Dead David: The secret to holding more effective meetings

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January 2/9, 2017: Volume 31, Number 15
By David Romano

Dear David:
I am so tired of my employees complaining every time I hold a meeting, saying that nothing gets accomplished and they are just a big waste of time. I know holding these meetings are important but at this point I am considering not having them anymore. Before these meetings become a thing of the past, can you please provide some pointers to save them?

Dear Owner,
Don’t worry, you are one of the countless owners who have struggled with this issue and have reached out for help. The most important thing I learned is to properly plan for meetings. Make sure you have a well-developed agenda and stick to it.

Here are some other pointers that should help you with your meetings:

Stay on topic. Most groups have at least one person who tends to go off on a tangent or tell irrelevant war stories during meetings. Whether this is the organizer or one of the participants, all meeting participants have the responsibility of gently guiding the meeting back to the substantive agenda items.

Assign a moderator to tactfully but firmly guide the meeting. On healthy teams (teams that have developed skills in trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results), people are ready, willing and able to point out when a team is off topic, and it’s not taken personally when someone nudges the team back on track. If the team is not quite where it needs to be, choose a meeting leader who feels comfortable setting up the meeting and keeping it on track.

Don’t start 1 second late. Way too much time is wasted on late arrivals. It used to make me crazy when certain people would be habitually late, thus regularly wasting some five to 10 minutes for the entire group. The solution? Don’t wait for late comers. Start the instant you’re scheduled to. Soon enough people will get the idea. No one likes to be embarrassed by straggling in during the middle of a cogent discussion. Do this a few times and you’ll develop a strong reputation for promptness.

Use a parking lot. “Park” important matters that require further examination but have nothing to do with the topics covered in this meeting. I am sure you have experienced hundreds of times when a meeting goes sideways because someone starts talking about a customer service issue when you were covering how to properly engage customers. Resolving the customer service issue is important but diverting from your topic to address it will do more harm than good because you are highly unlikely to cover all topics on your agenda. Park the sidebars and add them to next meeting’s agenda.

Live and die by a task list. We are all super busy and remembering something mentioned in a meeting a couple of days ago can be quite a challenge. How many times have you been in meetings where the same thing is talked about? All items discussed that require action must be added to a task list outlining what needs to be done, who is to do it and when it must be accomplished. Update this list at each meeting and make it the first thing covered at the next meeting.

Keep in mind meetings are meant to create new ideas and initiatives. Meetings achieve buy in, diffuse conflict and, when done right, are a lot of fun for your team. Best of all they give you, the owner, a sense of relief that issues are getting addressed, strategies discussed and action taken.

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