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A three-step plan to conduct more effective meetings

Few people enjoy going to meetings. However, you can make your meetings more productive by following three simple steps: Plan the meeting, manage the meeting, follow up.

Step 1: Plan your meeting

The principal planning tool — for you and your meeting participants — is the agenda. An agenda should specify:The meeting’s purpose. Limit the meeting to achieving one purpose. For example, the purpose of a weekly staff meeting might be to keep everyone up to date on goal achievements and staff progress, whereas a training meeting might be designed to teach a specific skill, process, or procedure.

The meeting’s desired outcome. This statement clearly describes what participants should expect from the meeting. For example, the desired outcome of a weekly staff meeting might be to come away with an understanding of the department’s status on specific goals.

The meeting’s participants. Invite only those employees who can contribute to achieving the meeting’s purpose and desired outcome.

The discussion topics. List each topic, and after it, note who is in charge of the topic and the time allowed to discuss it, such as five minutes. You may want to list the least important topics at the top of the agenda. They will go quickly. If you list them last, you may spend too much time on the more detailed items and never get to the smaller ones.

The logistics. Specify a location for the meeting (choose one that comfortably fits all attendees and has appropriate supplies and technology) and limit most meetings to 30 or 60 minutes.

Step 2: Manage the meeting

Start your meeting on time; don’t wait for stragglers. Quickly review why the meeting has been called and the outcome you expect by the end of the meeting. Then assign someone to keep track of the time and a recorder to take notes.

As part of your meeting management, incorporate ground rules. You can keep meetings focused by establishing ground rules such as “No one interrupts a speaker” and “Stick to the topic.” If the meeting begins to go astray, any participant can bring it back on target by pointing to the appropriate ground rule.

Also, note that good meetings should have everyone’s participation. As the leader or facilitator, your job is to draw out quiet team members and harness the energy of those who tend to dominate the meeting.

Use conflict management skills if discussions become heated and always look for common ground to resolve issues.

Build a “parking lot.” This is a section of a white board or flip chart where important items not on the current agenda get placed for future discussion.

Develop an action plan. As each agenda item is completed, create an action plan that lists who is responsible for the task and the date by which it is to be done.

End on time. Respect participants’ schedules by concluding the meeting by the previously stated time. Before adjourning the group, review the action plan so everyone knows what is expected to be done, by whom, and when. Then discuss the need for, and timing of, the next meeting.

Step 3: Follow up

Within 24 hours, write a synopsis of the meeting, including action items and assignments, and send it to the participants. (You may assign this to the meeting’s recorder.)

Following these three simple steps will turn your meetings from something everyone hates to attend into a tool that will improve your team’s productivity.

Kyra Kudick is an associate editor at J. J. Keller &Associates Inc., a nationally recognized compliance resource company with more than 200 clients in the Las Vegas Valley. She is the author of J. J. Keller’s Employee Relations Essentials manual and SUPER adVISOR newsletter. Reach her through the company’s website at www.jjkeller.com/hr.

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