Guidelines for Productive Meetings

Meetings are something for which we all have a love/hate feeling. While most of us would agree that they're a vital and necessary function of everyday business, a lot of us would also agree that there are too many meetings that are poorly run, or that shouldn't have taken place altogether.

The fact is, meetings are a necessary part of business, and can and should be well done and valuable. To be more effective, we must learn how to run and be part of good, well-organized, time- and cost-effective sessions.

Setting Guidelines
In order to accomplish a good, productive meeting, there needs to be a set of guidelines. These 10 guidelines will help you lead more productive, efficient and fun meetings.

Guideline #1: There needs to be a meeting coach, facilitator or leader for each and every meeting. The definition for this person might be:

  • Someone who has the authority to call for and run a meeting.
  • Someone who has the knowledge and power to keep the meeting moving and sticking to the agenda.
  • Someone who ensures that the right people are in attendance and the right things are being discussed.
  • Someone who can summarize the results of the meeting, what actions will be taken and the time frame to complete these actions.

Depending on the size of the business, there should be several people who would have the experience and authority to be a meeting leader. The important issue here is that everyone knows who the leader is at each and every meeting.

Guideline #2: All meetings, both large and small, should have an agenda. While it's the meeting leader's responsibility to put together the meeting agenda, it is a good idea for certain meetings to ask all attendees for input on any agenda items that might be pertinent to the subject of the get together. The information from others should be given to the leader/ coach at least one day prior to the meeting. The coach finalizes the agenda (items and time frames) and distributes ahead of time to all attendees.

Agendas should be done for all types of meetings. This makes meetings more efficient, professional and productive.

Guideline #3: Someone other than the meeting leader needs to take notes and write a summary report. The leader will review the content and give approval before distributing the summary to other attendees.

Guideline #4: All meetings should have a definite beginning and ending time. Part of the responsibility of the boss is to see that attendees arrive on time always.

Guideline #5: The fewer people at a meeting, the better. The agenda will dictate who should attend. Three to five people at a meeting is very comfortable; 10 or more starts to make it more difficult.

Guideline #6: Adhere to the written agenda. You may want to allow 10-15 minutes at different meetings for open topics or last minute items. But, the leader will have to control what is discussed and for how long the discussion may go on.

Guideline #7: The meeting is sacred and not to be disturbed. The meeting coach is responsible for notifying non-attendants about when the meeting will start and end and who will be attending. Cell phones and pagers should be turned off during all meetings, or at least put in the silent mode.

Guideline #8: Short meetings held frequently are much more effective than long meetings held less frequently. An hour-long meeting is typically the maximum length of a productive meeting unless there are special circumstances. No one should leave the meeting without knowing when the next meeting is and how he or she will be notified if there is a change.

Guideline #9: How you arrange the seating says a lot. If one person is at the podium, the message is that this isn't a discussion meeting but a lecture. Sitting in the round face to face will maximize the exchange of information. Tables/chairs arranged in a circle or a tight square will maximize equality and promote better listening.

Guideline #10: The quality of the meeting room or area either increases or decreases the effectiveness of the meeting. If your designated area or room is to maximize the potential for productive meetings, you'll need comfortable chairs; something to write on and with; good lighting and possible multimedia equipment such as a TV, VCR, white board and/or flip chart.

Taking Control
At my business we did weekly, one-hour staff meetings every week same day, same time. Everyone was expected to be there no exceptions. About 50 percent of each staff meeting was devoted to manufacturer product meetings, but even these meetings allowed for 15 minutes of "internal" agenda items. About 25 percent of the meeting was geared to sales skills training. The remaining 25 percent was for general topics. Everyone got a form every week to turn in suggested agenda topics.

In addition to the weekly staff meetings, we did a quarterly "State of the Company" meeting for all employees. I would review year-to-date results in revenues, gross profit, expenses and cash flow. We discussed the long-term growth ideas. The "floor" would then be open for anything that the employees wanted to discuss.

We did bi-annual performance evaluations with every employee. These were one-on-one with the employee and the supervisor. Both the supervisor and the employee completed an evaluation form and these were discussed. All of the guidelines for running a good meeting were incorporated into the performance evaluation meeting.

When a manufacturer rep called and wanted to set an appointment, I always asked the person what he or she wanted to talk about and how long it would take. There would be an agenda for these meetings, as well.

The same meeting principles apply when meeting with clients, whether in your place of business or in their home. Use the 10 guidelines to keep you on track.

These guidelines can help you become more professional and productive. If you're not already using them, why not start today?