Ways to make meetings productive again

Recently, a friend of mine posted a list of current pet peeves on her blog.

These were her top four: unnecessary meetings, boring meetings, long meetings, and meetings. I don’t think her list is unusual.

If you Google the word “meetings,” you will find hundreds of stories, comments, and articles on how stressful and unproductive meetings can be.

If there was a tool that made all meetings productive and worthwhile, it would be worth millions.

With so many technological advances and choices at our disposal, it may seem that the need for actual, real-time meetings is nearly obsolete, but the truth is that effective meetings are an important component of every business.

Take a look at the list of pet peeves again. Whether it is a one-on-one with a client or a regular team update, it is true that meetings are often unnecessary, boring, and drag on too long.

Such meetings waste our time, decrease productivity, and have a negative effect on morale.

There may not be a magic tool that will solve all of our meeting woes, but there is a key to preventing those unnecessary, boring, and too-long meetings. That key is: Be prepared.

Whether you are leading or attending the meeting, it will be more tolerable, and productive, if everyone involved comes to the table knowing what to expect and ready to participate.

It sounds simple, but it can be challenging. Being prepared means planning, communicating, researching, and compiling information. All of these activities take time.

By committing to being prepared for meetings and by following these steps, the effectiveness of your meetings will dramatically increase.

  1. Define a clear objective. What is the purpose and what are the desired outcomes of the meeting? Are the right people attending? How much time do you really need? Knowing the answers to these questions is a critical first step toward being prepared.
  2. Collaborate on the agenda.  Distribute the proposed agenda to attendees a few days before so they can give you feedback and prepare any information they are expected to provide. This also gives them the chance to work with you and eliminate any unnecessary items that can be resolved in another way; for example, via e-mail or in a separate, one-on-one environment. This step builds ownership in the meeting and helps ensure the meeting will be productive.
  3. Start the meeting on time and follow the agenda. Arriving and starting on time demonstrates respect for everyone, and keeping on track shows that you value their participation and their time.  So, if everyone has buy-in and is aware of the meeting’s objective, agenda, and their purpose in being there, the probability of having an effective meeting greatly increases. Try working with your team to set meeting ground rules that support this approach. Ground rules can include a commitment by each attendee to arrive prepared and on time.
  4. Assess the meeting’s effectiveness. Ask participants for feedback about what worked well and what would have made the meeting more effective. (Watch this video)

Treat these steps as a cycle. Think of them as the before, during, and after of meeting preparation. The cycle continues as you use the information gathered at one meeting (assignment, feedback, new issues) to follow through and plan for the next one.

By being consistently prepared and following through, you are creating a process that increases meeting effectiveness and reduces the pet peeves that meetings create.

Your Turn

What pet peeves do you have about meetings? Also, what other tools/methods/solutions do you have for making meetings more productive? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author
Cyndi Keller
Cyndi Keller is the Director of Curriculum Design & Development at CMOE. She brings over 20 years of communication project management experience to the Design Team and CMOE clients. She works with the Design Team to guide the design, development, and production of innovative learning and development curriculum.

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