One reason that people dislike meetings is that they are not well planned.
If you are the chair for the meeting, some preparation steps can make a big difference. And even if you are not the chair, you can ask that these be done.
Writing an agenda in advance forces you to determine which items you want to cover. You can also use the agenda to communicate to participants what they will be considering and what is expected of them. An agenda helps create order and control at the meeting. Ideally, those attending should have a copy in advance.
If you are not in charge, approach the chair beforehand to make sure there is an agenda and that your items are on the list for discussion.
The most important item on the agenda is the purpose of the meeting. You should be able to state it in one succinct sentence, such as, “To review and approve details of the annual budget.” Keep the list of items to be covered specific and focused. Ask yourself what you expect to happen after each item is finished.
Of course, the agenda needs to include the time, the place, and the names of those who will be attending and the start and end times. End times are rarely included, but when they are, you can bring some urgency to the meeting by counting down the time remaining, especially when items run long.
Consider starting meetings at unconventional times. Time study research that we conducted indicates that meetings tend to start more on time on the half hour, rather than on the hour. Also, if you want a short meeting, schedule it for later in the day. Our time studies show that meetings are shorter later in the day. Business has a tendency to move quickly as five o’clock approaches.
A few days before the meeting, send out the meeting invitation and agenda. Some people wonder whether they should send a follow up confirmation – often this is just a waste of valuable time.
If you’re unable to circulate an agenda in advance, write it on a flip chart or white board before participants arrive. Or give everyone a printed copy.
Meetings become dysfunctional when homework has not been done in advance. Attendees debate issues back and forth based on their impressions, feelings, biases, recollections, and quite often their loud voices. Instead, they need to come to the meeting armed with reports, research, recommendations, surveys, and conclusions from prior discussions. So as chair, encourage attendees to do this work in advance. Then, the meeting agenda will accept reports and recommendations rather than trying to formulate them. “Rubber stamping” a recommendation is not a bad thing. It works effectively when adequate homework has been done.
The investment you take to plan meetings thoroughly will result in meetings that people want to attend. Your time is worth it.
Mark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training.