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How to Run a Successful Meeting

Meetings are a fact of life in today's business world. Unfortunately, many of these meetings are unproductive, ineffective, and often downright unnecessary. This problem knows no boundaries -- small business or large, at home or internationally -- and the costs are amazingly high! I estimate that the US alone directly loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year in unproductive meetings, and the world-wide costs are certainly many times greater than that.

So what's the solution? The solution is easy -- but hard to put into place. It requires:

  • Learn the basic steps to productive meetings.

  • Implement those steps company-wide, with top management support.

  • Find productive meeting champions, who can provide positive support and reinforcement.

  • Work hard at implementing those steps.

  • Stay alert for back-sliding.

You won't "fix" your meetings overnight, but you can start tomorrow with the materials attached. And you can save your company significant bottom-line dollars while making more effective decisions.

Once you begin to see the results, you'll understand why we consider Productive Meetings one very important part of Effective Project Management.

Before the Meeting

  • Assign/identify the meeting owner. This is the person responsible for a successful, productive meeting and with the authority to make decisions regarding the conduct of the meeting.

  •  Assign/identify the meeting scribe [Owner]. This is the person responsible for taking notes at the meeting and preparing the minutes following the meeting. This may be the same person as the meeting owner, but this is generally not recommended as there will frequently be a conflict between the owner's and scribe's tasks. One thing to keep in mind for technical meetings is to have someone who understands the issues as scribe, if at all possible.

  • Prepare and distribute an agenda/schedule in advance of the meeting [Owner]. This should be written/emailed and should contain the following:

  • Purpose, Scope, and Objectives of the meeting [Owner]. Why are we here spending the company's money; What's included/excluded from the meeting; What specific things do we hope to accomplish?

  • Meeting date, start time, stop time, location, invited attendees.

  • Items for the agenda. Each item should have:

    • A brief description of what this agenda item is all about. There may also be supporting information for attendees to review in advance.
    • A 'sponsor' -- i.e., the person who will present and lead the discussion for the agenda item. This can be the meeting owner or some other party in the meeting.
    • An expected or requested result -- i.e., what should be accomplished for this agenda item such as "Decision", "Communication".
    • A time duration for the item -- i.e., how long this particular agenda item is allowed to run.

  • Assign/identify a time-keeper [Owner] This is the person responsible for monitoring the time spent on each agenda item and the meeting so that overruns are eliminated.

  • Review agenda/items and prepare for meeting [Attendees] Come prepared to the meetings so that we don't waste everyone's time going over old ground.

During the Meeting

  • Arrive on time. [Attendees] Waiting for missing/late attendees wastes everyone's time and precludes appropriate, timely action.

  • Start the meeting on time [Owner] Waiting 1-2 minutes at the most for late arrivals is barely OK; anything more is disrespectful to those who arrived on time and wastes precious time and resources.

  • Manage the meeting [Owner] The meeting owner is responsible for managing and controlling the meeting so that the stated objectives are met. This means keeping the discussion on track and keeping time so that one item doesn't overwhelm the entire agenda. Unless the meeting is specifically a "design session", meetings are not intended for open-ended discussion and/or problem-solving &emdash; such meetings require an active facilitator to be productive.. The meeting owner is also responsible for controlling the professionalism and emotional content of the meeting: i.e., common courtesy should be maintained; no one person should be allowed to dominate a meeting; accusations and/or tirades should be diverted or deferred to a private forum; everyone should have an equal opportunity to speak.

  • Issues which are raised and which cannot be answered at the meeting in a very short time should be taken off-line so as not to waste everyone's time. This is done by assigning an "Action Item", and requires:

    • An Action Item Owner -- the person responsible for following up on this item.
    • A definition of the task to be accomplished.
    • A description of the deliverable output due from the action item -- i.e., "Report", "Decision", "Recommended Solution".
    • A due date for the action item.
    • Additional assigned resources to support the Action Item Owner, if appropriate.

  • Decisions reached during the meeting should be actively and explicitly restated and confirmed to ensure that there truly is agreement on the action.

  • Participate conscientiously and respectfully [All] Meetings are best held in an open, courteous, focused environment. Taking turns, active listening, respectful disagreement, and positive support all help meetings run smoothly.

  • Keep Time [Owner/Time-keeper] Monitor time allotted to agenda items; provide 2-minute warning prior to topic time expiration. If the group agrees to extend the discussion, specify the additional time allotted and monitor against the new time. Consider whether extended discussion will bump other topics (and which ones) and determine if meeting time can be extended. Remember that people have planned their day around the published meeting time and that all agenda items are important. Failure to reach consensus should generate an action item to hold another meeting. Take care to avoid topics that never end because they're never resolved.

  • Take notes [Owner/Scribe] During the meeting, the scribe takes notes of discussion, chalk talk, etc. so that there is a complete record of what transpired at the meeting and what the results are. This requires more than just the decision itself, so that there can be a record of what was considered when decisions were made. Include the following:

    • Attendee list, including a separate list of those individuals who were present at the start of the meeting, and those individuals who came in after the meeting started.
    • Discussion items, positions considered, alternative recommendations, etc. for each agenda item.
    • Action Items as assigned during the meeting. d) Decisions reached during the meeting.

  • Identify next meeting, if any [Owner] Make sure that attendees know when the next meeting will be held, what agenda items will be on the list (carry-over, new business), when, where, duration.

After the Meeting

  • Prepare the minutes [Owner/Scribe] Prepare for publication. Should be a standard format so that everyone can easily see what happened at the meeting.

    • Agenda, date, time, location.
    • Attendees.
    • Discussion, alternatives, proposals.
    • Decisions.
    • Action Items.
    • Next Meeting information.

  • Review/approve the minutes [Owner]

  • Distribute the minutes [Owner] This should be done no later than 2 business days following the meeting, while things are still fresh in everyone's mind. One alternative is to produce a meeting summary within 24 hours, and a final, detailed version with 5 business days.

  • Perform required action items [Attendees, as assigned]

  • Follow-up on action items [Owner] It may be appropriate to have the responsible manager or higher-level manager take on the accountability for the action item; otherwise, the meeting owner is accountable for making sure that the action item is accomplished in a timely, quality manner.

Productive Meetings are a part of Effective Project Management.


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