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More Effective Meetings
Russell Long

A wise man, John Kenneth Galbraith, once said that "meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything." Meetings can be the worst thing, ever. Or they can actually be productive and useful ways to spend some of our valuable time at work.

As managers and professionals in the modern workplace, most of us have had to deal with the scourge of meetings. Sometimes they are disorganized, poorly planned, ineffectively chaired and never really accomplish anything. But the biggest problem with meetings is that there are far too many of them. For many of us we have had to add a couple of hours in the morning, and a few more at night, just to get our work done. The challenge with workplace meetings is ensuring that the meetings you attend are both effective and necessary.

Here are a few questions that might help you make that determination and maybe even reduce the number of inefficient and unnecessary meetings.

  • Can you get input on a document or policy by e-mail rather than having a meeting?

  • Are you at the meeting to speak or listen?

  • Do the meetings make decisions or recommendations?

  • Why are there two or three representatives from your section at the same meeting?

  • Are you at the meeting just because you always go to these meetings?

  • You may still need to go to some of these meetings by virtue of your position in the organization, and yes, there are times when you are there just to listen. But if you can reduce the number of meetings you attend, you will save yourself that time for other and more productive work.

    That doesn’t mean that all meetings are a bad thing. Meetings that are necessary and well organized can be a great tool for sharing information, making decisions in a collaborative fashion, and allowing for a broad range of input and representation from across the organization. Once we eliminate the superfluous ones, we can then focus on making the remaining meetings as effective and efficient as possible.

    Meeting basics

    The truth about meetings is that there are far too many and some are simply not the best use of anyone’s time. If you can, try and set down some ground rules for when a meeting is convened and who should absolutely attend. Some meeting basics might be:

  • Meetings are only held when they are absolutely necessary.

  • The purpose of the meeting is known in advance.

  • The only people in attendance are there by virtue of their knowledge or their position in the organization.

  • All meetings should be well-planned and well chaired or facilitated.

  • Planning to meet for success

    If you do not plan for success, then your meeting will be at minimum a mess, and at worst, a colossal waste of time. Here are a few meeting planning tips:

  • There should be a purpose and objective for the meeting and what you want to accomplish.

  • There should be an agenda that provides a focus and allows the chair to provide direction.

  • The agenda items can be used to help determine who needs to attend the meeting

  • The agenda should be distributed in advance to allow participants to come prepared for the discussions.

  • Chairing or steering the meeting

    A good chair can make or break a meeting and steer it in the right direction. Here are some suggestions for successful chairing:

  • Start (and finish) the meeting on time.

  • Ensure that everyone understands the ground rules or guidelines and any decision-making process.

  • Make sure the agenda flows and all essential items are dealt with.

  • Ensure that key points or decisions are recorded and reflected in minutes or notes from the meeting.

  • Clarify who will take any action steps forward and how they will be reported on or communicated to the group.

  • Set an agreeable date for the next meeting.

  • There are many other suggestions to make especially in regards to the expected behaviour of participants at meetings, but that is normally something that is out of the control of good planning and even excellent chairing or facilitation. One way is to have a group agreement on guidelines to follow during the meeting. At least then, the chair has something to work with if one person decides to try and ruin the experience and the meeting for everybody else.

    The American economist and political philosopher, Thomas Sowell had this to say about meetings: “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” We think he may have a point. But you don’t have to enjoy meetings at work, you just need to make sure that they don’t waste your time.

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