The definition for meetings should be something like this:  Meetings - those dreary time-sinks, black holes into which hour after unproductive hour seem to go… 

And yet productive or not, we have meetings every day, sometimes for the whole day.  Do we ever stop and ask, is anything useful coming out of these “jam everybody into the conference room sessions”?  Yes, sometimes something useful occurs - though mostly due to dumb luck if I were to hazard a guess.

Meetings are necessary evils. There just doesn’t seem to be any other way to communicate with the troops, nor has anyone figured out another means where numerous parties can participate and discuss business matters.  Yet, admit it - we dread meetings. They feel like a waste of time. It seems like we spend more time sitting in meetings talking about what we are supposed to do, rather than actually doing what we are supposed to do.

Meetings can be far more productive, shorter and less frequent if you do them right. We are all in the habit of running/participating in bad meetings - and just like any bad habit, it will take some time and discipline for you and your people to develop “good meeting” behaviors.

Here are Joan’s rules for more productive (and blessedly shorter) meetings.

1. There must be a reason to meet. The meeting focuses on that issue and all other issues that come up are NOT discussed. They are jotted down and dealt with later.

2. Write an agenda. The more people know what the meeting is about ahead of time, the more productive the meeting will be. Be specific about what will be discussed in the meeting. “Sales” is not a descriptive meeting topic. “The drop in sales of cast iron pipe in the Southwest sales territory” - now that’s a topic. Send out information to be read before the meeting or request information be brought to the meeting (the latest sales numbers or stock-outs or late deliveries).

3. Set a time limit. Most meetings don’t need to be longer than an hour. If everyone stays on topic, the meeting will be even shorter. The meeting must start on time and end on time. (Give yourself extra points if it ends early!!)

4. Every meeting needs a leader. Typically it’s the person who called the meeting. In some cases, it is a good idea to bring in a facilitator, particularly if the topic is a contentious one. Facilitators are a good idea for those two- and three-day off-site meetings.

5. Stick to the agenda. When running the meeting, ensure that everyone discusses the issue. No sidetrack issues permitted.

6. Recap and assign tasks. Toward the end of the meeting do a recapitulation. Everyone should leave the meeting with an action plan.  Create a to-do list. Each task is assigned to a person and has a completion date. The to-do list will be discussed in the next meeting.  (Were all tasks accomplished?  If not, why? When will they be completed?)

7. Keep track of issues not discussed. Be sure to write down those issues that were not on topic but deemed important. Set up a different meeting to deal with those issues.

Other rules also will make the meeting go better. No cells, no Blackberries, iPhones, etc. No interruptions. If the participants stick to the issue and tackle it head-on with zero distractions, the meeting won’t take all day, people will have their marching orders and everyone can go back to work - which is what they are supposed to be doing anyway!