Managing Meetings

Plan/prepare - lack of purpose causes aimless meetings. Know why you're there - what the meeting is for.

Unnecessary meetings waste time, and regular meetings, e.g. weekly, become habitual/traditional, regardless of need. Only have meetings when necessary, and cancel when not.

Set agendas which are more than a list of headings without explanation. Each agenda item can have only three reasons for inclusion - to discuss, decide, or inform. Adding short descriptions of items can help people prepare and decide attendance.

Choose an appropriate order. Most important first encourages punctuality. Leave less important items to the end - if necessary they can be postponed/abandoned. Putting them last discourages taking too much time on them.

Attendance needs managing - absence can cause delays, and lead to fruitless discussion. Check important people are attending, and make judgement calls to cancel/reschedule if not. Consider phoning for input during meetings if people can't physically attend, or get briefed beforehand.

Poor timekeeping is rude, disrespectful and a waste of time. If not dealt with, it becomes acceptable, and things usually get worse. Very few meetings have an end-time. Why? Try to give an end-time - it allows people to plan adequately. Otherwise people assume meetings will always be an hour.

Too many people are hard to control - discussions take longer! If people are only needed for some items, let them leave after them, saving everyone's time.

Unhelpful behaviour needs controlling. People digress, ramble, don't pay attention, argue pointlessly, interrupt, even fall asleep! You owe it to others to take action. Be assertive - ask people politely to behave. If necessary, take a break for 5-10 minutes, and during it, take people to one side and privately deal with the problem - ask them to be more considerate.

Tackle past problems head-on - take a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting to lay down some ground rules, or have a private word with difficult people.

Poor chairmanship/control of meetings causes problems. Mischievous or bad-mannered people will misbehave if allowed - it's human nature. If the leader doesn't control things properly, step in. You risk undermining their authority, but they might be grateful for help/support. In any event, your time is at stake!

Action required post-meeting is often unclear. Mixed messages mean several people duplicating time and effort, or things left undone. Be clear about who is doing what, by when, otherwise, the next meeting can be pointless. Be clear - set objectives. Taking minutes, typing them up, and distributing them can be an unnecessary ritual. Only take minutes if necessary.

Learn from your mistakes. If you attend fruitless or badly-managed meetings, make apologies in future.

Recommended action:

· Don't suffer in silence, take action.

· Be ruthless with your time. Don't attend unnecessary meetings out of politeness.

· You may have to make waves or undermine a meeting chairperson to improve things. Think of the long-term benefits.

Julie-Ann Amos is a professional writer and business consultant. For more information, visit

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