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  • 26 August 2014
  • Dr Billy M.

Embracing lean meetings by remaining concise and relevant

Meetings can be the bane of your organization's bottom line — especially if they tend to be frequent, lengthy, and unproductive. The purpose of a meeting is not just to meet, per se, but also to improve. Improvement means more than just problem solving; true improvement stems from sharing best practices and ideas.

Business best practices are the long-term result of trial-and-error. However, there are certain elements that characterize fruitful meetings in virtually all sectors: they are productive, informative, and motivating.

Someone needs to lead the meeting and keep it positive and motivating.

Before you begin
If not well managed, a meeting can be a productivity black hole, keeping employees away from their regular work. Someone needs to lead the meeting and keep it positive and motivating. As a small business owner, you will likely serve as the leader or facilitator. You need to maximize your group's time and productivity. Here are some of the critical elements required to keep the time focused:

  • Start on time. Do not wait for others to arrive, and start promptly to avoid wasting attendees' time. This establishes a culture of professionalism within your organization: Once people are aware that you start your meetings on time, they will arrive on time. If it helps, schedule 15 minutes of time to socialize prior to the start of the meeting.
  • Ensure quorum. Whether attending remotely via Web conferencing or in person, ensure a functional quorum of stakeholders is present in order that business can be suitably transacted. Equally important is controlling the meeting size — too few people in the room may result in lack of diversity of opinions; too many and the attendees may be inattentive or fail to take responsibility for what is happening. Invite only those who are critical to the meeting, not those who are ancillarily involved. A memo afterwards will serve to inform those not in attendance.
  • Have an agenda. Keep the meeting short, positive, and focused by creating an agenda outlining items to be covered. Make it available to participants prior to the meeting to help them prepare adequately.

The important thing is to strike a balance between the agenda and managing personalities as well as work styles among participants on the other. Proper planning and structure can ensure that the time spent works for everyone.

During the meeting

The operative word when considering how to best run meetings is efficiency. Consider this: for each unproductive, hour-long meeting each week attended by 7 people who each make an average of $30 an hour, 7 man-hours and $210 are wasted. These figures may vary depending on who is in attendance, leading to thousands of lost dollars annually. In addition, employees will start to resent the time spent on lengthy meetings that drag on, affecting productivity and your bottom line.

Keep deliberations focused

As relay coaches advise, focus on the baton — not the runners. The same applies here: Keep control of the time by focusing on agenda items. Ensure attendees remain on point. Remember that even though items are clearly listed and emphasized, it is easy for intelligent, committed people to stray off-topic. You can get a runaway meeting back on track by reminding everyone to stay on-point. Save anything off-topic for another time or a follow-up email.

Encourage participation

Highly effective meetings tend to be participatory. Get everyone involved, but make participants' roles clear — whether they are contributing ideas, sharing information (status reports, for example), or making decisions.

  • Set the right tone. Make attendees feel comfortable enough to contribute. Facilitate a learning mindset by being open to others' perspectives rather than emphasizing your own viewpoints. Ideally, you want those in attendance to regard the meeting as a puzzle, their role being to figure out how to fit together the pieces that they individually hold.
  • Control tangents. The meeting can degenerate or veer off course when contributors raise extraneous points. Control diversions by refocusing them on the stated agenda. If possible, promptly address the underlying issue head on and refocus the meeting.

Make careful and considered transitions from one agenda item to another, asking if everyone is done with the current topic. However, with open participation comes the danger of potential time-wasters. Manage ramblers, especially those that tend to give speeches instead of asking questions, by promising to address their issues later. This will get their buy-in so that they refrain from returning to their speech at the next opportunity.

Decisions and action plan

Your role is to help the group come to decisions. Determine and clearly explain whether the final decision will be made by taking a vote, consensus, or prioritization of options. At the end of the meeting, members should be able to say they confidently support any decisions arrived at since they were arrived at openly and fairly.

Agree on an action plan that specifically outlines what must be done as well as by whom and the time frame for execution so that there is shared responsibility to move toward the goal. Draft an actionable agenda for a follow-up meeting with input from the floor. People are more likely to participate positively if they helped to establish the agenda. For accountability purposes, send out an email with minutes or a summary of next steps so that everyone is on the same page.

Sitting in a meeting for over an hour can sometimes be overkill; conversely, a five-minute meeting may be a waste of valuable time when a simple email could suffice. It is a balancing act to ensure optimized use of valuable company time and resources.

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