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How to Ensure Productive Meetings, whether you’re the host or an attendee

It doesn’t have to be, although that seems to be status quo in larger companies these days, and sometimes even in smaller ones.  Here are some things to consider to make meetings at your organization more effective.

As yourself if it’s appropriate to have a meeting, or if there are other means available to solve the problem.  A good question is “what’s the GOAL of the meeting?”  Fill in this blank:  At the end of the meeting we will have ___________.”  It’s true that although people try every day, email is NOT the place for a group discussion.  This just leads to bunches of emails for everyone involved to wade through, much of which is a waste of time.  There are many web applications that are useful for gathering input from a team.  If you’re trying to find a convenient time to do something, consider a site like WhenIsGood.  If you are trying to collect input, take a look at Google Forms, which will drop the results into a spreadsheet in Google Docs for you, or Survey Monkey, which has a free option and a paid subscription.

As the meeting planner, after answering the question about the goal of the meeting, the  next rule of an effective meeting is to have an agenda.  Consider putting time limits, or at least guidelines, on each topic, and assigning a timekeeper and minute-taker at the meeting.  Also, the minutes should be published, preferably in the body of an email, not as an attachment (it increases the likelihood that they will get read, or at least skimmed).  This gives an opportunity to take a discussion off-line if necessary, keeps everyone on-track, and collects all the ideas and comments that come out of the meeting.

If you are a leader in your organization, consider whether the company culture allows people to “opt-out” of a meeting, or if it’s just expected that everyone will attend who is invited.  Allowing for an option gives employees control over their workday, which is an essential factor in job satisfaction.  As an attendee, make sure you understand what part you will be expected to play in the meeting, and whether or not it is useful to your current objectives.  Invitations to meetings that have no agenda and haven’t addressed the goal should be considered carefully.  These have the potential to be a huge time sink.

The effectiveness of every meeting depends, lastly, on three critical questions posed at the end, and recorded in the minutes:
1. WHAT’S the next action?
2. WHO is responsible?
3. WHEN is the due date?

Having these questions and answers recorded in the minutes creates accountability through publicity.  It’s much easier to miss a deadline when no one knows you have it.  When it’s a public deadline, people are much more likely to meet it.

If you have anything to add about effective meetings, I hope you’ll post them in the comments.  Thanks for reading!

Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mnthomas.

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