Five ways to make meetings more effective

A man said to his friend on the way to work one morning, “I’m really looking forward to going to work today.”

everyone sleeping at meeting

“Why?” asked his friend.

“Because I don’t have a single meeting today, so I can really get some work done!”

If that’s the way you or your team feels about meetings, maybe it’s time to take a hard look at why, how and how often you have meetings.

Here are five tips to make your meetings more productive.

1. Understand the goal of the meeting

There are several good reasons to have a meeting:

  • To share important information
  • To coordinate activities among a group
  • To tap into skill sets to solve a problem

If you can’t clearly state a goal for your meeting, you don’t need to have it.

For example, “We just like to get everyone together from time to time” is not a clear goal.

“We want to share the results of the first quarter and communicate our goals for second quarter” is a clear goal.

2. Decide who really needs to attend

Again, there are several good reasons to invite participants:

  • They have or need the information that is to be shared.
  • They will be involved in the activities being planned.
  • They have the special skills or expertise needed.

Groups of more than 10 people are difficult to manage, particularly if discussion is needed. If you do have to include more than 10 people, manage your agenda carefully and keep the group on task.

Make sure one or two people in the room don’t dominate the discussion. If you’ve asked someone to be at the meeting, make sure that person has opportunities to share.

3. Prepare a timed agenda

Decide what needs to be covered in relation to the goal of the meeting. Break the topics into reasonable bites, and allocate a certain amount of time to discuss each one.

Be realistic. Take into consideration the size of the group, the complexity of the topic and the likelihood of a variety of opinions on the topic. The idea is not to keep people from having time to share. The object is to stay focused on the purpose of the meeting and to give more time to the more important elements of the discussion.

4. Distribute the agenda ahead of time

Your team members cannot come prepared if they don’t know what will be discussed. Give them reasonable notice of the meeting time and date so that they can adjust their schedules as needed.

Let them know what you expect from each of them as a contribution to the discussion. Don’t assume they’ll know what you want.

5. Stay on task

This may be the hardest part for most people. That’s why the timed agenda is so important. Let everyone know at the beginning of the meeting that you plan to stay on task and on time, and that you will call time on a topic to move the agenda forward. Encourage team members to keep their comments focused on the topic at hand.

Keep a flip chart or white board handy. If a team member brings up a topic that is not on the agenda, write it on the white board for discussion at a later time. In this way, you acknowledge the person’s concerns but don’t allow the meeting to get off track. If you finish the planned discussion before time for the meeting to end, you can discuss other topics then. If not, put them on the agenda for the next meeting.

If team members learn to expect meetings to be productive, they won’t dread them. They’ll come more prepared and consider meeting days to be productive days again.