6 ways to make meetings more productive

Staff meetings can prove hit or miss.

If everyone contributes to a meaningful discussion of a relevant topic, then the gathering makes sense. But if the leader rattles on for 30 minutes, the rest of the group can resent the time wastage and yearn to return to work.

To make a meeting more productive:

1. Limit the topics. If you overload the agenda with too many items, participants can rush through each subject without sufficient focus. It’s better to jettison nonessential topics so that the group can concentrate on the most critical matters.

Rule of thumb: Schedule two high-priority topics per hour. For a three-hour meeting, stick to just six major items.

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2. Choose simple labels. Use the fewest words possible to label each agenda item. Examples: discuss progress, decide best strategy, give input.

3. Avoid distractions. Stick to what matters most. If someone raises a minor problem, don’t let the group get distracted by it.

4. Set ground rules. To prevent people from using their electronic devices during meetings, state up front, “You can leave to check your smartphones or handle other matters. Use your judgment. But please pay full attention when you’re in here.”

5. Track what counts. Monitor the way the group interacts in meetings. Collecting data will help you take corrective action as needed.

Examples: Track the number of interruptions, who interrupts whom, how much time an interruption diverts from agenda items and who refocuses the group on the agenda.

6. Confirm each commitment. End by clarifying who will do what by when. Make sure each individual accepts and understands the assignment.

— Adapted from Meetings Matter, Paul Axtell, Jackson Creek Press.