Monday, December 14, 2009

How to have more productive meetings.

Post 391 - "Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything," according to John Kenneth Galbraith.

Business people often do a lot of work in meetings. And unfortunately, they can take a lot of time without accomplishing much if they're not managed carefully. The most effective meetings are short and to the point. Good planning helps to make a meeting successful, and an important first step is deciding who to invite. As a general rule, the most productive meetings are those with the fewest number of people attending. Therefore only invite those who will be directly involved in decisions to be made at the meeting, those significantly affected by the decisions, or those who have some specific knowledge to contribute. If the meeting is to cover a variety of issues, ask people to drop in and out when their part of the agenda comes up.

Here are five major strategies for increasing the productivity of meetings:

- Use an agenda:
Give everyone plenty of notice regarding the time and place of the meeting, and stipulate the start and finish times. The best time to schedule a meeting is just before lunch or toward the end of the day as this motivates attendees to focus on the agenda and keeps the meeting from running long. Circulate a draft agenda outlining the topics to be discussed, the time limits assigned to each topic, and the person responsible for each item. Other information you should provide prior to the meeting includes:
- directions to the venue, if the participants haven’t been there before;
- information on who else is attending (particularly helpful if you’re going to include people from outside your company).
- background information and documents relevant to the purpose of the meeting.
- your contact details.

- Select a facilitator:
The person who called the meeting can act as the facilitator, or for regular meetings with standing agendas, the participants can take turns rotating this responsibility. The facilitator is responsible for making sure the meeting remains focused and moves forward at an appropriate pace. He should also regulate whose turn it is to speak, and intervene if the discussion breaks down or goes off track. The facilitator's role is to make sure that there's only one discussion at a time. Participants sometimes start their own “private” meetings; this can be a few whispered asides, or even a full-blown separate discussion. These diversions need to be stopped by addressing those involved directly, asking them politely and assertively if there’s some issue they’d like to raise that's relevant to the topic under discussion.

- Take minutes:
One person should take notes on the main themes and the key points discussed during the meeting. Be sure to include who committed to do what tasks by when. Clarify with the person taking the minutes that they need to write them up and distribute them to all the attendees promptly. They should also be very clear and concise. The key things to note are:
- agreed-upon actions dealing with the issues raised.
- the people responsible for implementing them.
- the deadline or timing for reporting back.
- the date of the next meeting if you've agreed to schedule another one.

- Evaluate the meeting:
Always review and evaluate each meeting and discuss how the next meeting could be improved.

"A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there's no meeting of minds" according to a Chinese proverb.

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