checkTypical managers spend nearly 40% of their work hours in business meetings, not to mention the time spent preparing (and recuperating).

A survey of business leaders showed:

• 33% of time spent in meetings is unproductive
• 75% of the respondents said it is “almost essential” to have an agenda, yet they use them only 50% of the time
• Only 64% of meetings achieve their intended outcome

A disciplined approach to making the most of meeting time will help to maximize team effectiveness.

Set an objective
Answer these three questions. What, ultimately, do I want to achieve by this meeting? What, specifically, has to be accomplished by the end of this meeting? When the meeting is over, how will I know whether the meeting was a success? Use your answers to define your meeting’s objective. Then make participants aware of the objective up front.

Make sure the key people attend
Key people are the ones with the knowledge and experience needed to accomplish the meeting’s objective.

Arrange for the proper facility: Little things (how the room is arranged, the room temperature, or whether there’s coffee or not) can make a tremendous difference in the success of a meeting.

Write an agenda
There are numerous ways to accomplish this task. Have a planning committee set the agenda, or send out a pre-meeting survey asking people to list one to three topics they want to discuss. When writing an agenda, put the most important items at the beginning.

The agenda should be distributed far enough in advance so participants can adequately prepare for the meeting. The agenda should state the date, location, start and finish time, topics to be covered, the expected outcome (information only, discussion, or decision), and time allotted to each topic.

Studies show that productivity decreases sharply after about an hour and a half of meeting. If you must have a long meeting, provide adequate breaks.

Keep the meeting on track
Consider using a facilitator or getting a team member to serve as timekeeper. If a facilitator is not used, the meeting leader is responsible for keeping the meeting on course and adjourning on time. You could also assign meeting roles to facilitate progress such as chairperson, note taker, timekeeper or observer.

You might also allow the participants to suggest agreements for the meeting before the meeting begins, like those listed below.

• One person speaks at a time
• No side conversations
• Everyone participates
• Listen as an ally
• Set time frames and stick to them
• Use a consensus decision-making model

If, as the leader, you notice that only a few are contributing, you can direct a question to others, such as “What do you think about . . .?” Should discussion stray from the agenda, you should ask, “Is this subject relevant?” and have the group determine if it should be added to the agenda or saved for a future meeting.

Summarize the meeting
In closing, the leader should summarize the group’s accomplishments, review action items (including who, what, and when) and, thank everyone for their participation. The summary of the meeting should be appropriately documented and distributed to team members and key stakeholders.

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