Avoid the Drain of Bad Meetings

Meetings can be the bane of the business day with the too-common annoyances of disorganized agendas, interruptions from cell phones, and lack of food during long meetings. Bad meetings are a drain on a company's time, resources and employee morale.

To prevent your next gathering from wasting everyone's time, consider the following five DOs and DON'T's for more productive meetings.

1. DO Have a Good Reason to Meet

The first step to a good meeting is having a purpose. Can a conversation or a couple of e-mails accomplish what needs to get done just as easily? Weighty or controversial conversations, or those where a large group of people need to come to agreement, are better handled face-to-face. Smaller groups that are simply giving project progress reports can probably use other means just as effectively.

Similarly, be mindful of when standing meetings have run their course. For instance, a weekly team meeting leading up to a product launch is useful to keep the project on track during critical development stages. But when the workload gets less intense, it's time to consider meeting less frequently or not at all.

2. DON'T Ignore Participants' Comfort

Make sure your meeting room is big enough for all participants, there are enough chairs, and the room itself isn't extremely hot or cold (though it's probably impossible to get a group to agree that any one temperature is "just right").

Offer food if your meeting occurs during the lunch hour, or drinks and perhaps a light snack if you're going to meet for more than an hour at another time during the day. And don't forget to leave time in your agenda for a break — lack of bathroom breaks is a common complaint from employees who attend meetings.

3. DO Manage the Meeting

Good meetings have a defined agenda that focuses on the outcomes the group needs to work toward. Without one, you'll spend most of your time deciding what to talk about. Issue the agenda before the meeting along with any materials you need participants to review. Set the expectation up front that employees will arrive ready to discuss the information.

Be respectful of participants' time by starting when you say you'll start. Similarly, end when you say you'll end. If you haven't accomplished everything on the agenda, schedule a follow-up meeting unless everyone in attendance agrees to run late.

4. DON'T Forget to Manage the Participants, Too

Good meeting leaders manage the dynamics of the meeting. For instance, they draw out those who remain quiet by asking for their opinions, and they don't allow only a few participants to dominate the conversation.

If necessary, the meeting leader should gently awaken those who may have dozed off. Believe it or not, meeting participants falling asleep can happen.

5. DO Use Technology Appropriately

To avoid unnecessary interruptions, don't just encourage participants to silence wireless devices — enforce a policy that they must do so. Furthermore, ask employees to put the devices away to keep them focused on the task at hand and help them avoid the temptation to multitask.

On the other hand, there are times where it's beneficial for participants to use technological devices. Laptops can make it easy to take notes or gather necessary information from the Internet or other sources to keep decision-making on track.

Be careful with the devices that you use. For example, if you're using a speakerphone in a conference call, place the note taker away from the phone. Otherwise, your phone participants will only hear "click, click, click." Speaking of conference calls, ask participants to put their phones on mute unless they are speaking.

Let's Set Up a Meeting

With careful preparation, a good environment and sound management, meetings can be a productive part of the day — and even be something that participants look forward to. Make sure that you and other meeting leaders at your company are aware of what to do to make a meeting run right.

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