You look at your calendar and get a sinking feeling. It’s time for that weekly meeting—you know the one. The team update where everyone arrives late and/or leaves early. Or the brainstorming session where the person calling the meeting, leaves the room three times to get materials she forgot to photocopy. Or the division briefing where two viciously dueling department heads view the gathering as an opportunity for workplace blood sports.
Having sat through more than my share of long, meandering, unpleasant, or witless business get-togethers in which my role was to watch other people behave badly or (worse still) think aloud, I came up with the following guidelines for collecting your co-workers in one place and actually getting something done.
1. Is the meeting necessary? Do you really need to assemble people in the same room? Maybe a well-considered email would be more informative, efficient, and welcome.
2. Invite the right people. Invite everyone who should to be involved—but not those who shouldn’t. Some people will need to be there (if only for psychological reasons), while others will be thrilled with a simple follow-up email reporting any action items that directly concern them.
3. What’s it all about? You’ve called this meeting for a reason—take the time to create an agenda and circulate it before the meeting, so all invitees will be prepared.
4. Establish a schedule and stick to it. A one-hour meeting that starts at 1:00 is over at 2:00—period. If you’re not finished by meeting’s end, give options: ask if people can stay for a specific number of additional minutes, or determine when you can convene again. Don’t assume that everyone is willing to stay—many invitees are just as busy as you are! One way to stick to a schedule is to allot time to each agenda item, and designate a timekeeper—give this job to the person who most reminds you of a kindergarten teacher. If you’ve slated fifteen minutes to discuss “New leads,” the timekeeper should let you know when you need to move on to the next agenda item.
5. Do your homework! Be a good scout and come prepared: know your agenda, bring any additional materials, have a game plan. If there’s any setup, arrive a few minutes early. Don’t waste everyone’s time trying to figure out what you want to talk about now that you’ve brought them all together.
6. Facilitate, don’t dominate. Nobody likes to be lectured, so if you’re assembling people as an excuse to stand up and preach—send an email. When you do meet, keep everyone involved by including input from all invitees; with particularly large groups, try to break into smaller sections when possible.
7. Stick to the point. If the discussion veers off topic, determine whether it’s appropriate to continue, direct the discussion back to the agenda, or table the topic for another time. Also be aware of subgroups promoting issues that should be the focus of another—separate—meeting.
8. Top level information only. If you’re reporting on, recapping, or updating people about a project or event, highlight your notes and stick to top-level data. Avoid details, “he said, she said” and other extraneous information. But be aware that some attendees may want more information later, so be sure to have it available.
9. Rotate facilitators. Avoid playing “teacher”—let others facilitate, and learn from their different styles. Rotating facilitators will help all participants feel more involved and be more attentive—who knows, next time they might be leading the meeting!
10. Report on the meeting afterwards. This is key! Identify a participant who will take notes and send a brief recap to all attendees. This gives everyone a final opportunity to make sure they left with a common understanding of what occurred during the meeting.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll spend less time in meetings—and more time actually getting work done. Best of all, when you do call a group together, the people you invite will be happier to attend and more productive while they’re there.