How to Keep Meetings on Track

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In an earlier blog, we talked about keeping your teams connected and discussed the need to have meetings, formal or otherwise to be able to keep the team connected. For most of my professional career I have been lucky enough to always work with relatively small businesses. It’s just the type of person I am. I have some friends that have always worked for large corporations like Intel, Motorola etc., and some of the stories I have heard from them were amazing to me. My favorite is the meeting they would have to discuss how to have fewer meetings. Really??? I got a great idea and if they want to hire me as a consultant at a crazy high rate, I’ll come help them out (Hint: Start by not having the meeting to discuss how to have fewer meetings…) So how do we keep meetings on track?

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in all different types of these meetings and have seen the good and bad. I have sat around a lunch table with a handful of other employees talking about the goings on of the week both personal and professional. I have sat in a small meeting of key people covering excellent topics quickly and efficiently to get us all on the same page. I have also sat in 2 to 3 hour-long meetings with people calling in from outside locations with everyone giving a scripted overview of worthless information.

Here are a few tips for keeping your meetings on track:

  • Make sure there is a clear purpose to your meeting. General meeting tend to lack the direction and guidance needed to create a successful meeting. Make sure any meeting you plan has an agenda and if possible, let the others know of the meeting agenda ahead of time. This will allow them to prepare for any information they need to bring with them and it will make follow-up meetings unnecessary as you can complete the discussion at the first meeting.
  • Do not hold a meeting just for the sake of holding a meeting at a regularly scheduled time. I know in the earlier blog that I said you needed to have regularly scheduled meetings, and that is still true. What you don’t want to do is continuing having those meetings if they are unproductive. Don’t be afraid to cancel the meeting, regroup with a new format and potentially have a new group of people or a new way of holding the meeting. Don’t just continue covering the same worthless information from the same people who really have no need to be there and possibly no interest in being there.
  • If you can exchange the information another way, DO IT! Sometimes we schedule a meeting because that is how it always seems to be done. But make sure before you schedule that meeting, you really have to take up everyone’s time. Some items can be done at a different time and passed on to each other by email. This way people can get you the information you need in their time schedule. Everyone has different items on their plate and by forcing them to block off a meeting time or walking into the office and interrupting you not only put that person off, you might also not get the best information possible. They might just agree with you or figure out what to say to get the meeting / impromptu interruption over as quickly as possible.
  • Make sure the people you invite to your meetings really need to be in that meeting. There is no reason to have people in a meeting that really are not part of that discussion. For example don’t have an accounting person in a sale meeting or vice versus. The person, who doesn’t really need to be there, will try to interject where because they want to be part of the discussion, but that might derail your discussion path. If there are topics on your agenda that you need their input on then, just invite them to give info ahead of time or invite them to attend just that part of the meeting and then they can leave. You can also include them on the meeting notes after the meeting and they can offer addition feedback they feel will better help down the road.
  • Use technology that is available to you. As you go into a meeting it is a good idea to have an agenda as we discussed and potentially a presentation if needed. For example I have found that using Microsoft OneNote for my meetings is invaluable. It allows me to manage my agenda and then keep notes of the discussion items right at my fingertips. Then I can make action items out of some notes and easily send the post-meeting notes to the attendees. Also if I have some information to present I can easily make a Power Point presentation that makes the data easier for the people attending my meeting to understand. Use this technology to keep everyone on track and your meeting with be more efficient and more useful.
  • Follow-up on the “action Items” that are discussed in your meeting. This is the real key to having a meeting. If you don’t do anything with the information you discussed, then the meeting was pointless and probably should have been avoided. Make sure you note each action item and that after the meeting you “assign” that action items to the people responsible. Even if those people were taking notes, if you were the meeting organizer it is your responsibility to remind them and make sure it is clear that the action item is their responsibility. This is another great function of Microsoft OneNote. I can easily mark notes as action items that then show up in my Outlook Tasks. Also even when you have an informal meeting, there will be action items. Those are just as important. It is work taking 5 to 10 minutes immediately after that meeting to jot down the items that were discussed and assign and follow-up on any action items.

With these tips, I believe that your meeting will stay on track, and will make the most out of the time you spend in them. What other tools do you use to maximize your meetings and keep them on track?

March 30, 2015

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