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“My senior admin recently asked us what we should discuss during our monthly admin meetings,” a reader wrote. With time at a premium, this is a good point, as there’s an ever-increasing need for groups to get more real work done during regular meetings.

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Suggestions for making your next admin meeting more productive:

Keep ho-hum updates to a minimum. The best meetings let a group do one of three things: brainstorm, solve a problem or make a decision. Time-strapped employees need a more tangible goal than simply to “discuss” an issue or listen to progress reports.

If you simply want to convey information, try sending an e-mail, voice mail or memo to all the people who would have attended the meeting.

When to break the rule: If the information will draw an emotional response and time is tight, a face-to-face meeting may be best, or if you need the give-and-take that a meeting allows.

Put a focus on learning. “We talk about where we feel we can help each other,” says one admin, Kathy. “Since our training budget is completely gone for this year, we thought we’d share what we know.”

Cover topics that boost individual skills, e.g., the office’s Excel guru can share tips and tricks on the program. Or put the focus on learning the business. “If you know what your company initiatives are,” says another reader, Fran, “you’re in a better position to be helpful to management and customers.”

Bring in the right people, even if it means pulling in nonteam members.

“We invite the head of corporate real estate every month, and she discusses changes on our campus—furniture, food services, printing, etc.,” says an admin reader, Angela. “Our IT executive support person attends to give updates on technology issues, like videoconferencing, and we have a chance to give feedback,” she says.

Tip: To determine who should be at your meeting, ask yourself: Whose input do we need? Who’s needed to make a decision? Whose buy-in do we need to move forward?

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Use the time to solve problems. Use admin team meetings to bring people out of their silos to work more collaboratively—and remove the stigma surrounding “failure” by telling the group it’s OK to share their challenges.

Reader Tori says, “We talk about problems we each face on the job. Someone may have an idea on how to resolve it, or find out that others are experiencing the same thing.”

Engage participants. Example: You might start the meeting on a positive note by asking: “What’s going well or right since the last time we met?”

Another admin, Cynthia, says that getting admins engaged at weekly meetings was a challenge for her team. The remedy: Going around the table so each participant can “share a new corporate word we’ve learned.”

Bottom line: Productive meetings don’t happen magically. Thoughtful agenda planning is key to holding meetings that do any of the above. Case in point: Angela says that out of the 30 admins at her site, five volunteers plan the monthly agenda. “We rotate the members of this group annually,” she says, “and it’s worked out great.”

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