habit. People are accustomed to looking at their phones to check messages, etc. often without even realizing it.
By restricting access to, or even banning, technology during meetings this can be avoided. Another trigger for disengagement is the overuse of presentation technology. Everyone, it seems, has had to suffer through interminable PowerPoint presentations seemingly designed to induce sleep. Use technology sparingly and selectively.
6. Facilitate the Discussion
Similar to tips three and four, allowing the moderator to truly facilitate and command the meeting is essential. For employees in many businesses, the tendency is to simply show up for a meeting, keep their heads down, and wait for it to end. For some, however, meetings seem to be the venue for asking endless questions or airing endless complaints or comments. This is unproductive and can be prevented.
With a specified moderator at the helm of each meeting, and all attendees in agreement to the meeting ground rules, input can be elicited more evenly around the table and no one person allowed to hijack the proceedings. And this should apply to all attendees regardless of position or "rank" in the company.
7. Following Up
It is not uncommon for employees to leave a meeting with either incomplete information or with a different understanding of what was actually decided or accomplished. To remedy this, the moderator should email a brief overview to highlight the meeting points and results to all who attendees.
This information should definitely include any responsibilities assigned or tasks delegated, along with any deadlines. This should be done within one business day of the meeting, if possible.
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