Six Tips For More Effective Meetings

The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.

Milton Berle defined a team meeting as a group of people who “keep minutes and waste hours.” If you agree, you’re in good company. Arthur V. Ciervo, director of public information for Pennsylvania State University, estimated that the average manager spends 14 to 20 hours a week in meetings — and that half of those hours are wasted.

No wonder people feel like, “They’ve got to stop meeting like this.” They don’t see a decent return on their investment of time, talent, and energy.

That’s why I put together my program on “Teams That Win: Tips and Tactics for Scoring Major Victories.”

There’s no secret formula guaranteed to make every team meeting a smashing success. But you can create better meetings by asking the following questions and making sure your answers are “yes.”

=> 1. Do you have a clearly defined purpose for your meeting?

Do you know exactly what you want to accomplish? If not, don’t meet. A startling number of meetings either have no objectives or such vague goals that nobody is sure what they are.

=> 2. Does your purpose merit a team meeting?

Don’t hold meetings because of tradition or for the sake of getting people together. Meetings are extremely expensive. Have someone calculate the relative salary of each team member and then figure out how much it costs to hold a meeting. You may decide there are better ways to solve a hundred-dollar problem than call a thousand-dollar meeting.

=> 3. Do you have a plan?

Never call a meeting without a specific plan on paper. Team leaders who try to “wing it” get shot down by their own disorganization.

Ideally your agenda should reflect your team members’ input and should be distributed well in advance of the meeting. That’s the best way to ensure that your people come prepared and fully enter into the discussion and decision-making.

=> 4. Do you provide appropriate leadership?

General Eisenhower used to demonstrate leadership with a simple piece of string. He’d put it on a table and say: “Pull it and it’ll follow wherever you wish. Push it and it will go nowhere at all.” The same is true when leading a team.

So lead, but don’t dominate. Being bossy breeds resentment; being wishy-washy breeds disrespect.

Get everyone to participate by avoiding promotional leadership. In other words, don’t leak your ideas before your team members have had a chance to state theirs. If you speak too much and too early on as the team leader, you will stifle the discussion.

=> 5. Do you keep the meeting moving?

The team leader is responsible for maintaining the momentum. Start on time and limit the time spent on each agenda item. Don’t allow people to digress, monopolize the conversation, or indulge in side conversations. That only wastes time and creates boredom.

If at all possible, you want to end on time. So focus the discussion. Facilitate the interaction. And tolerate interruptions for emergencies only. Make no exceptions.

=> 6. Do you ensure follow-through?

Failure to follow up on team decisions may be the biggest time waster of all. The team leader must make sure that the members carry out their commitments.

Try this. Once a decision is made at a meeting, get a clear assignment of responsibility. Ask “who will do what by when?” And write it down. Distribute concise minutes of the meeting within 24 hours and require periodic progress reports to ensure that the decisions have been or are being implemented.

=> 7. Do you process your meetings?

Most teams fail to conduct regular, systematic critiques of themselves, their strengths, weaknesses, and areas needing improvement. Most teams take teamwork for granted.

Every team needs a critique built into its activities. Time must be set aside and a format developed so the team learns from and improves upon every meeting. Encourage team members to offer feedback on how to improve future meetings and then implement some of their suggestions.

As an investment of time, talent, and creative energy, team meetings are too important to be left to chance. Try out the questions I’ve suggested, or invite me to do some team building work with your people, and perhaps you’ll find your people saying, “We’ve got to keep meeting like this.”

Action:  The next time your team meets, ask people to list the three biggest strengths of your team meetings. And ask them to list the three most damaging things that take place at meetings. Agree on one damaging item you will tackle each week or each month as your team continues to meet.