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Making meetings productive

Last month, I shared my thoughts about establishing trust in the digital age. One of my suggestions was to meet in person whenever practical. However, meetings in person, on Skype, on the phone or via texting, while helping to establish trust, can be time wasters unless we plan them with an end result in mind. As a manager, a trainer and a facilitator, I've learned ways to make meetings work better for me. Let me share some ideas that might help you and your company.

Ever experienced any of these meeting time wasters?
You have been asked to attend a meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m. sharp. You arrive on time and find others haven't arrived on time, including the person who called the meeting. You look around for an agenda, but none are to be found. You ask others about the purpose of the meeting, and you get some vague guesses – nothing based on fact. Those who have arrived and are waiting are now fidgeting, checking emails, sending texts, working on other stuff and telling jokes. Many are frustrated by the lateness of the leader and some actually leave the room to go to their workplace in order to do something productive

Suddenly, the person who called the meeting arrives, apologizes for the late arrival giving an excuse of a last minute interruption or some other lame excuse and starts the meeting. He doesn't have a formal agenda but begins to share verbally why he called the meeting. He has no handouts, charts or data.  Those in attendance have looks of puzzlement as they try to understand why they are there, but hesitate to ask the leader to clarify his statements. Some attendees continue testing or typing on their lap tops. After a period of time where comments, some unrelated to the issues mentioned, are shared, the leader states he needs to get to another commitment and states he will have information sent to everyone to review. The meeting is adjourned, people leave frustrated and confused.

Maybe you haven't participated in a meeting exactly as described, but I imagine some of the characteristics apply to meetings you have participated in your work. Whatever your experiences, there are ways to avoid these bad things through better planning, taking control of the process and by holding other accountable.

If you are the leader, or you can help train others, here are tips to make your meetings more productive:

  1. Understand what kind of meeting you want to have and prepare accordingly. When we break down the types of meetings, they basically fall into three categories – informational, advice and counsel, and problem-solving or decision-making. Click here to view Table 1 for the characteristics of the three meeting types
  2. Never have a meeting without an agenda. This applies to in-person meetings with one or more persons, quick meetings called on the spot, telephone conversations, text meetings, instant messaging, teleconferences, etc.
  3. Share information in advance so people know why you are meeting. This step is critical with advice and counsel, and problem-solving meetings. Participants need to review, in advance, information regarding the topic or issue they are asked to help address and/or solve. Often, informational meetings are conducted with handouts distributed at the meeting for reasons of confidentiality.
  4. Start and end on time. A huge frustration is to have a meeting start late and/or end late. All of us are busy. It is rude and selfish to impinge on other's valuable time by wasting this precious resource. Leaders who waste time lose trust and support.
  5. Make certain everyone is engaged, ask for their expectations at the start. We live in the age of portable electronics. Ask everyone to turn off phones and other devices. At the start of the advice and counsel or problem-solving meeting, ask every person to share his or her expectations. You will be glad you took this important step.
  6. Stick to the agenda, focus on one thing at a time, but be flexible. Agendas are guidelines; however, the group may want and need to move in another direction, or it might prefer a different order to the discussion. If a changed agenda is the consensus and it helps the ultimate goal of the meeting, be flexible and make the change(s).
  7. If people try to lead the meeting astray, nicely bring them back to the issues. Sometimes, when people are uncomfortable with the topic they will try to interject a comfortable topic, or they will use blocking techniques to get the group sidelined. It's up to the leader or other group members to remind those present what the topic of discussion is and gently move them back on task.
  8. Have someone keep a record of what was discussed and decided. Minutes are important. This can be done by appointing someone the write or type information on paper or a lap top. It can also be done with chart pads.
  9. Review your decisions and assignments before your adjourn. Another huge frustration for participants is to leave a meeting and not be certain who was to do what. Take a few minutes at the end to review what was decided and any assignments that were generated. It is worth the time and critical to group consensus.
  10. If a follow-up meeting is needed, do a draft agenda while all are present.

Final words of wisdom: don't meet unless you have to, but if you must, make your meetings more productive. Everyone will thank you.


Sid Scott is president of Scott Consultants in Dubuque, Iowa. You may contact him by e-mailing