Run Effective Meetings

Originally published on Dec. 13, 1993


We’ve all been in meetings which were effective and productive, but I bet the ones you remember best are the ones which were a waste of time. This is truly a shame, as by following a few simple rules, meetings can be useful indeed. It all comes down to how you start the meeting, and exercising some rigor throughout.

Initiating the Meeting

When starting the meeting

  1. State the meeting’s goal.
  2. Review the agenda, asking for agreement to the agenda, and making modifications if needed.
  3. As meeting concludes, clearly restate decisions and action items from the meeting.

Making the agenda clear up front doesn’t mean it is rigid or even that it needs to be detailed. For example, an excellent agenda might occasionally be as broad as to brainstorm ideas on an issue. Whatever your agenda, make sure you follow it, making time for all items, or being clear what wasn’t covered. This structure helps keep everyone on task, and willing to wait as they know their topic will come up in order. The agenda can be a way to prevent tangent topics from taking over, or even from getting started at all. Harebrained topics can be the take-away for the person who thinks it’s important – if it really is unimportant, this tends to allow it to die quietly and away from focused attention.

During the Meeting

While the meeting progresses, maintain the meeting’s focus; only items on the agenda should get more than cursory airtime. If something appears to be about to derail the meeting, it should become an item for later action, or go on a parking lot for later review – though usually items go on parking lots to die quietly. Provide time checks regularly so people are aware how many items are left on the agenda and how much time remains. Doing this will remind people of what you have yet to accomplish, and help keep everyone moving.

Wrapping Up the Meeting

Clearly state all decisions and action items, along with who owns each action. If possible, get delivery dates.

After the Meeting

After the meeting, it is usually worthwhile to send out notes with decisions and action items. This is particularly important when results were complicated, needed for longer term memory, or should be seen by a larger audience.

Actions agreed to in the meeting need to be tracked and followed until complete. When people know they will be held accountable, they are far more likely to deliver.

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