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Studies suggest that managers spend over half their time in meetings, and most of it is miserable. Why is that? The short answer is that too many people do not know how to conduct good meetings. The prospects can be greatly improved by some advance preparation, and a few simple rules. Here's some common wisdom we have gathered from good and bad meetings:

1. Before holding a meeting, the number one question to ask before going any further is: "is this meeting really necessary?" If the answer to that is no, cancel the meeting immediately.

2. Are the right people going to be at the meeting? If a decision needs to be made, then the decision makers need to be present. If not, it's a glorified gripe session.

3. Are the minimum number of people going to be at the meeting? If the invite list only includes those needed to accomplish the meeting's objectives, great. Any "FYI" attendees are better off getting a copy of the minutes.

4. Be specific about the reasons for holding the meeting and the objectives to be accomplished with it. Is the purpose of the meeting to solve a problem? Review progress? Plan a product or service? Educate or inform? Brainstorm? Be clear about this!

5. Know what outcome you want before starting. If you need a decision, state it up front. Ask yourself "after the meeting is over, how would I know that it was a success?"

6. Don't start a meeting without an agenda, preferably one provided well in advance. At the worst, agree to an agenda at the outset.

7. Meetings are not a good time to do basic information gathering. Do it off-line. Better: Assign advance preparation or homework for the attendees.

8. Take breaks every one and a half to two hours. People's ability to pay attention declines rapidly over time. Remember college?

9. Stay focused on the agenda. Use an "issues" flip chart to track comments and tangents better deferred to a later time. People will see that their ideas are recorded.

10. Don't let side conversations proliferate. When it happens, call everyone back to the agenda. There's only room for one conversation during a meeting.

11. Use flip charts liberally. Jot down ideas as they occur. Number the pages and tape the sheets up on the wall so attendees can see the progression of the meeting. Refer back frequently to the taped up sheets.

12. If the team is being asked to buy-into the decisions and strategy, it is sometimes helpful to have each member of the team come up and sign the last flip chart to symbolize their commitment.

13. Start and end the meeting on time. Honor the clock!

14. Don't end without reviewing the action items. Identify "what, who, and when" for each: what will be done, who owns it, and by when will they complete it. Without specific action items, the meeting was a waste of time.

15. Close by asking how well the meeting went and how it could be better next time. Invite feedback with comments or a brief survey.

16. Always have flip charts and action items typed and distributed within three days after the meeting.

© Copyright 1994, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 1996, 2024, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.