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Which of these situations has happened to you?

  • In your last meeting, did you walk out without a clear idea of what you were supposed to do?
  • Have you looked around a meeting and wondered why all those people were invited?
  • Have you calculated how much money your organization is "spending" waiting for meetings to start?

We all know that business can’t operate without meetings – meetings to plan, meetings for updates, meetings to keep communication lines open.  However, effectively-run meetings are often hard to find in the workplace.  A survey by Hofstra University projected that over $40 billion is wasted on mismanaged meetings every year. Since there are between 20 million and 30 million meetings conducted in the United States every day, the business of meetings is critical to everyone’s continued success.

As a result of discussions with a cross-section of employees and organizations, we’ve put together a Top Five list of tips for effective meetings. 

Tip #1:  Communicate the goal and the agenda for the meeting.  Publicize that goal when you schedule the meeting, and then evaluate every topic against that goal – if the discussion doesn’t support the goal, then it shouldn’t be in the agenda.  At Intel Corporation, they keep a poster in every meeting room that says "Do you know the purpose of this meeting?"  How many meetings actually include a firm agenda that is published in advance to all the attendees?  An agenda should clearly state the topics, an approximate length for discussion, the "owner" of each topic, and action steps for each topic. 

Tip #2:  Identify the meeting participants.  Recent research shows that after the first seven participants, every additional person lowers the productivity of the group in a meeting.  Wow!  Consider your own meetings: how many do you go to that have more than seven participants?  Consider who really needs to attend based on the agenda.  Also, remember that the more people invited to the meeting, the longer the meeting will take.

Tip #3:  Establish the ground rules for the meeting.  Some typical ground rules address when agendas are due to participants, the use of technology in a meeting, how to capture decisions and follow up actions, and the specific start and end times.  Designate a time keeper who is not the meeting organizer.  One of the biggest time wasters is meetings that don’t start and end on time – wouldn’t you agree? 

Tip #4:  Use a Parking Lot.   A Parking Lot is a place to put important topics or actions that fall outside the meeting agenda – or that should be postponed for later.  Some meeting organizers use visual Parking Lots – such as a piece of large paper posted on the wall where ideas can be posted during meetings so they don’t get lost.  Some meeting organizers simply record parking lot ideas on a pad of paper – or assign someone to capture them and send the list out for inclusion in future meeting agendas.  The disciplined use of a "parking lot" will help keep your meetings on track and on agenda.

Tip #5:  Set Clear Action Items.  Establish what is next, how will it be done, who is responsible, and deadline details before you leave the meeting.   How do you hold people accountable in your meetings?  Even if you are not the meeting organizer, you can still push for accountability by, for example, reminding the host to set clear next steps and timelines.

Bonus Tip:  Evaluate Your Meetings.   Periodically, take the time to review the regular meetings in your organization.  Do they all still have a clear purpose?  Are they the right length?  Are the right people attending?  What needs to change in order to make your meetings more effective?

As a final thought, consider this quote from Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting, "Most executives I know spend hours sending email, leaving voice mail, and roaming the halls to clarify issues that should have been made clear during a meeting in the first place … I have no doubt that sneaker time is the most subtle, dangerous, and underestimated black hole in corporate America." 

What is your biggest meeting challenge?  Write to us and share your stories and your ideas.  And if you want to dive deeper into this topic, especially how to make your meetings more effective, we’d love to hear from you.