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Effective meetings add real value to companies. They produce ideas, give direction, strengthen bonds and renew vigor. At the same time, businesses cannot devote endless resources. The key is making sure essential people are invited – at the appropriate time and in the appropriate space. Direct interactions towards a common purpose and end with a clear action plan.
All effective meetings have a clear purpose. This translates into an agenda. If you try to cover too many items at one time then your meeting is overreaching. If too few topics are on the table then emails, person-to-person discussions or other forms of communication are more practical. Your agenda should outline specific items to be discussed in the proper order. Writing things down in advance helps clarify the meeting’s focus. It also ensures that participants have “buy-in,” arrive with valuable ideas and stay on track as the discussion unfolds.
Logistics are essential to an effective meeting. One aspect is inviting the right group of people who perform the tasks to be discussed, make decisions about that work or otherwise command influence. Choose a time that is not only free for all attendees, but does not compete with other work priorities or energy levels. Your meeting length is also important. In most cases, two hours is a healthy maximum. It also helps to estimate times for each agenda item – and respect limits. Your location should make people feel comfortable and be practical. In some cases, this will mean a private location, conference call or meeting offsite.
Effective meetings require effective communication. It helps to establish ground rules such as “Part of our objective is to develop a budget for next fiscal year that increases our net income by 15 percent. If you are proposing new expense categories for your department be prepared to make reductions in other areas – or make a sound argument about how the additional expenses will increase revenue.” Ways to create synergy include taking a “problem poll” where participants can call out areas of concern or brainstorming to collectively generate ideas. A moderator is your secret weapon to encourage group dialogue and build on each person’s interests, while keeping the overall meeting on track.
By the end of your meeting there should be clear and actionable results. One way to encourage this is to list “next steps” as the final topic on your agenda. Allocate 10 to 15 minutes to tie up all loose ends. Summarize the issues participants resolved. State all items that were not resolved – and designate who is responsible for addressing them, by when. Doing so publicly, and not offline, reinforces accountability. In addition, plan to distribute minutes or a general summary of the discussion and its outcomes. In some cases, next steps include scheduling another meeting. Check in with colleagues who are responsible for follow-up tasks before the next meeting takes place to ensure continued progress.
Kenya Lucas has been writing professionally since 1998. Her work has appeared in “Anthropology & Medicine,” “New Directions for Evaluation,” “Psychology of Women Quarterly” and “Journal of the Grant Professionals Association.” She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.
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