Meetings get a bad rap. And in many cases, they should! When they’re boring, pointless, poorly orchestrated, and a waste of everyone’s time, they should get a bad rap. But when they’re done right, meetings can (and should) be vital tools for debate, problem solving, communication, and coordination. If you believe meetings at your place are not as vibrant and productive as they should be, please read below.
Let’s start with agendas. Use them, and publish them in advance of the meeting so the people attending can prepare and be ready for whatever the meeting is intended to accomplish. I know, I know . . . pain in the butt, but use them. An agenda sets a tone for the meeting that says we’re here to do something specific. An agenda also helps the group stay focused, on task, and on schedule.
Start meetings on time. As the saying goes, “The only trouble with being on time is that there’s never anyone there to appreciate it.” Don’t let it be that way. Demand that everyone arrive 5 minutes early so they can get idle chit chat out of the way and the meeting can start promptly on schedule. Explain that wandering into a meeting five or ten minutes late is disrespectful to everyone else’s time.
Encourage everyone to be open, honest, and candid, and to express viewpoints that may not be popular or in keeping with the majority viewpoint. Diversity of thought is essential when you’re trying to deal with important, often tough, issues. As General George Patton once observed, “If everyone is thinking alike, someone’s not thinking.” So a ground rule for all your meetings should be, we disagree without being disagreeable. We want to be civil and respectful of one another’s thoughts, and be able to leave the meeting with no hard feelings. Do this and you’ll have lively, vibrant discussion.
You should have a specific amount of time allotted for each agenda item, and work to manage to those times. One of the complaints we often hear about meetings is that they drone on and on with no clue as to when they’ll end. Don’t let that happen. Keep your discussion focused on the topic at hand and don’t allow the group to go down every rabbit hole that comes along. Don’t let any single individual dominate the conversation and don’t allow lurkers . . . everyone must participate. But at the same time, encourage everyone to be succinct and efficient with their words when it’s their turn to speak.
In general, at the conclusion of the meeting, each item on your agenda should have a specific action associated with it, someone charged with taking that action, and a deadline.
So in summary, to have effective, productive meetings:
– Always publish an agenda prior to the meeting.
– Start on time, close on time.
– Encourage lively, but civil debate, and diversity of thought.
– Keep discussions focused, contain blabber mouths, draw out wallflowers.
– Leave the meeting with action steps for each agenda item.
If you’re already doing all these things and your meetings are still a waste of time, call me. We should talk.