How to make the most of business meetings
Does the announcement of your company's next office meeting trigger a spontaneous rolling of eyes among your employees? Are you noticing unusually high absenteeism on the days that these meetings are scheduled?
If you answered yes to either or both of the foregoing questions, it's a fairly safe bet that you need to do some work to make your company's office meetings more productive and, hopefully, more appealing to all participants.
You're not alone
If it's any consolation, your company is hardly the only one suffering from what BBC Capital columnist Sydney Finkelstein rather aptly labels "meeting malpractice."
Finkelstein suggests that if you find yourself "seated around a table, listening to people you don't really want to hear from saying things you don't really need to know," then odds are your company meetings have fallen victim to this very insidious strain of malpractice.
While there are many things that management can do to reverse the damage caused by meeting malpractice, Finkelstein and others who have weighed in on the subject all seem to agree that having an agenda for every meeting is absolutely essential.
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What is the meeting's goal?
Look at it this way: A worthwhile meeting should have a goal of some sort; perhaps even multiple goals.
If no such goals exist, then there is really little rationale for holding a meeting at all, unless you're operating under the flawed notion that getting together periodically is good way to promote team spirit.
Sadly, though, it appears the reverse is true. There is probably no more effective morale-killer than required attendance at a meeting that accomplishes nothing.
Requiring an advance agenda for each and every one of your company meetings has multiple benefits.
Perhaps most importantly, it requires the meeting organizer to define clearly what issues are to be discussed. It also allows those who will attend the meeting to consider in advance all relevant issues and perhaps do some brainstorming of their own to come up with possible solutions to problems the company is facing.
Roadmap for the meeting
The agenda spells out in logical steps the areas of discussion and action that the meeting is to cover.
One of the important side effects of requiring an agenda for every meeting is putting an end to meetings held on a regular basis just for the sake of meeting, whether or not there are important issues to be tackled.
Apart from demoralizing employees who find themselves summoned into a conference room to listen to other people talk; pointless meetings can be a significant waste of time and money, which might otherwise be devoted to productivity.
If you doubt the accuracy of this, here's a good way to estimate the cost of meetings. Mentally, tally the approximate hourly rate of all attendees at your next meeting. Then multiply that total by the number of hours (or portions thereof) that the meeting runs. Adds up, doesn't it?
Consider online meetings
Because even smaller companies today may have key personnel at remote locations, online meetings are becoming more commonplace.
The sharp rise in telecommuting is only one of the reasons why online meetings are the new normal. If you have employees in multiple locations and an upcoming meeting addresses issues that are pertinent to their operations, then an online meeting is clearly the way to go.
Another suggestion that can lead to more productive business meetings is to use greater selectivity in who's required to attend.
Consider the goal of the upcoming meeting and then carefully identify staff members who should be there and those to whom the proceedings are clearly nonessential. This way, you avoid wasting the time of those employees who don't need to be there and can make a greater contribution by continuing their normal work routine.
Stick to agenda
It should probably go without saying, but at the risk of redundancy let’s suggest that it's incumbent on the meeting's moderator to see that the agenda is strictly followed.
Don't allow a meeting to devolve into a free-for-all in which almost anything is discussed and nothing is accomplished. And that's what's likely to happen if the meeting departs markedly from the steps outlined in the agenda.
For each meeting, someone should be delegated the responsibility of taking notes to chronicle the matters discussed and the actions taken or proposed.
Generally speaking, a productive meeting ends with consensus on one or more action steps that must be taken to deal with the issues under discussion.
Each action step should be delegated to an individual employee or a team of employees, and ideally each action step should have a deadline set by which time the action should be completed.
Just so everyone is on the same page, it's a good idea for the moderator to wrap up the meeting with a quick summary of the matters discussed and the specific actions that are to be taken. If -- but only if -- a follow-up meeting is required, set a tentative date when concerned parties should reconvene.
As a business owner, what do you see as the pros and cons of your company’s meetings?
About the author
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.