Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making Meetings Work

"Football incorporates the two worst elements of American society: violence punctuated by committee meetings."~George Will

It is important to limit the amount of time you spend attending meetings. The most successful meetings are ones where you need to give or receive critical information or where face-to-face interaction is important. One entrepreneur whom we assist runs from one meeting to another and hardly has time to breathe. When asked the value of all these meetings, his eyes just roll. Here is a very hard-working entrepreneur who just has a case of "meeting mania." By meeting mania I mean a belief that one has to attend a series of never-ending and usually, very unproductive meetings.

Before you schedule a meeting, make sure that one is really needed. An update or status meeting can generally be done with email. A worthwhile meeting must have an interactive component; otherwise, an email or memo will suffice.

There are four rules for planning great meetings. First, insure that there is a great reason to have a meeting in the first place. Meetings have a way of defying death and, once started, are hard to extinguish. So if you must have a meeting, make sure there is a darn good reason for it. Do not have a meeting just to have a meeting.

The second rule is to insure that there is a detailed agenda. An agenda keeps you on task and makes clear what subjects will be covered. The agenda should be mailed to participants ahead of time and it should clearly state what the participants need to bring to the meeting. Too often I see folks show up for meetings expecting to be spoon-fed. It is much better to get people to do some homework on the agenda items before they come to the meeting. Preparation ahead of time goes a long way toward insuring an effective and efficient meeting where people feel they have accomplished something worthwhile.

Setting up time limits for the meeting is the third rule. State the starting and ending time for each meeting on the agenda and stick to those times. I always include the following meeting rule on the agenda: "The time available, however much there is, will be filled with discussion on the agenda". A one-hour meeting frequently is much more effective than a three-hour meeting as participants know they must get through in a timely fashion.

The final rule is to make sure that the person in charge of the meeting can keep the group on task and also has the skills needed to deal with the thorny interpersonal issues that arise. Frequently, when someone in a meeting feels threatened, he or she closes down. The meeting leader must be able to recognize this and tactfully bring this person back into the conversation.

Meetings can be major time wasters. Summarized are the four simple rules to help plan and conduct worthwhile meetings:
Have a good reason to schedule a meeting.
Make sure there is a well-defined agenda.
Set time limits for the meeting.
Select a leader who will keep the group on task and is sensitive to the needs of each member.
If you follow these rules, your meetings will be shorter, more valuable, and possibly more fun. You can overcome meeting mania and save a lot of time in the process.

You can do this!

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