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How to Conduct Productive Meetings

by Kevin Mercadante

Do you ever feel that most of the meetings you attend at work are something close to a waste of time? Do you ever feel that meetings that you are conducting are not terribly effective? Unfortunately, that probably describes most meetings. But there are ways to conduct productive meetings . . . .

1. Keep the number to a minimum.

Meeting RoomI’ve worked for companies that were meeting happy, and I’ll bet you have too. Maybe you’re even working for one right now. They hold meetings two, three, four, or even five times a week – that’s virtually every day! If they do, they really are wasting a lot of people’s time. I’ve often noticed that the effectiveness of an organization is in inverse proportion to the number of meetings they hold. The more meetings, the less successful the organization is; the fewer meetings, the more successful the company is.

The number of meetings that an organization conducts should be kept to an absolute minimum. For one thing, people who are sitting in meetings are not at their workstations being productive! For another, there are enough communication alternatives to make most meetings completely unnecessary. Email and instant messengers are more effective ways to communicate simple ideas.

2. Limit the agenda.

In some organizations meetings are completely routine. There’s the standard fare about keeping workstations and the kitchen or cafeteria clean, as well as constant admonishments about proper telephone etiquette. They may dedicate a regular slot to a beat-you-up session in which they highlight the various mistakes employees have made during the past few days. Then, if there’s time – and only if there’s time – there may be a nugget about something important. It’s a matter of running down the list of bullet-point items.

No good comes of that kind of meeting. It becomes routine, and people come prepared to not listen.

Limit the meeting agenda to one or two items that need serious clarification, or to concepts that are completely new to the staff. Handle the housekeeping issues and beat-you-up rants (if they’re even necessary) through emails.

3. Only concentrate on what’s most important.

The one or two items that are on the limited agenda should be matters of real importance. They should concern primarily ways to improve workflow, productivity or profits. Those issues are too important to be buried among non-critical talking points.

Not only will this make the meetings more productive, but it will also force the attendees to concentrate on the important topic at hand. That should always be the purpose of any meeting that you hold.

4. Distribute the agenda prior to the meeting.

In order to make meetings go more smoothly, it’s usually best to distribute the agenda beforehand. In doing this, you should ask attendees to be ready with questions. Not only will this remove the pre-meeting anxiety that often comes from meetings cloaked in secrecy, but it also invites the kind of give-and-take that makes employees feel more important to the process.

5. Keep it upbeat.

Part of the reason for conducting any meeting should be to build camaraderie, support and enthusiasm. I mentioned “beat-you-up” sessions in meetings (twice) because I’ve seen that happen more often than not. Assembling the staff and doling out criticism brings nothing but resentment. It’s the perfect recipe for an us versus them mindset, and that’s a cancer in any organization.

To the degree possible, people attending a meeting should come away feeling positive about themselves, the organization, and the plans going forward. If they don’t, the meeting will have failed. There’s no worse way to motivate people than by heaping criticism upon them.

6. Keep it short.

Finally, a meeting should be kept as short as possible. Unless it is actually a training session, meetings should not exceed 30 minutes. It’s important to remember – and well worth repeating – that any time spent in meetings is less time spent being productive. And if productivity is the ultimate goal of the meeting, it’s virtually counterproductive if the meeting goes on too long.

If you are a manager who conducts meetings on a regular basis, please keep these tips in mind. If you are a staff member who is required to attend meetings on a regular basis, you might want to take some of these ideas and suggest them to management. If you do, always frame it in terms of finding ways to enable the staff to be more productive, and never as a criticism.

Can you think of other ways to conduct more productive meetings? Leave a comment!

Photo Credit: chrisjagers


Published or updated April 29, 2013.
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