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How managers can make meetings more productive

During my corporate career, I found many of the business meetings I was invited to attend lasted too long and were not a very good use of my time. How do your meetings stack up? How do your people critique the meetings you lead? Are you in control of the meetings you lead or are you mostly on the defensive, trying to get those in attendance to pay attention?

There are certain rules that—if followed— can take much of the chaos out of a meeting.

  1. Define all meetings in terms of time. Make sure those who attend your meetings are aware of two things: how long the meeting will last, and what is the purpose of the time you are asking them to invest in the meeting?
  2. When you kick off a meeting, make sure everyone in attendance knows the goals of the meeting. As a result of this meeting, make it clear what problems you want the meeting to alleviate.
  3. Now that you have established the purpose of the meeting, stay on the subject. Don’t go off on tangents. If necessary, remind your team what has happened in previous meetings you’ve held on this subject and get everyone’s commitment to focus on the agenda at hand.
  4. It’s sometimes helpful to share with the group what has been agreed to in past meetings and agree to introduce only new input.
  5. Ask everyone to speak succinctly and avoid beating around the It’s fine and good if you feel you must give some background about a topic, but make it a practice to express your opinion first. When you first make your position clear, you don’t have to explain how you arrived at that conclusion.
  6. Perhaps there’s one rule that when ignored creates the most chaos in a meeting: when the meeting leader allows multiple conversations to take place around the room simultaneously. This rule is more important than any other, so following it should be When a dozen or so people in the room are engaged in their own mini meetings, virtually all productivity is sucked out of the room.
  7. It’s easy for sarcasm to creep into the meeting unless the attendees are highly disciplined. If and when sarcasm is introduced by attendees who use it to get a laugh or to call attention to themselves, the meeting can turn south in a hurry. Sarcasm’s roots come from a Greek word, sarkasmós, which means “to rip flesh.” The use of sarcasm is one of the quickest ways to hurt a colleague’s feelings or to turn the tone of the meeting from positive to negative. When the meeting’s leaders engage in sarcasm, they can almost certainly expect to lose control of the meeting and also lose whatever amount of respect they had from the attendees.

A good rule of thumb is the larger the organization, the more management is likely to use meetings as a communication tool. A critical key to improving the effectiveness of meetings is to always clearly state the purpose or goal of the meeting upfront. What has to happen in the meeting to have made the meeting a success?

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If there is a second key to making meetings more effective, it’s communicating the meeting’s benefit to the organization. Meetings must be productive if for no other reason than the value of the organization’s resources that meetings consume. Meetings are important, but unless they feel important to the attendees, meeting participants won’t prioritize them, much less prepare for them.

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