How to keep meetings from eating into your bottom line

Sharon Florentine

Always Have an Agenda -- and Stick to It
Even in small groups, it can be easy to get sidetracked. It's important to keep the conversation focused only on the issues and topics that must be resolved with only the people needed to resolve them. That's why planning and sticking to an agenda is especially important.

"An agenda is nothing more than a path for resolution of an issue. One thing people forget when holding meetings is that these conversations must be designed with a specific outcome in mind, with a set time and a plan for getting to the bottom of whatever issue you're discussing," Axtell says.

The POWER of Productive Meetings
Tate advocates a strategy based around the acronym POWER: Purpose, Outcomes, Who, Execution, Responsibility.

This is the "why" behind the meeting. Before the meeting, this must be clearly stated, as well as put into context for those who must attend. It's also helpful to anchor the meeting's purpose into a larger, strategic business priority.

What will definitively happen at the close of the meeting? Is this a decision-making meeting? Then, one way or the other, it will reach a decision by the end of the allotted time. "The outcome could be to inform my colleagues about the new vacation policy. But the fact is, there must be an outcome, otherwise the meeting hasn't served any practical purpose," says Tate.

This aspect of the meeting dictates not only who attends, but assigns specific tasks to each attendee. "You decide who are the right people in the room to provide the data, the background, the context surrounding the topics and issues that will be addressed. That way, those folks all come prepared with the information needed for the larger group to reach a decision," says Tate.

This part of the agenda should stay blank until the meeting begins, and is filled in while the meeting's taking place to spell out exactly how the participants will get from problem to solution. This ensures that each attendee has specific actions and tasks to attend to after the meeting's over, notes Tate.

Before the meeting ends, make sure that each attendee understands what they're accountable for and that they have the authority to complete the tasks assigned to them in the "execution" stage. "This doesn't necessarily mean they have to do specific tasks themselves -- it could mean they follow up on an assignment with their supervisor or another department. But they must take responsibility for their task and accept the associated deadlines and timeframes, too," Tate says.

Final Thoughts
Shifting organizational culture away from endless meetings is by no means an easy task, and it certainly won't happen overnight. But it's an undertaking well-worth trying; one that can help increase productivity, streamline business process and boost employee engagement, morale and job satisfaction. So, next time you get a meeting request, consider declining and see what happens.


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