Never have a “waste-of-time” meeting again

Staff meetings. They’re pretty low on the “Favorite Things About Work” lists of many employees. Perhaps you’ve heard – or have had – these common complaints about meetings:

  • They last way too long
  • They never start on time
  • They never end on time
  • We go down rat holes, talking about all sorts of non-essential issues
  • I don’t know why I even had to be there
  • Jim dominated the meeting and no one else could hardly talk
  • They don’t care about my ideas
  • These meetings don’t really have a point
  • The [leader] always loses control of the meeting

Unfortunately, meetings that garner these and other related criticisms are all too common. While many factors can contribute to less-that-effective meetings, the primary one is that agenda items usually do not have a designated objective. For example, are we here to make a decision on an agenda item or are we here to generate new ideas? When the objective of an agenda item is not clear, we hear the resounding complaint of, “We didn’t accomplish anything.”

For executives and middle managers, meetings are essential in relaying important news and changes within the company as well as getting feedback from key staff on how the subject of the meeting will be dealt with and/or implemented. The key to doing all this with the highest level of efficiency is preparation and good meeting parameters.

Know your objective

The first step of preparation is having a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish in a meeting.

Stick to the time frame

You’ve let attendees know how long the meeting will last, so abide by this. As the meeting progresses, keep an eye on the clock and on the agenda to make sure the time remaining will be sufficient to cover what needs covering. As a meeting leader, one of the hats you need to wear is that of a time cop. Your credibility as a meeting leader in some ways is determined by starting and ending on time.

No takeovers

If someone begins monopolizing the meeting by talking incessantly, stop him, tell him you appreciate his input and ask him to let some other people share theirs. The danger in a single person or a faction within the group taking over is you’ll be recording just one set of ideas, concerns and feedback points, which will skew your view when implementing whatever the meeting calls for.

Eliminate distractions

A good meeting should move along at a fairly fast clip with attendees focused on participation and note-taking, as necessary. Distractions from phones and other hand-held gadgets are guaranteed to slow progress, so it’s a good idea to tell people to turn off their devices.

Follow your agenda

Allowing topics unrelated to your agenda to surface during a meeting will steer it into directions you don’t want to go. Seth starts the ball rolling, Maggie adds her commentary, Ryan and Cynthia begin debating something Maggie said, and before you know it the point of the meeting is long gone. Smart managers quickly knock down diversions and remind attendees to stay focused only on the business at hand.

Send a follow-up email

After the meeting, send everyone who attended a follow-up email that highlights what was discussed and decided. People have a way of forgetting information, and a reminder will help to hold them accountable.

By applying these principles, you’ll be able to run efficient meetings that people generally value. Decisions will be made, practices implemented, information imparted and everyone will appreciate getting back to their work on time.