Let’s face it: When meetings aren’t run effectively, very few people enjoy going to them. They often don’t start on time. They’re often unfocused. They last too long.
But workplace meetings aren’t going to be phased out anytime soon. Ensure your meetings run effectively, and both your team and your business will be much better off.
1. Question the need. Before you schedule a meeting, decide whether a meeting is actually necessary. Maybe you can communicate just as effectively by email, through a conference call, or some other way.
2. Invite only the people who need to be there. Meetings with fewer people have the potential to end faster.
3. Create an agenda, distribute it, and stick with it. Make sure the participants know why they’re summoned to the meeting. Don’t waste their time by bringing up other issues, and make it clear to the attendees how long you expect the meeting to last. Ideally, it will be a short meeting, but it needs to be long enough to ensure that everyone leaves with a clear understanding of what was discussed and why decisions were made.
4. Let the attendees know your expectations for them beforehand. Are they there to listen, to brainstorm, to give their input, or to debate? People who know the goal of a meeting are less likely to derail it.
5. Schedule the meeting for an odd time, such as 10:13 a.m. or 3:41 p.m. This makes attendees take note, and it’s more likely they’ll show up on time.
6. Single out those who are late (in a professional way). Once a meeting starts, lock the door to the meeting room, or require late arrivals to fetch coffee or water for the others. Whatever you do, do it in a way that will cause laggards to change their behavior (but never humiliate them).
7. Start with the most important stuff. If the meeting agenda includes more than one topic, make sure the first one is the most important one. This will encourage people to arrive on time, and ensure that the most important issue will be discussed.
8. Listen. If you invite input from those in attendance, make sure everyone has a chance to talk and be heard. If someone feels like they’re not being taken seriously, they’ll take future meetings less seriously, and perhaps not even bother to give their input. Listen, but set a time limit to keep anyone from babbling.
9. Ban food. Unless it’s a lunch meeting, don’t provide food, which can be a distraction and lengthen the meeting—not to mention cause a mess.
10. Ban electronics. Unless they’re needed, ban BlackBerries, iPods, laptops, smart phones and other distractions.
11. Stand up. If time is of the essence, consider holding a meeting in a place where there are no chairs. This is a common tactic in the tech sector and in Japan, where meetings are known to be short and sweet.
12. Summarize. To close the meeting, briefly review what was accomplished and what the attendees and their subordinates will be expected to do (if anything) to implement changes. Also consider sending a succinct email that summarizes the meeting.
Remember: What works best at one company won’t necessarily work well at another. Experiment with these and other ideas to figure out what best suits your organizational culture.