Seven Steps to Productive Meetings

Image of company of successful partners discussing business plan at meeting

Image of company of successful partners discussing business plan at meeting

Meetings are the most expensive periods of time we spend together. It can be surprising to add up the loaded employee cost of a simple weekly status meeting. Consequently, meetings need to be highly productive to justify the expense.

Effective Meeting Elements

There are a host of learning points in that brief summary. Let’s focus on the meetings component and how we used a new structure to produce very effective and efficient meetings that got the job done. Productive meetings contain the following elements:

1. Set an Agenda

How can meetings occur without an agenda? It’s like scheduling a business trip without an itinerary! Agendas are simple to construct and distribute, but the road map they provide not only prepares attendees for what will be covered during the meeting, but they’re a terrific way to keep the meeting on track. The more specific the agenda, the better the road map, and the more likely the chance of accomplishing the stated objectives!

2. Make Sure There Is a Hard Start and Hard Stop

Meetings need a physical structure, which means predetermined start and end times. The old saying that “work fills the time allotted” is completely true. It’s also important to state the start and end times at the beginning of the meeting. This serves as a reminder, and sets the parameters for everyone involved.

3. Prepare Necessary Materials—Only

A lot of work can go into preparing for a meeting, so prepare (or instruct others to prepare) only what is truly necessary to communicate effectively during the meeting. One thing that should be eliminated from virtually every team meeting is PowerPoint slides! Read that sentence again because it’s important. Most people use PowerPoint to put their speaking points on the screen. BORING! We can read speaking points, so why are we here in a meeting? Moreover, creating a list is much easier to do in an e-mail or Word than it is in PowerPoint, and there’s no setup time required to fiddle with the projector and such.

4. Distribute Materials in Advance

Send out materials well before the meeting—preferably, the day before the meeting—with a request that people review them and come prepared to discuss the items listed. We don’t want to waste everyone’s time by reading our summaries to them! We want to leverage that time for input.

5. Moderate the Discussion

It’s our job to “run” or moderate the meeting. That means staying quiet most of the time and acting as a guide to keep everyone on course (topic-wise) and moving forward (productivity-wise) within the time frame allotted. Think of it as a referee or facilitator role. We want to marshal these valuable resources (people and their ideas) toward an effective end. If we, as managers, participate too much, we’ll run the risk of (1) commandeering the meeting, which not an effective use of team members’ time.

6. Confirm Decisions and Action Items

As the moderator, it’s our responsibility to confirm out loud with everyone in attendance both the decisions made, the action items determined (if any), and the people assigned to those action items. This can be reduced to a follow-up e-mail and can be placed on a future agenda for updates. This is a huge point of failure for many meetings—the failure to articulate decisions, action items, and attendant responsibilities. Ironically, it is generally the stated reason for meetings! Fix this hole by stating things clearly before everyone disperses.

7. Identify Follow-Up Expectations

The final point of any effective meeting is identifying and stating the next point of follow-up, if there is one. Place parameters around the work so people have relatively short-term goals for producing a result. Make the follow-up period reasonable within the context of the work to be performed, but make it date-certain.

The Path to Meeting Productivity

These seven steps make every meeting more productive. Managers are charged with using their own time effectively, as well as leveraging their team’s time. Meetings are a perfect opportunity to do both! Make a checklist in Word or Evernote so you have this meeting checklist available whenever a meeting is approaching.


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