Although meetings can be an efficient method of getting something done, many are not productive because they last too long, the agenda is overly ambitious, there are too many people in attendance, or the wrong people are there and the people who should have been included are not.
Meetings can also be unproductive because they are poorly planned, are called for insufficient reasons, don’t accomplish their goals, and aren’t facilitated effectively.
Here are some suggestions that will help to make the meetings you attend move along quickly, stay on course, achieve the intended goals, and provide attendees with a clear understanding of who is going to do what and when. Follow these guidelines for every meeting and encourage your co-workers to do likewise.
Is it necessary?
The first guideline for effective time management in meetings is to be sure that there is actually a need for the meeting. Before you schedule any meeting, ask yourself if it is truly necessary. Instead of holding an unnecessary meeting, deal with the issue on the phone, with a memo, or in an informal conference.
Some considerations and guidelines are:
• The meeting should have a clear purpose. If there isn’t a clear purpose to be achieved, resist calling the meeting.
• Preparation for the meeting should be complete. All necessary information should be studied and arranged for presentation.
• Would there be dire consequences for not holding the meeting? If not, consider not having the meeting.
• Calculate the cost of the meeting and determine if the meeting justifies the cost that will be incurred.
When you call a meeting, be sure you are thoroughly prepared. Have a written list of what you intend to accomplish. Focus on the action you intend to accomplish so that the emphasis is on decisions, not discussions.
A written agenda ensures that everyone knows what is to be discussed, and each participant can make the necessary preparation ahead of time. Circulate the agenda to all the people who will attend; it will help keep participants focused and involved. Distribute this agenda 72 hours before the meeting, and designate people to discuss certain key points.
Have all the necessary papers and information with you, so you don’t have to table a topic until the data can be located. Resist interruptions and stick to the prepared agenda. Set a time limit and stick to it.
Begin the meeting on time and any stragglers will pick up the cue that this is a no-nonsense meeting.
When you begin and end on schedule, people respond more seriously and professionally. Arrange to have minutes taken during the meeting and distribute them to everyone who attended (or was scheduled to attend). When a decision is reached, develop an action plan and ensure that it is circulated so that everyone knows what needs to be done and who will do it and the due date.
Stand-up meetings or “Huddles” are usually shorter because people don’t like to stand for long periods of time. When they are comfortably seated, they are more likely to ask irrelevant questions and engage in other activities that tend to prolong meetings. When participants stand, meetings are invariably shorter and more productive.
Routine meetings, once established, seem to be held whether there is business to discuss or not. As long as no one questions the meetings’ value, inertia seems to keep them going. Be willing to analyze if there really is a need for the meeting. Never hesitate to cancel a meeting if the need for it passes. Tell people that because you respect their time, you decided not to hold an unnecessary meeting.
If you are not personally needed at a meeting, send someone else. If this is not possible, stay only for the portion of the meeting that directly involves you.
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