How to Manage More Effective Meetings

Life is too short for this!” is all I could think when wasting time in yet another meeting meandering with irrelevant, untimely topics.  Truth be told, it’s a pet peeve that helped drive me out of corporate and into management consulting.

By some estimates, middle managers, spend about 35%, and upper management, an enormous 50% of their time in meetings. Compounding this frightening statistic is how unproductive most of these meetings are.  But you already know this.  The question is, what to do about it? 

When it’s your turn to facilitate, keep these several “musts” in mind.  Keep attendees excited and motivated -- providing value for maximum results:

1.  Create a relevant agenda with specific meeting goals.  Disseminate it to participants beforehand to set expectations and enable preparation.

2.  Stick to the plan.  Your job is to keep the discussion moving so maintain control.  Lead errant discourse back to focus topics with an “And how does this relate to what we’re discussing today?”  Respond to off topic tales with heart and backbone “Appreciate the story.  Please save that thought. You can share it if we have time at meeting’s end.” Handle digressions with, “Let’s take this offline after the meeting” so you don’t keep attendees captive to one-off discussions.

3.  Invite periphery stakeholders as “optional” – let them decide whether to participate or only receive meeting outcomes.  Nothing is worse than being compelled into attendance and realizing that you don’t need to be there.  Respect the time of others. 

4.  Ditch the cell phones and tablets.  Make undivided attention a requirement. 

5.  Begin and end on time. Again, have respect for everyone’s time by not waiting for stragglers (that means You need to be on time as well!) and wrapping up promptly.  Schedule a follow-up if you need to tie up loose ends.

6.  Save updates for an email.  Meetings are an opportunity for interaction, don’t waste everyone’s time simply keeping them up-to-date unless you need feedback.

7.  Draw in those not actively participating (especially if joining by phone).  “Anything to add, Judy?”  “John, we haven’t heard from this morning.  What are your thoughts?  I’ve had newer managers tell me they lack confidence giving their two cents.  Demonstrate good listening skills and show appreciation for input when it’s provided to invite greater participation. 

8.  Wrap up.  Get everyone’s agreement and summarize action items and timelines at meeting’s end.  Follow up with an email summary so that attendees have outcomes and A/Rs in writing to avoid misunderstandings. 

9.  Complete your action items. Don’t be the deadbeat manager who walks away with his to-do list never to be heard from again.  Set an example, build trust and enhance your credibility.

Productive meetings should always produce forward momentum.  Make your meeting deliberate and intentional.  Value outcomes, time management, and effectiveness!