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7 Ways to Reduce Meeting Insanity

One of the necessary evils of our work week, for most of us, is meetings. What is your reaction when you hear the word – meeting? Do you think of that old saying, “Meetings: Where they take minutes….but last hours.” Does the thought of another meeting send you running for cover? In speaking with many of my colleagues in industry, it would appear as though the meeting problem has reached epidemic proportions. Companies and departments have regular “meetings” so deeply entrenched in their culture, I am sure that they have even forgotten why they have the meetings in the first place! It doesn’t have to be that way – with the advent of today’s technologies and social mediums we should be looking at ways to reduce the number of meetings we have and at the very least, hold meetings only when there is a clearly defined purpose and desired outcome. That being said, in business, there often is a true need to have a meeting and when done correctly, they can be an effective way to move your business forward. That being said, in order to ensure the meeting(s) you have are effective, I present 7 ways to make sure your meetings are effective and don’t cause you and your meeting to experience meeting insanity!

1. Have an agenda – goes without saying, but you should never send out a meeting request without a specific agenda and set specific time blocks to discuss each agenda item. If you require the group to read/review something in advance of the meeting, specify this in the meeting request and attach/email the document at least several days in advance. If you require someone to speak to something specific at the meeting, identify this on the agenda so they are prepared to do so.
2. Ensure a decision-maker is present – there is absolutely no sense in holding a meeting where an appropriate decision-maker is not present. If the meeting requires budget approval on something, make sure the budget approver is present. If the meeting is to discuss going to market with your new social media strategy, make sure your marketing person (and probably I.T.) is present. It goes without saying, but meetings without decision makers (i.e. with authority) are pointless and simply end up producing a lot of discussion/complaining, etc. that eventually goes nowhere. Re-schedule your meeting if the decision-maker can not be present – the attendees will appreciate the new found time!
3. Identify a facilitator – meetings tend to stay on track and keep their focus when there is a designated facilitator. Often, when a dept. head or functional specialist is leading the meeting, they are not as able to stimulate dialogue, guide participation and effectively communicate. By having to “dual-hat” their focus is split, hence a facilitator adds value by helping the group stay on track (agenda) and on time.
4. Require participation – far too many meetings have an excess of people invited that either do not participate in the meeting….or are not required to participate. Either way, those individuals should not be part of the meeting. If you have someone invited to meetings that does not participate, the role of the facilitator is to request updates/action items, etc. from them. Should these not be completed, it becomes a performance opportunity for their manager. If someone is invited to meetings but is not required to provide any information, status updates or their opinion is not solicited, than the meeting organizer really needs to determine if that individual (or those individuals) needs to be invited. Perhaps their time and efforts are better spent elsewhere?
5. Take Minutes – a meeting without minutes is a meeting that didn’t happen. This is the opportunity to capture the highlights, key discussions, etc. that took place at the meeting. These are helpful as a point of reference and can settle minor disagreements that may surface at follow up meetings. The taking of minutes also serves an important function as it leads to:
6. Identify Action Items and Owners – presumably the purpose of your meeting was to come to a decision, solve a problem or communicate something. If further action items (including “parking lot items”) remain, than those need to be identified and assigned to an owner. It then becomes that person’s responsibility to report back on that action item at the next meeting. Too many meetings identify issues and concerns and then conclude without any ownership being assigned to resolve the specific items.  Than, the next meeting starts out with a re-cap of those outstanding items and a discussion/debate on what to do. This could have been resolved in the last meeting by assigning ownership to someone. Ultimately the use of action items and owners will drive accountability within the team and the organization.
7. End on time – I know this one seems simple, or obvious…or perhaps even impractical to some! Everyone’s days are busy. We all schedule our time into tight 30 or 60 minute blocks in order to meet with those that we need to and accomplish our goals and objectives. So if you schedule a meeting for 1 hr, finish after an hour. If it looks like you won’t be able to finish on time, stop at the 1hr mark and schedule another time to complete. If your meetings tend to run longer than you normally schedule them for, start scheduling them longer. That is, if your 1hr meetings tend to take 10-15mins longer than that, start scheduling in 90 minute blocks. Keep in mind, that the reality is that most individuals’ attention span is shot after the 1 hr mark anyway so you are probably better off in breaking it up into 2 meetings. Or perhaps you might even start to implement some of these tips and now your meetings are more effective and efficient and only take 45 minutes! Your staff will be so impressed. By the way, I have never heard of meeting participants complain that a meeting didn’t take the full time allotted!

By implementing these simple 7 concepts, I am confident you will be well on your way to reducing meeting insanity! I would love to hear from you if you try some of these and if they work (or don’t) or if you have other suggestions to share.

Image courtesy of farconville/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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