Meetings – 6 Ways to Avoid that Sucking Sound

by James on May 7, 2009

We attend lots of meetings. This isn’t necessarily bad. A well manged meeting is a great opportunity to move the ball forward. You can also get great stimulation from interaction with colleagues. Here are 12 ways to build relationships at work. But I’m afraid that many most meetings are so badly managed they are nothing but time and productivity sucks.

So what should you do to generate value from meetings. Here are six hip shots for more productive meetings that work for me.

Hip Shots

  1. Agenda – when I think about successfully managing meetings, a common success factor is structure. A past client had a good system. They called it PAL: Purpose, Agenda and Limits. You can read more in Making PALs with Meetings. It’s not a perfect way to structure a meeting but it’s a huge improvement over nothing, which is how most meetings are run.
  2. Objective – if you are the meeting sponsor or leader, have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish. Communicate this to the attendees; a vague reference to the meeting objective or a hidden agenda known only to a select few doesn’t do it. Tell attendees what you want so they can dig into the issues before they get there. And attendees, if the meeting organizer provides a clear meeting objective, return the favor by coming prepared to contribute.
  3. Structure – prepare a discussion guide or a straw man solution against which attendees can react. This is the issue and here is one way we can address it. Then the group has something concrete to chew on. Taking time to prepare something for the meeting sends the message that this is important and worth everyone’s best effort.
  4. Be open -  alternative points of view are a good thing, especially when they contradict yours. Discussion is a great source for insight. I had a boss who used to set this up. She would ask someone, ahead of the meeting, to raise a contradictory point of view and then she would work with the group to explore the issue. This sent the clear message that politics and ass kissing weren’t the way forward. She was looking for open discussion around the issues in question. Some great thinking came from those meetings.
  5. Take action – assign action items at the end of the meeting: what needs to be done, who will do it, and when will a report be expected. You would think this is obvious but I’m in way to many meetings that end without a clear understanding of next steps than I would like. If there isn’t an intention to take action why have the meeting?
  6. Document – publish a meeting report. It’s a pain I know. I hate doing them as well as you do. A brief meeting report for those who attended, and those who didn’t, that documents what was discussed, what was decided, and/or what action items were assigned, will help generate long-term value from the meeting.

How are you managing meetings? Please challenge my ideas and add yours.

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