Sanity check

Putting an End to Mindless Meetings

You’re sitting in a meeting daydreaming about ten emails you need to send, unreturned phones calls, and, okay, maybe weekend plans…. then you hear your name called.  Sound familiar?  Why did you drift away from the meeting?  We spend countless more hours in meetings each week than are really necessary so it’s no surprise that we’re not always fully present.  How many meetings last more than an hour?  How many need to last more than an hour?  Here are our top ten tips for more effective meetings. 

Here’s the first tip – don’t have a meeting.  Really, do we need all these meetings?  For a participant there’s little worse than having to attend a meeting when it’s really not needed.  If you don’t need to make a decision, or communicate crucial information (especially information that is emotionally sensitive) then try an alternative.  In addition to email a wiki, a type of web site, can be launched on short notice, or try out document sharing with, a feature that will be built into Office 2007. 

Okay, so you need a meeting.  Here’s our second tip.  Circulate the agenda in advance.  Sending an email five minutes before the meeting doesn’t count.  For most meetings you’ll want to send out the agenda at least the day before.  This gives participants time to provide thoughtful input, and, if needed, to bring the right material to the meeting. 

Tip 3 – be the first to arrive at the meeting.  Greet everyone as they arrive; you’ll start to get a sense of any issues that might come up.  Put your people skills in action --- know thy participants.  Do you have a “road-blocker”? or a “I can’t get enough of hearing myself speak” participant?

Tip 4 -- Make sure that you have all your handouts ready.  Have you ever been at a meeting where the leader is running out as the meeting begins to make copies of handouts?  Did it give you a sense of confidence?  Be prepared.

Tip 5 -- Start the meeting on time, always.  Everyone who showed up promptly has many tasks waiting for them on their desk; if you don’t start on time you’ll begin to see them drift back to their offices, or showing up late for your next meeting. (note:  if the late arriver is your superior you may find it wise to ignore this tip) 

Tip 6 - as the meeting begins ask everyone to set their cell phones to silent, and put their Blackberries and Treos away.  There’s no need for anyone to be emailing during your well-run (and brief) meetings.  If you see people using them you’ve lost control of the meeting; in fact they may very well be sending emails to other participants – a meeting within a meeting if you will. 

Tip 7 -- Open the meeting by stating the purpose of the meeting (“we need to make a decision on”  “I need to brief you on an important policy change”) and spend the first ten minutes discussing the agenda.  Give everyone a chance to suggest changes to the agenda.  Once the ten minutes are up don’t revisit the agenda.

Tip 8 -- Stay in control of the meeting.    Pace the meeting to make sure you have enough time for each item and that everyone has a chance to talk.  Pay special attention to those are quiet; seek out their opinion.  Gently tune down those who are most outspoken.  If gentle doesn’t work then don’t be afraid to say we need to move on.  Remember, most meetings need to last only one hour.

Tip 9 -- Spend the last five minutes summarizing the facts and stating what decision you’ve made and why.  Make your decision clear.  If you’re unable to make a decision (perhaps more facts are yet to come?) then give a definite deadline by which you’ll make the decision and communicate the decision.  If there are action items make sure you review them and assign a name to each one.  Many meetings fall apart here – everyone wants to wrap it up on a feel-good notion so all they’re left with is non-decisive action items.  You need to be clear on the next real action items, crystal clear.

Tip 10 -- Once the meeting is over send out the meeting notes within one day.  State the action items, who is responsible for each item and the due date.  Follow up with everyone within seven days.  Once the final decision is made don’t forget to communicate it to everyone. 

Next month:  but I thought you were going to…..

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