Management writer Lin Bothwell once said that it takes a darned good meeting to beat no meeting at all. Those of us who’ve sat through mind-numbing meetings would agree. When people stagger to the door and announce that “it’s time to get back to work,” they are revealing how they regard the time just spent.
Here are a few approaches that can make meetings more productive:
1. Cancel routine staff meetings. If there is no need to meet other than the calendar, why meet?
2. Have “standing staff meetings” in which no one sits, there is no chitchat, and the boss and the participants quickly brief one another on what’s pressing in their areas. If someone requires more time for an issue, then a separate, one-on-one meeting can be scheduled.
3. Have a written agenda for longer meetings. This is a common recommendation. Just make sure you identify "Information Items" and "Action Items" so there is a clear distinction.
4. Reduce the number of attendees—12 is the absolute limit. Go beyond that and things get way too complicated. Amazon reportedly has a two-pizza rule, as in, two pizzas should be sufficient to feed all of the participants.
5. If formal motions are required for the group to take action on various items, have those motions written out in advance and review your list to make sure that discussion has not distracted the group from taking action.
6. Call on the senior people last. Let the junior ones get a chance to talk without being inhibited or influenced.
7. Recognize that effective trumps efficient. There are times when expanding or venting on a topic is needed and cutting off discussion would be deeply resented. How do you draw the line between enough and way too much? There is no clear measure. You’ll have to know the participants and understand their body language in order to tell whether they are sitting or seething.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.