Get Meeting off To a Great Start

Marcia Zidle

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When asked what part of their job they find a major time waster, many will answer loud and clear. . . MEETINGS. In a recent survey of business leaders, ninety percent of the respondents attributed the failure of meetings to a lack of advanced planning and organization. And, over three-fourths, indicated that they received no formal training on how to conduct a meeting. The following four strategies can help improve the quality of your meetings.

Plan in advance.
First use these fundamental questions to lay the foundation for a productive meeting. These questions address the who, the what, and most important, the why issues. What is the goal of the meeting? Is it primarily for the dissemination and exchange of information or is it for such activities as priority setting, brainstorming, decision-making or problem-solving? What specific issues need to be addressed? Who really needs to attend? And who needs just to be informed?

Set a clear and goal-oriented agenda.
A well thought-out, written agenda provides the structure for conducting a meeting that is worth attending - one that justifies the investment of time and energy. The well-drafted agenda should include, at a minimum, the following information: Date, time (beginning and ending), place, purpose, who will be attending, and specific agenda items.

As an agenda item “budget report” is not specific enough. Is the objective to just present the annual budget (an announcement) or to obtain input from the participants (a discussion) or to vote (make a decision)? In addition to a list of topics, an effective agenda should identify the individuals responsible for each item and a realistic time estimate.

Realistic means thinking through ahead of time who’s attending, how the conversation might flow, what problems might occur, etc. Do not try to accomplish more than is possible in the time available. Err on the side of finishing early rather than running over. Lack of a well-prepared agenda (or failure to use one well, if it exists) contributes to the common complaint that meetings are a waste of time.

Select a facilitator.
Each meeting should have a facilitator, or meeting leader, who is responsible for keeping the meeting focused and moving forward. A good facilitator must control but not dominate; permit discussion, but not let the meeting get out of hand; reach decisions, but never ride rough shod; be objective but not impersonal.

Depending on the kind of meeting and outcomes desired, the meeting facilitator can be a team member, project leader or president of the organization. At times, however, it may be necessary to bring in a professional facilitator. This person’s role is to assist the group in speeding up the decision-making process, or in dealing with unavoidable conflict, or in thinking more clearly about a very complex problem.

Keep a meeting record.
Someone should be assigned to record the key information and outcomes of the meeting, that is, who is going to do what by when. This leads to greater accountability. An evaluation of the meeting should be part of the record. It could be a simple, quick activity as asking everyone, at the end of the meeting, for a “plus” (what went well) and “minus” (what could be improved). Ongoing evaluation leads to better and more productive meetings.

With advanced planning, careful preparation of an agenda and effective facilitation, meetings can be a valuable activity that can lead to better business decisions, greater teamwork, and quicker problem-solving. Make sure you are making your meetings work.

Marcia Zidle, the ‘people smarts’ coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job ­ to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to and get the bonus report “61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers”. Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks ­ resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs ­ fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.


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