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Conducting Effective Business Meetings

Every business, whether it has 2 employees or 2,000, has meetings as a regular part of getting things done. Although employees can communicate with one another in an organization in many different ways, business meetings — if they are conducted the right way — can be incredibly effective and efficient.

Meetings are not only one of the most important ways for employees to communicate within organizations, but they're also the way that teams get their work done. Although individual team members work on tasks outside of meetings, team meetings give members the opportunity to come together to determine the team's goals, its plans for achieving its goals, and who will do what — and when.

Take a close look at what makes meetings tick and find out how to conduct better business meetings.

The good news (and the bad) about meetings

We've all experienced more than our share of both good and bad meetings. What makes some meetings terrific, while others are simply the pits?

Employees benefit in several ways when a meeting is well run. Here's the good news about business meetings that fall into this category:

  • Meetings are empowering.
  • Meetings are a great way to communicate.
  • Meetings develop work skills and leadership.
  • Meetings are morale boosting.

Unfortunately, meetings are prone to fall into nonproductive pitfalls. Here's the negative side of meetings:

  • Meetings may not have focus.
  • Companies have too many meetings.
  • Attendees may be unprepared.
  • Most meeting time is wasted.

Although this bad news may seem bleak, there is hope. For each of these problems, and for the many other kinds of problems that often plague business meetings, solutions are available. You simply need to be open to changing the way that meetings are conducted in your organization. You may even need to take on a leadership role, if necessary, to make your meetings work better.

Eight ways to make meetings better

Everyone has suffered through far too many meetings that took up far too much time and accomplished far too little. Unfortunately, this sad state of affairs has happened so often that you may find yourself becoming numb to the fact that your meetings aren't as good as they should be — and could be, if you just had some way to fix them.

Help is close at hand! You can make your meetings better, and you don't have to tolerate meetings that accomplish little or nothing. The power is within you, whether you are a meeting leader or a participant. Do you want to find out how? Here are some time-tested techniques to ensure better business meetings:

  • Be prepared. Meetings are work, so, just as in any other work activity, the better prepared you are for them, the better the results you can expect.
  • Have an agenda. An agenda — a list of the topics to be covered during the course of a meeting — can play a critical role in the success of any meeting. It shows participants where they are going, but it's then up to the participants to figure out how to get there. Be sure to distribute the agenda and any prework in advance. By distributing the agenda and prework before the meeting, participants can prepare for the meeting ahead of time. As a result, they will be immediately engaged in the business of the meeting, and they'll waste far less time throughout the meeting.
  • Start on time and end on time. Everyone has suffered through meetings that went waybeyond the scheduled ending time. That situation would be fine if no one had anything else to do at work. But in these days of faster and more flexible organizations, everyone always has plenty of work on the to-do list. If you announce the length of the meeting and then stick to it, fewer participants will keep looking at their watches, and more participants will take an active role in your meetings.
  • Have fewer (but better) meetings. Call a meeting only when it is absolutely necessary. Before you call a meeting, ask yourself whether you can achieve your goal in some other way, perhaps through a one-on-one discussion with someone in your organization, a telephone conference call, or a simple exchange of e-mail. As you reduce the number of meetings you have, be sure to improve their quality.
  • Include, rather than exclude. Meetings are only as good as the ideas that the participants bring forward. Great ideas can come from anyone in an organization, not just its managers. Roy Disney, vice chairman of the Walt Disney Company, tells a great story that illustrates this point perfectly. Says Disney, "There's an old story about Walt from the early days when we were making short subjects — really just a collection of gags. Every week, Walt had a gag contest, and everybody was free to enter — the winner got $5, which was a lot of money during the Depression. And who kept winning, week after week? The janitor. You see, it's not about who's the boss. It's about who's got the best ideas."
  • Maintain the focus. Meetings can easily get off track and stay off track. The result? Meetings do not achieve their goals. Meeting leaders and participants must actively work to keep meetings focused on the agenda items. Topics should not include the results of the latest football game, or who had lunch with whom, or who's driving that shiny new Porsche. Whenever you see the meeting drifting off track, speak up and push the other attendees to get it back in focus.
  • Capture and assign action items. Unless they are held purely to communicate information, or for other special purposes, most meetings result in action items, tasks, and other assignments for one or more participants. Don't assume that all participants are going to take their assignments to heart and remember all the details. Instead, be sure that someone has agreed to take on the job of record keeping. Immediately after the meeting, summarize the outcome of the meeting, as well as assignments and timelines, and e-mail a copy of this summary to all attendees.
  • Get feedback. Every meeting has room for improvement. Be sure to solicit feedback from meeting attendees on how the meeting went right for them — and how it went wrong. Was the meeting too long? Did one person dominate the discussion? Were attendees unprepared? Were the items on the agenda unclear? Whatever the problems, you can't fix them if you don't know about them. You can use a simple form to solicit feedback, or you can simply informally speak with attendees after the meeting to get their input.
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