How often have you heard
the emphatic statement, "We've got to stop meeting like this?" No, this is not
a shout from some secret rendezvous, but rather the emotions expressed by many
individuals who attend regularly scheduled company meetings. Frustrations frequently
result when these gatherings are poorly conducted and produce few, if any, perceived
A consultant friend of mine,
T Frank Hardesty, used to say (albeit a bit tongue in cheek): "Be sick when
meetings are called. Never attend them. Later, ask anyone who was at the meeting
what happened and, within five minutes, you will know anything of any significance
that took place." While this strategy is extreme, it points out a common feeling
- most company meetings just aren't worth attending.
If your staff cringes when
the word meeting is uttered, consider these five guidelines for successful meetings.
They will direct your thinking as to what must be considered for meetings that
Guideline #1: Follow
Too often, attendees enter
the meeting room unaware of what the meeting is all about. When they don't know
what to expect, they won't be totally prepared to participate. Key facts and
data may be left in their work areas and frustration strikes if they are not
able to fully discuss the issues.
The agenda must be published
far enough in advance for everyone to schedule the gathering and prepare to
be a valuable participant. Each attendee should receive a personal copy of the
agenda and have the opportunity to review it. Company mail will suffice for
most notification, but E-mail can be even more effective in many office environments.
Whichever medium you select, develop a system that ensures everyone will get
A published agenda should
include a start time and an ending time. Attendees are more likely to achieve
results when they are working toward a specific deadline rather than attending
an open-ended meeting which ends only when everyone has had his or her say.
The discipline of an end-time also enables the person who called the meeting
to speed things along to adjourn the meeting as scheduled. ("We've got to move
on if we're going to end on time.") Or, it can become the reason for excluding
unnecessary additional topics. ("That's a good point, but we don't have the
time to discuss it right now.")
Also, the end-time allows
attendees to plan the remainder of the day without having to worry about the
possibility of a meeting extending longer than expected. Any person who publishes
an agenda will become a hero or heroine for the time management considerations
Guideline #2: List outcomes,
Don't call a meeting to
discuss the new training program. Instead, call a meeting to implement the
new training program in the accounting department by January 31, 2001.
The first statement is a
subject and doesn't direct the thinking of the attendees. Instead, it opens
up the meeting for the inclusion of many extraneous issues. The second statement
is an objective and focuses everyone's attention to find ways of achieving a
specific result. Each meeting should be called for only one reason. When objectives
are mixed, attendees become confused and the outcome cannot be honed to effectively
meet organizational needs.
Guideline #3: Invite
only those who should be there.
A consistent comment shared
with fellow employees after many meetings is, "I don't know why I was invited.
The meeting was a total waste of time for me." Often, departments schedule meetings
because "We always have our staff meeting at eight o'clock on Monday morning."
No consideration is made as to whether or not the meeting is required - it is
a routine that, over time, may have become only moderately effective.
When Guidelines 1 and 2
are practiced, Guideline 3 is easy to implement. It follows that meetings should
only involve those who can supply real input to the desired outcome. Everyone
on the staff should not be invited to every meeting. It may seem like the politically
correct thing to do (making the assumption, of course, that politics exist in
most companies), but it does not make the meeting efficient. To maximize results,
it is necessary to pick and choose the correct mix that will achieve the meeting's
Guideline #4: End the
meeting on time.
The best way to gain points
in your progress rating for conducting meetings is to end on time. By publishing
the ending time in the agenda, you make a commitment to the attendees. By living
up to that pledge, everyone at the meeting feels more secure in your ability
to coordinate meetings that are goal-oriented.
Of course, on rare occasions
more time may be required to resolve a particular issue. If so, you must reach
a consensus for extending the meeting by asking permission. You might say something
like, "It looks like we are close to resolving this point. Do I have everyone's
agreement that we should extend this meeting by 30 minutes?" A new end-time
is established which must be adhered to.
Guideline #5: Follow-up
the meeting with an action plan.
A meeting is reinforced,
not by distributing minutes of the meeting, but by restating the plan that was
finalized for accomplishing the objective. The format for this action plan is
very simple. Make three columns on a sheet of paper. Over the first column write
the word, "Who?" The second column is labeled "What?" with the third column
tagged "By when?" When everyone knows who will do what by when in a chronological
sequence, you have a cohesive action plan for reaching the outcome that was
set for the meeting.
In addition, this type of
action plan serves another vital function. Not only does it indicate actions,
responsibilities and a timeframe, but also it serves as an internal crosscheck
for the attendees. It enables each person to understand how he or she fits into
the overall plan and provides a name to contact if something has not been completed
Try using these guidelines
when putting together your next meeting. They will set you apart as someone
who understands the dynamics of working with others. As your reputation for
running good meetings improves, so will your influence in the organization.
You will save time and effort, as your meetings become events that are approached
with positive, constructive feelings by all attendees. Soon, they may even begin
saying, "We've got to keep meeting like this."