How to Avoid Dysfunction and Improve the Productivity of Your Next Workplace Meeting

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From broken projectors to late attendees, there are a lot of ways a meeting can spiral out of control. But meetings don’t have to be so dysfunctional. Simply sending out an agenda or explicitly stating the purpose of the meeting upfront are good strategies for keeping meetings and participants on track.

Whether you’re the organizer or a guest, consider implementing the following tools to ensure every meeting produces the results you want.

Before the meeting: Effectively plan for maximum productivity

Smart planning and clear agendas are keys to efficient meetings. An agenda can serve as a roadmap for participants, clearly outlining what needs to be accomplished and helping meeting leaders steer conversations back on course. Include actionable items on the agenda, such as:

  • Background information for the meeting
  • Prioritized list of topics to discuss
  • Updates relevant to participants in the room
  • Roles each employee will occupy during the discussion

The decision about who to invite can also influence the outcome of a meeting. When creating the attendee list, organizers should try limiting the number of people and remember to include key decision makers. A meeting that is called to discuss recruiting processes, for example, should include hiring managers and any employee working in an HR capacity. Similarly, if business changes will be announced during the meeting, organizers should invite employees who are directly affected by those updates.

During the discussion: Set the stage for results

Once attendees have settled in and agendas are distributed, it’s time to get down to business. Meeting leaders should establish several ground rules (such as putting away cell phones) and adopt the “SUMO” method, politely asking participants to “Shut Up and Move On” when the conversation strays off topic.

An effective facilitator is someone who can control the flow of the meeting, but also knows when to sit back and let others contribute to the discussion. Although maintaining focus and acknowledging every participant can be tricky, meeting leaders can employ the “parking lot” tactic to prevent off-topic discussions. When a participant raises an interesting point that does not speak to any of the items on the current agenda, organizers should table that discussion and note to come back to it at a later time.

While it’s important to keep the conversation moving, it’s also important for meeting organizers to recognize when to conclude the meeting. If the goals outlined at the beginning of the meeting have been met, don’t be afraid to wrap up the discussion early and give participants back some time in their day.

After the meeting: Follow up with employees

As the meeting winds down, leave a few minutes to recap what was discussed and clarify next steps. It’s good practice to review the high-level talking points from the meeting and ensure everyone walks away from the conversation on the same page. Other post-meeting tactics leaders should consider include:

  • Publishing meeting notes: To keep the meeting fresh in everyone’s mind, send out meeting minutes to every attendee within 24 hours. Highlight what was accomplished and remind participants of any assignments they were given during the meeting.

  • Scheduling a follow-up: If the meeting calls for a regroup, aim to get a follow-up event on every attendee’s calendar right away. When an invite is sent out to participants, remember to include an action plan detailing the action items that need to happen before the team meets again.
  • Thank attendees for their time: Finally, be sure to thank everyone for taking time out of their day to attend and participate in the meeting. Time is an expensive commodity in the workplace, and even a simple “thank you” signals to attendees that you respect their time and appreciate their contribution.

Employees shouldn’t feel like they spend the majority of their day stuck in meetings that don’t need to happen. Instead, meetings should inspire employees and generate actual business improvement. With proper planning and clear objectives, organizers can guarantee efficient, effective meetings that every participant is happy to attend.

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