Ten guidelines for productive meetings.

Have you ever been in a company meeting and asked yourself "Why am I here?" or "Where is this going?"

If you're asking these questions while sitting in a company meeting, you're asking the right questions, but too late. You should know the answers to those questions and many more before you ever attend a meeting or a training session. There needs to be a set of rules for having productive meetings.

A great way to create your own rules is to get the input of those people you typically meet with. Chances are they've been wondering about the same things you have.

To help you get started, here are my 10 guidelines to having more productive company meetings:

Guideline 1:

There needs to be a meeting coach at each meeting. The brief definition of a meeting coach is a person who:
  • has the authority to call for and run a meeting;
  • has the power to choose when to move on in the interest of time and for keeping to the agenda;
  • ensures that the right people are there and the right things are being discussed so the meeting is effective; and
  • is responsible for summarizing during the meeting how the group has agreed to proceed.
Note: There should be many people at your company who are designated and trained to be a meeting coach. You may decide that each department in your company will have their own. Set it up anyway you like, but make sure everyone knows who that person is at each meeting.

Guideline 2:

All meetings have a written agenda. It's usually created by the meeting coach, but he can choose to delegate it. Whoever is creating the approved written agenda is also responsible for distributing it to all those who will be attending.

Note: A good suggestion is to do this at least one-day prior to the meeting. Give more time if you desire input on the proposed agenda or if attendees will need more time to prepare for the meeting.

Guideline 3:

Someone other than the meeting coach needs to take notes and write the summary report. The meeting coach reviews the content and gives approval before distributing the notes to all who attended.

Guideline 4:

Meetings have a definite beginning and ending time. There are no exceptions to starting on time. It's not fair to penalize those who made it their business to be there on time.

Those who aren't there on time should have an opportunity to explain after the meeting to the meeting coach why they were late. The first time is forgiven. After that, ban them from joining any meeting in progress. And if the pattern continues, address it like any other compliance issue, with progressive discipline.

There are no exceptions to ending on time. People will stay focused on the topics and they'll be able to honor their schedule for the remainder of their day.

Guideline 5:

The less people at a meeting the better. The amount will vary with how many people need to be there based on what is being discussed. Inviting people to attend because of office politics should be avoided. Usually, 10 people are a lot for a meeting; three to five people is ideal.

If there are more than 10 people, set up several meetings and coordinate the notes from all the meetings into one summary.

Guideline 6:

The written agenda only. Anything new that comes up that is not directly related to the agenda gets tabled and put on the agenda for the next meeting.

Guideline 7:

The meeting is sacred and not to be disturbed. The meeting coach is responsible for notifying the office personnel about:
  • when the meeting starts and ends; and
  • who will be attending
Note: If an attendee must take an urgent call from someone, they need to give that list to the staff responsible for answering the phones prior to the start of the meeting.

Cell phones and pagers should be turned off whenever possible. Or at the very least put in the silent mode.

Guideline 8:

Short meetings held frequently are much more effective than long meetings held infrequently. An hour-long meeting is typically the maximum length of a productive meeting unless there are special circumstances.

No one should leave without knowing when the next meeting is and how they'll be notified if there is a change.

Guideline 9:

How you arrange the seating says a lot. If one person is at a podium, the message is that this isn't a discussion meeting but a lecture.

Sitting face-to-face will maximize the exchange of information. Tables and chairs arranged in a circle (roundtable) or a tight square will maximize equality and promote better listening.

Guideline 10:

The quality of the meeting room either increases or decreases the effectiveness of the meeting. If your designated meeting room is to maximize the potential for productive meetings, you'll need comfortable chairs, good lighting and multimedia such as a TV, VCR, whiteboard and/or flip chart.

Win A Business Makeover!

Consultant and PM columnist Al Levi will help one PM reader remake his business.

Sponsored by Slant/Fin and PM, Levi will give away a two-day personal consultation. In that time, Levi will evaluate current business systems and operations, and help developa new game plan.

In addition to the initial consultation, the contractor will receive feedback and support from Levi for six months. A final follow-up visit will determine progress. An article in a future issue of PM (with the identity of the winner kept anonymous) will tell the story.

For more information or to enter the contest online, visit Levi's Web site, www.appleseedbusiness.com or fax a request to 212/202-6275.

For an online registration form, Click Here.