Characteristics of successful meetings

Many people think meetings are a waste of time -- and sometimes they are right. But you can help increase the productivity of meetings that you schedule and attend.

Someone once said “the world is run by those that show up to meetings,” but do you think you attend too many meetings? Remember, meetings are expensive activities considering the cost of committing staff time and also how much is actually accomplished during that time.

What kind of meeting are you planning? Staff meetings, planning meetings, problem-solving meetings—all should follow a few basic rules for success.

Who should attend the meeting depends on what you want to accomplish. It’s surprising how many meetings occur without the right people. Ask key people who else should attend. Contact each person about the overall purpose of the meeting and why their attendance is important. Then, follow up with a written notice, including the purpose of the meeting, when and where it will be held, and whom to contact if there are questions. Also include the proposed agenda.

Develop a final agenda together with key participants. Think of the overall outcome for the meeting and organize the agenda so that key discussion really happens. Next to each major topic, include the type of action needed (decision, vote, action or task assigned to someone) and time estimates for each topic. Refer to the agenda throughout the meeting.

Always start on time. This respects those who arrive on time and reminds late-comers that timing is important. Review the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, giving participants a chance to understand and discuss all proposed major topics and add items if necessary. Make sure that minutes are taken and will be shared with each participant shortly after the meeting.

Four powerful ground rules to help ensure successful meetings are:

  1. Be prepared for discussion
  2. Everyone participates
  3. Stick to the agenda
  4. Reach closure or consensus whenever possible

One of the most difficult challenges is time management – especially if time is running out before discussion is finished. If the planned discussion time is nearly over, ask the group for their input concerning a resolution. Ask if discussion should continue or if the group should move on to the next topic.

It’s amazing how often people complain about a meeting being a complete waste of time—but say so only after the meeting. Get feedback during the meeting to improve the process right away. If you evaluate a meeting only at the end, it may be too late to make real adjustments needed to accomplish the goals of the meeting.

Be sure to record important actions, assignments and due dates during the meeting and to distribute the information to all participants shortly after the meeting.

Always end meetings on time and on a positive note. Review actions and assignments, the date and time for the next meeting, and ask members if they can attend. Mention that meeting minutes and/or assignments will be sent to members within a week to help keep momentum going. Make it a habit to follow these suggestions for more effective meetings, and to make sure that important work really gets done.

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