Meetings are out of control. They've been that way since my first job out of college when someone gave me a book called How to Make Meetings Work. When I could control it, I stuck to the following rules to ensure the meetings were effective.
Have a good reason for the meeting
Sounds obvious, but often overlooked especially where recurring meetings are concerned. Recurring meetings are taken for granted and no one bothers to revisit if there is a need to continue the meetings or to simply cancel a meeting when there is no need for it.
Franklin Roosevelt started many programs to help America recover from the depression. Some of those programs still existed many years after the fact when they're no longer needed or fit the current economic environment. Some programs didn't get cut until the 1980s through today.
This good general management common sense. The more people you have, the longer it takes to come to a consensus on the action items, problems, and solutions.
For several years, I worked on a management team and it worked well as attendance was limited to specific managers. Then, two other groups joined our organization and we almost doubled our meeting participants. We fought to limit attendance for this specific meeting and lost. We didn't accomplish as much as the smaller team and it took longer to get results.
I've seen managers and team leads attend every meeting there is known to the department even if one of their direct reports already attends. Delegate and trust. Let the direct report attend the meeting and report back. Use the freed up time for something else. It's not a crime for a manager to attend less than 40 hours of meetings per week.
Imagine what would've happened to the Declaration of Independence had more than five people had sat on the committee? A committee of five drafted it with Thomas Jefferson doing most of the writing and presented to Continental Congress for approval.
Create an agenda and stick to it
Even if you have an impromptu meeting, quickly jot down the agenda so you can stay on track. It doesn't have to be fancy or formal. Just list what you're going to talk about and if possible, list how much time is available for each topic.
When a discussion gets lengthy, do what it takes to put an end to it otherwise the meeting runs over or the people who have the conference room reserved kick you out and your last agenda items get sacrificed. Typically lengthy discussions impact only some of the attendees. So agree to take the discussion offline (outside of the meeting). Make it an action item for them to meet and report the final decision.
Steer irrelevant discussions back on track
Enforce the previous rule and stick to the agenda. As a compromise, table the discussion for after all of the agenda items are covered. Make the last agenda item a free for all so attendees aren't tempted to break the rhythm of the meeting with something not on the agenda.
Let's get those meetings back in control and reclaim the extra time for other work.
Meryl K.Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl's notes , eNewsletter Journal, and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a tour guide at InformIT. She is geared to tackle your editing, writing, content, and process needs. The native Texan resides in Plano, Texas, a heartbeat north of Dallas, and doesn't wear a 10-gallon hat or cowboy boots.