Thursday, February 19, 2009

Meetings That Work

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

"A meeting is a place where people take minutes and waste hours." Is this statement true of your meetings? Here are four tips for running meetings that are more productive and don't waste hours:

1. Have a Purpose for Meeting
"We always meet every Thursday at 4" is not a sufficient reason to meet. You should be able to state the purpose for meeting in one succinct sentence. Make this sentence your "opening statement" at the meeting and write it at the top of your agenda. Some examples: "We will decide how to pilot our new flex-time policy." "We will draft the high-level project plan for the software upgrade." "We will review the data from the survey and decide our next steps." If there is no purpose or if that purpose could be better achieved through different means, don't meet.

2. Have an Agenda
The agenda should include who will handle which topic and how long it should take. Send the agenda out before the meeting so the attendees will know what/how to prepare and what will be expected of them. Once you have an agenda, stick to it.

3. Stick to the Time
Make the most out of everyone's time by starting and ending the meeting on time. If people tend to come late, start on time anyway and don't repeat everything each time someone comes in late; eventually, people will get used to showing up on time. Have someone keep track of time during the meeting so everyone stays within their allotted time and there is time to go through the whole agenda.

4. Set the Ground Rules
If the group will meet often or for a long period of time, it's important to spend the first few minutes of the first meeting having the group develop ground rules for things such as the use of laptops/phones/email during meetings. People are more likely to hold each other and themselves accountable to the ground rules if they helped to develop them. Write them on a flipchart and post them in the meeting room or on the agenda sheet for the next meeting. Remind people of them at the start of the next meeting.

If you follow these tips, your meetings will become more productive. You'll achieve the purpose stated in the agenda while respecting people's time.
This post on effective meeting facilitation was requested by a subscriber. I'd love to hear some of your meeting horror stories or what tips you have found helpful in managing your meetings. Post them in the comments or email me - I'll share them in future posts and of course, names will be changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)!

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Avi Kaye said...

The goal sets the agenda, and the agenda dictates the time :) By the way, if you find that the agenda dictates too much time (more than an hour, as a rule of thumb), then you might need two meetings.

Don't forget to put issues that come up that aren't related to the agenda in a parking lot, so you can address them later!

Gilda Bonanno said...

Thank you for your suggestions. Yes, it's better to have two meetings, rather than one meeting that isn't long enough to achieve all the action items. And using a parking lot can be a useful way to capture people's ideas (to be dealt with later) without allowing the meeting to get off topic.