Read This Before Your Next Meeting

How can make your meetings more productive? Author Al Pittampalli sheds light on the issue.
Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group
August 12, 2011

Meetings get a bad rap. The complaints typically are that they are too long and boring. Some attendees rant that unprepared PowerPoint presenters just put them to sleep. But, meetings matter for every small company owner since most relationship building and decision making still gets conducted face to face.

How can you have business meetings, but ensure they are always productive?

In his new book, Read This Before Our Next Meeting (part of Seth Godin’s Domino Project), Al Pittampalli shows how to fundamentally change the way people meet to get their most important work done. He complains that traditional meetings create a culture of compromise and kill company urgency. Pittampalli suggests six ways to make meetings more productive:

1. Meet only to support a decision that has already been made 

The successful meeting must have “a bias for action.” According to Pittampalli, a meeting should only focus on two activities: Resolve conflict and to lead coordination of action.

2. Move fast—end on time

Set a time limit for each meeting. Pittampalli reminds us that “Every meeting costs a fortune. Spend it wisely.” The leader of the meeting needs to announce how long the meeting will be. Start and end on time by only discussing the relevant issues and actions that need to be taken right now.

3. Limit attendees to the meeting

Too many people get invited to meetings where their participation is not essential. The more people attending a meeting, the more people that need to agree to take an action. This slows down the meeting process. Pittampalli believes every attendee needs to ask themselves two questions before attending: Do I add critical value sitting in the meeting? Can I  give my opinion in advance of the meeting?

4. Reject attendees that are unprepared

Create an agenda and send material in advance for  everyone to be prepared. This way, the discussion can begin at the start of the meeting and no one needs to be "brought up to speed." Pittampalli says that agendas need to state the problem, the alternatives and  what decisions will be made at the meeting. Marshall Makstein, the  co-founder of eSlide, a custom design and visual consulting firm, says that the most important time is this pre-meeting planning. "We have seen hours, weeks, months go into critical meetings that may last 1 hour, and result in a million or even billion dollar deal."

5. Create committed action plans

Pittampalli insists that every meeting should have a plan of action at its conclusion including: What action is being committed to? and Who is responsible for each action and when will it be completed?

6. Work with brainstorms

Pittampalli has detailed guidelines around how brainstorming exists inside effective meetings. These include only inviting people that are passionate about the idea and who can praise other people's ideas liberally. Don't invite the Vice President of No to your meeting. Most importantly, use a strong outside facilitator that can lead a timely brianstorming session.

Here are more great tips by OPEN Forum's Katie Morell and Liz Strauss on how to have successful meetings.

Listen to my entire interview with Al Pittampalli! 

What changes have you made inside your company to have more productive meetings?