Thank you to everyone who posted or emailed their suggestions for productive meetings. Please keep them coming!
By far the most frequent suggestion was to have a written agenda. That is as good a place as any to start.
Distribute an agenda. This should be done in advance of the meeting, and be copied to all invitees. It should include the beginning and ending time, and define who is responsible for each segment of the meeting. If an invitee has no responsibilities on the agenda, you can legitimately question why he or she is attending.
Identify a leader. Someone has to be the chairperson or leader of the group. “Let’s all get together and discuss it” is a poor use of time. Even an all-out brainstorming session should have someone responsible for keeping conversations on track and moving along. It’s best to acknowledge the leader’s scope and role at the outset. Too many meetings are ruined by a higher-ranking employee who chooses to ignore the authority of the facilitator.
Begin with the end in mind. The meeting chair should state the objectives of the meeting to start. What do you expect to walk away with? Are you making decisions for implementation, or is the meeting only to choose a direction that will require further research before moving forward? If there is no actionable decision expected, and a meeting is simply for exchanging information, use email instead.
State the finish time. Remind everyone (it should be on the agenda) of when the meeting ends. The leader should supply signposts for the agenda, such as how far along you should be at the halfway point.
Engage everyone at the outset. People who are introverted can easily become observers, watching the conversations of those who are more outspoken. Start the meeting with a quick go-around of a minute or two per person. It can be about what they did last weekend, or their favorite TV show. Get everyone speaking, but don’t let it turn into a conversation.
Remind everyone of the expense. One reader wrote that he is irritated by meeting chairs that don’t seem to understand the value of time. He specifically cited his trade organization. Board meetings are led by an association employee, who seems to have little realization that the business owners on the board value their time at hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour. The employee (who is the only person being paid to sit at the table) is clearly unconcerned about wasted or ineffective meeting time. Even if you don’t know the salary of each individual in the room, you can still estimate the hourly cost of the group just to make the point.
Empower the attendees. When discussing the agenda and timekeeping, all participants should share responsibility for staying on schedule. Make it plain that anyone is welcome, or even better — obligated, to speak up if things are falling behind.
Taking a few minutes at the outset to get everyone focused pays big dividends in greater productivity.
Next week; the meat of the meet. Keep your ideas coming through posted comments or directly to me at email@example.com. Thanks