By Jenny Sherman, SPHR CCP, Trupp HR.

Tips for effective meetingsThere’s no denying that collaboration in the workplace is a hot topic lately. With technology giants like Yahoo eliminating work-at-home options to encourage an environment of shared ideas and cooperation, headlines are abuzz with controversy. There’s no doubt that meetings with team members help to shape more robust and successful projects, but one could make an equally compelling case for an excess of meetings impeding our ability to make significant progress on individual mandates and action items. In the words of Horace Mann, are meetings making you feel like you “Lost yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with six diamond minutes.  No reward is offered, for they are gone forever?”

Meetings are necessary.  They create personal, face-to-face discussions for sensitive and/or high impact issues that may need the benefit of influence and relationships to retain a productive working environment.  With great facilitation, they work to bring out different opinions, air them among the group, and create synergy behind decisions.

Follow these best practices to regain control

1. Have a clear purpose

Identify the purpose for a meeting and only meet if you have to.  The goal should be to accomplish something that can’t be done independently, or by phone or email.

2. Create an agenda

Provide an agenda to participants with the first bullet point confirming the purpose.  This creates focus.  If you get to a meeting and no agenda is provided, spend a couple minutes at the beginning of the meeting to bullet point one out with participants.

3. Invite the right people

Ensure that the participants in the meeting are essential to the discussion. Having non-essential team members wastes everyone’s time, waters down participation and often impedes productivity.

4. Encourage preparation

Use others’ time wisely by setting up expectations, assigning preparatory activities, and sending out agendas and pertinent materials ahead of the meeting. Use 3 days as your compass to give people adequate time to prepare.

5. Stay on schedule

Don’t let late attendees dictate your start time, start on schedule, stick to the agenda, and end on schedule.

6. Keep on point

The cadence of the meeting should flow at a rate that keeps all participants engaged. Ensure discourse stays on point and aligns with meeting goals. It may be helpful to steer the meeting at transitional points to reduce unnecessary elaboration or story-telling. Use words like “we have agreement” to close a topic and move on to the next item on the agenda. Important points that are off topic can be addressed outside of the meeting – document them on a “parking lot” or “off-line” list.

7. Document action items

Identify what actions are required, who is responsible for them and when they will be completed. It is helpful to review them at the end of the meeting and ensure they are documented in the meeting notes.

8. Distribute meeting minutes

Rotate the taking of meeting minutes and commit to a one-day turnaround to ensure the key points are captured and commitments are documented. Encourage attendees to provide feedback in case anything was missed.

By following these simple guidelines, meetings can be effective tools for collaboration that energize your team, eliminate redundancy, and increase productivity. Who knows, you might even have a few more hours in your day to actually tick through a few of those action items! Now, where did I put those meeting minutes?