Leading effective meetings: 11-point checklist

“A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours are wasted.”

This old saying may be true in many cases, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A bit of preparation, discipline and solid follow-up can help you conduct more productive and focused meetings.

Here are 11 guidelines for supervisors and department managers as prescribed by meeting consultants:

1. Determine which meetings are necessary. Analyze your meeting schedule and decide which ones make good use of employee time and resources.

2. Consider alternatives to some meetings.
Use e-mail to distribute information that doesn’t need employee input or lacks emotional impact.

3. Define the purpose of meeting.
Think carefully about the reasons for meeting and what you want to accomplish. Put it in writing at the top of the agenda. Make sure the objective is concrete. If it’s too vague, employees won’t feel motivated to attend, or they’ll come with differing expectations.

4. Decide who will attend.
Invite staff whose attendance is crucial. Ask them to bring data and other information needed to address key topics.

5. Distribute a specific agenda. In addition to topics to be discussed, include details such as roles (leader, timekeeper, etc.), ground rules, what attendees should bring, discussion points attendees can prepare. Distribute the agenda several days before the meeting.

6. Solicit questions in advance. Ask employees to write their queries and bring them to the meeting. It forces employees to craft clear questions that focus on topics in the agenda.

7. Stick to the agenda.
If there are several topics, remind employees before the meeting starts that each will be discussed separately.

8. Begin on time. End on time. Otherwise, you communicate lack of control and disorganization. Periodically summarize what’s been accomplished and what’s left to discuss. Also, designate someone to keep time and take notes.

9. Don’t allow discussions to wander. Gently but firmly bring the focus back to the subject at hand. If an important but unrelated issue arises, schedule a separate meeting.

10. Don’t tolerate habitual naysayers.
To defuse them, ask these contrarians for solutions each time they criticize. They will soon contribute constructively to the meeting or become weary or self-conscious about repeatedly offering blatant negativity.

11. After, draft a brief summary memo
that confirms the decisions made and follow-up actions to be taken (by whom and by when).

Employees’ top 5 gripes about meetings

  1. Too many meetings
  2. Starting or ending late
  3. No agenda/goals
  4. People going off on tangents
  5. Worrying what’s not getting done at their desks