9 Simple Steps To A Productive Meeting

I hate long, boring, and unproductive meetings as much as you do. Many business meetings seem to be populated with people who derail and pro
Senior Writer - Freelance, Killer Aces Media
May 09, 2011

I hate long, boring, and unproductive meetings as much as you do. Many business meetings seem to be populated with people who derail and prolong discussion and who then wonder why nothing ever gets accomplished. Dealing with these offenders requires playing a strong offense, rather than relying on defense. Good meetings don't just happen. They must be actively planned for and managed.

Before the Meeting:

 1. Set goals

Whether it is a standalone session, weekly or monthly review, or one in a series covering an ongoing project decide what you want to accomplish.

2. Prepare an agenda

Ask key players if they have agenda items so that you can plan the meeting content appropriately. If urgent items mean that your meeting may be hijacked or diverted, revise your meeting goals and plan another session.

3. Send out the agenda before the meeting

Provide background information that participants need in order to engage in productive discussion. Give specific instructions on actions that participants need to take before arriving at your session—ask them to brainstorm ideas on a certain topic, gather information for presentation, or send reports for review.

During the Meeting:

4. Start on time

Explain the ground rules for discussion—limiting times on certain topics if needed—and remind participants of your desire to keep the meeting short but productive.

5. Identify those topics that need further discussion in another meeting

Interject that you or someone you nominate will plan a smaller-group session to explore these issues.

6. Model appropriate responses

Your responses should encourage fresh ideas while avoiding off-topic rambling. Ask for input from specific people who should have the most pertinent insights.

After the Meeting:

7. Prepare and distribute follow-up notes

Include action items required of participants. Reiterate specific assignments and their due dates.

8. Encourage participants to ask questions

Respond promptly to any concerns and give guidance as needed, further elaborating on your expectations for participation.

9. Clarify points of discussion as needed

If you discover that anyone was confused about decisions made or action steps after the meeting, promptly correct any wrong thinking. This approach will help avoid rehashing problems at subsequent meetings.

Meeting Disruptors:

I have found that these nine steps can mitigate the impact of the few participants who tend to dominate and drag out meetings. Who are they?

The Storytellers

They share a story that conveys a concept in a way that traditional methods do not. But they tell and retell the same story, making the same analogy to every new situation that arises.

The Unprepared

Their job, they think, is simply to respond to points in the meeting without forethought. They mistakenly believe that gut reactions are the best and that thoughtful reflection has no place in an action-oriented world.

The Point-Makers

They make strong, well-reasoned cases for certain ideas. Their points could benefit productivity except that they are asserted and restated over and over, over and over.

The Complainers

These employees bring up a past mistake or problem, which may have been relevant at one time but is not pertinent to the discussion at hand. The wrong occurred years ago and root causes that led to the problem have been addressed.

The Detailers

They provide minute details of their work areas at every single meeting. They anticipate and then answer questions that will never be asked.

The Question-Askers

They combine the worst of the unprepared and the detailers as well as the point-makers and complainers. These people seem to be a blank slate in terms of organizational experience and domain knowledge.

This Meeting's Takeaway

Engage people outside of the meeting, before and after, to deal with tangential ideas and topics that may slow progress. Be clear, specific, and firm about what you want to accomplish in each meeting. Model brevity (that is, stop yourself from relating another story or giving your two cents after others have contributed theirs). Finally, let participants know that you will keep meetings short if everyone stays focused.

Senior Writer - Freelance, Killer Aces Media