Meetings get a bad rap for a reason: They're often inefficient; veer unproductively off-track; are attended by people who don't want to be there; and frequently end without anyone being clear on what was decided.
You can give your meetings a makeover with these five tips and eliminate some of the dread that usually accompanies them:
1. Insist on an agenda. Far too many meetings commence without everyone knowing what they're there to accomplish. By insisting on an agenda ahead of time, you ensure that people think about what they want to achieve in the meeting, minimizing the sort of rambling and unfocused meetings that take up time but accomplish little. And sometimes the act of creating an agenda reveals that you don't need the meeting at all, or that something else has to happen first before a meeting will be productive.
2. Ensure that someone is in charge, and that they know what that means. Whoever is in charge needs to be responsible for redirecting conversation as needed, teasing out action items, cutting off ramblers, keeping the meeting moving, and wrapping it up.
3. Don't be shy about enforcing the agenda. Don't be afraid to say, "We're talking about a new issue, so let's either save that for another time or swap out one of the items on our agenda."
4. Be strict about starting and ending on time. If the start time isn't taken seriously, people will start showing up later and later, wasting more and more of the punctual participants' time. Warn people beforehand that the meeting will start precisely on time, and stick to that. Apply the same rigor to the ending time: Set a time limit, announce it at the start, and warn people when you're five or ten minutes away from wrapping up.
5. Have someone in charge of taking notes. Ensure someone is taking notes, and that those notes are shared with all attendees afterward. The notes should include any action items and timeframes that were agreed to, and the meeting should end with a summary of these next steps.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and chief of staff of a successful lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development.