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Returning the Meeting to Productive Use

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Stop Wasting My Time

Everyday you and i participate in 1,2 or maybe 3 of the 25 million meetings that take place every single day in the US. At the end of the day can you say you spent your time in a productive and efficient manner? If your answer is no then you are not alone. More than 50% of meeting attendees believe that more than half of the meetings they attend are a complete waste of time. This is obviously a serious problem considering the simple fact that as a nation we spend nearly 10 billion hours every year in meetings.

Fortunately for all of us there is a solution. It is not complex, expensive or difficult to master. there is a best practice for planning , holding and tracking meetings and i am going to share it with you here. Let me know what you think.

Best Practice # 1 Don’t Meet

If you can avoid a meeting in the first place, do it.  We don’t mean that you should strive for eliminating meetings entirely, but if you can achieve the same results through a brief phone call or email exchange, that’s what you should do.

A good litmus test for determining whether a meeting is necessary is to ask yourself “am I simply distributing information (a one-way exchange) or am I sharing information (a two-way exchange)?  If you’re sharing information that requires input from others, a meeting is still your best option.

Best Practice # 2 Set Objectives for the Meeting

Objectives state the aim or purpose of the meeting.  The more concrete your meeting objectives are, the more focused your agenda will be (see Best Practice # 3).

Objectives also provide a gauge against which you can evaluate the meeting’s effectiveness.  Did you achieve your meeting objectives?  Why or why not?  Will you need to have a follow-up meeting?  The answers to these questions will give you a clear understanding of how things went.

Best Practice # 3. Circulate an Agenda Before the Meeting

The agenda is the meeting’s “to do” list.  It sets the course for the meeting, and then helps keep on that course.

Make sure all meeting participants get a copy of the agenda in advance of the meeting.  Minimally, the agenda should describe the meeting’s objectives and provide a list of the topics you plan to cover, including who’s addressing each topic and how long they have to do it.

Along with the agenda, make sure you clearly state the time, date and location of the meeting, and provide any background information participants will need in order to hold an informed discussion on the meeting topic.

Most importantly, stick to the agenda!

Best Practice # 4. Ask Participants to Come Prepared

Request that everyone familiarize themselves with the material you distributed with the agenda.  If the meeting has to do with solving a problem, ask each group member to think of one possible solution to the problem in advance.  That way, when they arrive at the meeting, they’re more likely to arrive “warmed-up” and ready to focus on the meeting objectives. Make your participants an integral part of the meeting, and not just passive attendees.


Best Practice # 5. Assign Action Items

Write down any action items that arise during a discussion before continuing to the next topic on the agenda.  Listen for statements that begin with “I think we should really…”, or “we’re getting off topic here…”, or “what if we do this?…” for clues of an action item (they may not always seem readily apparent).  The action might be asking someone to do some more research on a topic, or setting up a meeting to further examine an “off topic” idea.

Be vigilant about addressing action items as they arise.  You’ll keep the meeting on track, and you’ll show participants that you value their input as well as their time.

Best Practice # 6. Summarize What You Just Covered in the Meeting

Before adjourning, review your list of action items with the participants.  Make sure everyone understands what they’re responsible for, and when they’re responsible for delivering it.

You may also want to take a few moments to gather input about where things went well with the meeting, and where things could use some improvement.  You may hear comments such as “We need more time for discussing each topic on the agenda” or “you’ve allocated way too much time to most of the agenda items.  Use this feedback to fine tune the next meeting.

Finally, send each participant a summary of the meeting, and include with it the action items.

Summary

There will be times when a meeting doesn’t conform to the best practices as outlined here.  For example, a chance encounter in the hallway with a couple of coworkers could turn into an impromptu meeting.  In this case, the preliminary best practices (create an agenda, ask participants to come prepared) do not apply.  However, you can still assign action items before the meeting ends, and distribute a summary of what you discussed after the meeting ends.

The important point is that you adopt a set of meeting “best practices” like these for your organization, and then, depending on the situation, adapt them to your needs.

Let me know if you have any comments or ideas on this subject

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Written by Jim McNiel

June 22, 2009 at 1:07 pm

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