To run effective meetings, you must control both the length of the meeting and the meeting itself. Regardless of whether you spend an average of one hour or six hours each day in meetings, there is considerable time savings to be realized by running them efficiently. Here is a summary of the most important things to keep in mind when calling a meeting.
Invite only those who are essential to the success of the meeting.
If people are unlikely to contribute to or benefit from the meeting, don’t include them. Try to keep the total number of attendees fewer than 8 people. According to the book, Decide and Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough and Performance in your Organization, once you have seven people in a decision-making group, every additional person reduces effectiveness by 10 percent.
Plan the meeting in advance.
Avoid last-minute agendas. Anticipate which topics will generate the most discussion, disagreement and time loss. Leave the contentious issues last – when people are less likely to waste time. Put the priority items that will generate the least discussion near the start of the meeting. Allocate estimated time limits to every agenda item, and be sure to include an ending time as well as a starting time on the agenda.
Prepare, and encourage participants to prepare.
Insist that any suggestions for the agenda be submitted at least a week in advance in order to be included on the agenda. Have the agenda and any reports to be discussed distributed to the other participants at least 3 days in advance of the meeting. Discourage participants from wasting everyone else’s time reading reports at the meeting. Meetings are for discussion and decision-making.
Start on time.
Don’t make exceptions. If anyone arrives late, including your boss, explain that you are now on item 2 or 3. Don’t apologize for being prompt and efficient. Set a businesslike but friendly tone, keep the meeting on course, and encourage participation while maintaining control. Resist the urge to summarize the progress to date for every late arrival. If they ask, tell them you’ll update them after the meeting.
Make notes at every meeting and encourage others to do likewise.
Record decisions reached, actions required, the individuals responsible for the various actions, and the expected completion dates. Review this information at the end of the meeting to ensure that everyone is clear as to his or her responsibilities. If everyone takes notes, there is no need to wait for minutes to be issued before taking action.
Don’t waste the group’s time on one person’s responsibilities.
If you have made a group decision and provided input, assign the action to one person, not several. If a few people have strong feelings as to how something should be done, ask them to submit the suggestions in writing to the person who will be taking action.
Always take a few minutes after every meeting to evaluate how it went.
Jot down what you will do next time to improve the process. Continually strive to reduce the time loss and increase the value of every meeting you manage.