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Streamlining Makes Meetings Meaningful

December 6 2006 - A few simple guidelines can make office meetings productive instead of a source of boredom or dread, according to Taggart Smith, professor of organizational leadership and supervision in the College of Technology, Purdue University. One of the key factors to running a good meeting is to make sure it's needed in the first place.

Taggart Smith commented:

"I don't think you ever need a meeting just to have a meeting. Too many times meetings are held with no clear purpose, employees become bored and this affects morale. Before holding any meeting, the meeting leader should first determine if it's really necessary."

Two questions to ask before scheduling any meeting are 'Can this be accomplished with a phone call or an e-mail?' and 'What is the purpose of the meeting?'

She continued:

"Every meeting should have a clear objective that is communicated on an agenda distributed in advance. This helps focus the meeting so participants stay engaged and on track."

The agenda should include all topics for discussion, the time allotted to each item and who will be responsible for its implementation. A common mistake is to insist that all staff attend every meeting.

"There is often no point to getting the whole office together to meet. If there's a reason that all the people should be at the meeting, then that's fine, but if the topic to be discussed affects only a few people, why not just have a mini-meeting with those people?" she said.

Another problem is dealing with complainers who often bring up topics not on the agenda.

Taggart Smith suggests:

"The best way to deal with them is to confront them and say, 'that's a complaint, but what's your solution?' or, 'that's an important point, but it's a side issue that we can discuss at the next meeting'. And anyone can confront them, not just the meeting leader. If you can control the meeting process, you can control its outcome to ensure that the goals are achieved in the least amount of time so there are fewer lost work hours. It's really up to every meeting attendee to make the meeting a success."

Taggart Smith offers simple guidelines to make meetings quicker and more efficient:

  • Distribute the agenda, along with any materials to be discussed, at least three days in advance.
  • Meetings should generally last no more than an hour; participants' attention will begin to fade.
  • Be creative about breaking up longer meetings; use brainstorming groups or offer refreshments.
  • Include no more than five specific items.
  • Discuss the most important item first.

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