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Employer Advice: How to Have More Productive Meetings

Boring, circular and unproductive meetings are all too common in the workplace. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Before you call your next team huddle or cross-department gathering, read these tips on how to run a meeting everyone will be glad they attended.

1. Be prepared

When it comes to holding meetings, it pays to think like a boy scout.

“Planning is essential,” says David Shindler, performance coach and author of “Learning To Leap.” “Who needs to be there? What is their role at the meeting? When? Where? What is the focus? What needs communicating in advance? Ensure both the task and people’s needs are going to be met.”

Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management and author of “Career Coach,” also advocates establishing clarity about the meeting from the outset.

”Meetings need to be purposeful with a clear objective communicated in advance,“ she says. “This will keep everyone on track and avoid the ’mission creep’’ that often results from poorly-managed meetings.”

2. Hold different meetings for different purposes

Meetings that veer off topic or get hijacked by an attendee with an agenda of his own can be frustrating – but there are methods you can use to keep yours on target with laser-guided accuracy.

The best time to start laying down the law is before you send out attendance requests.

“Hold it for the right reasons – be absolutely clear about the aim and hold different meetings for different purposes such as deciding strategy, sharing information or creating ideas,” Shindler advises.

Mills suggests heading off potential trouble before it can start. “Tackle any sensitive issues or tricky individuals before the meeting takes place,” she says, “especially if there is a danger that they could derail it.”

Consider having a quiet word with any challenging attendees, perhaps to ease their concerns and reassure them that the issue on their mind will be addressed at a later session.

3. Be entertaining

Who said productive meetings had to be dull? Raise the energy in the room and you’ll get more out of any meeting, especially if you’re leading an idea-generating session.

“Fill your meetings with passion and fun,” Shindler advises. “Being focused, disciplined and action-oriented doesn’t mean being boring.”

He recommends keeping the mood light in order to get a positive result from disagreements by harnessing the creative tension. “Creativity can come from healthy contention if managed well,” he explains. “Don’t be opinionated, deal with the issue not the person, be curious, be flexible and bring enthusiasm to the table.”

He advises using creative facilitation techniques (such as ice-breakers, energising tasks and brainstorms) and thinking creatively in terms of meeting location – getting out of the office can help people step outside their normal mindset and see old problems from a new perspective.

4. Work with the group dynamic

Getting a meeting going and keeping it running smoothly is an underestimated skill, but fortunately not a difficult one to develop with research and practise. “The chair is the guardian of the process,” Shindler says.

Mills agrees, adding that a good chair will strive to get the best contribution from each attendee, even if some are naturally more reticent than others. “Encourage contributions from attendees so that they feel they can help shape decisions and therefore their presence is useful,” she advises.

Pay attention to the group dynamic. If there is an individual who is dominating, stop her and encourage members who are withdrawn or seem bored to join the discussion. In larger meetings, it can help to divide into smaller groups for brainstorming sessions.

5. Keep control

On the day of the meeting, ensure that key decision makers can be present. If a delegate is attending in their place, make sure that person has the authority to make decisions. It’s better to postpone the meeting than waste everyone’s time.

If you need to hand out information and reports, consider sending this by email before the meeting – standing in front of the room and presenting takes up valuable time.

“Remember to delegate the job of recording the minutes and actions, so you can concentrate on facilitating,” David adds. “Or the owner of the meeting may choose to delegate the role of facilitator in order to focus on content.”

David also suggests moving any other business to the start and keeping meetings on time by ending five minutes early.

After all, when was the last time someone exited a meeting only to complain it was too short?

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