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Meetings: On point, encourage ideas, set tasks, end on time

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If you ask most any professional in a business setting, you will find that one of the most painful aspects of his or her position is going to meetings.

Unfortunately, attending meetings is a way of life for most professionals. It is truly vital to our jobs.

Imagine if doctors said they didn't care to see patients or musicians said they disliked performances. We have to get over our dislike of meetings to be more productive and happy in our work.

Because meetings often are painful, we often put them off, not having them until the need becomes so great that we must meet. That meeting then becomes the embodiment of everything we hate about meetings: too long, too much being discussed, boring and the list goes on.

What should we do? We should learn to have more productive meetings.

Not only meetings that are more productive, but more of them. That is right. More of them.

According to Patrick Lencioni of California-based The Table Group, a consulting firm specializing in executive team development, there should be four types of meetings:

DAILY CHECK-INS: These meetings should be held daily, lasting at most about five minutes.

During this time, people share daily schedules and activities. These should be stand-up meetings dealing primarily with administrative issues.

Hold these daily regardless of who is absent. These meetings often save the need for catching someone via phone or email regarding simple administrative issues.

WEEKLY TACTICAL: These meetings should last about 45 minutes to an hour.

No agenda is set ahead of time. Instead, allow each team member 30 seconds to a minute to report on what he believes is his priority this week.

After everyone reports, agree on an agenda based on shared tactical needs identified during the reports, and then coalesce around resolutions to those needs.

MONTHLY STRATEGIC: These meetings should be about two hours long should be used to discuss, analyze and brainstorm key issues that affect the long-term success of the team.

Limit these to one or two topics. Good positive conflict should be encouraged.

QUARTERLY OFF-SITE: These should be full day off-site meetings.

Time is spent reviewing strategies, competition and key industry trends. The key is to get out of the office and reinvigorate the team by focusing on long-term goals and problem solving.

Once you develop a plan and schedule around these meetings, it is paramount to put into place good meeting-management strategies. Creating an environment that allows for open discussion is not necessarily hard, but it does take practice and hard work.

The first step is understanding why everyone is there. It is important to emphasize the mission and vision of the organization and place them on the agenda (if one is used) to remind everyone attending the meeting the purpose of the business.

In addition, practicing good meeting-management will make for better meetings.

AGENDA: When you have an agenda, make sure it is clear. State exactly what will be covered and distribute the agenda ahead of time to allow people to prepare.

Stick to the agenda and keep people on topic. If pressing discussion items not on the agenda come up, note them to act on later.

End the meeting on time and after the agenda is complete. Do not continue the meeting for the sake of continuing.

CONFLICT: Contrary to what many believe, conflict is not always a bad thing. Having conflict means people are engaged in ideas and team outcomes.

Stimulate an environment of trust where people feel they can openly share ideas, even if they may be controversial. Encourage people to speak up when they disagree and never punish dissent.

Emphasize that not everyone must speak. Sometimes the best contributions come after silent listening and contemplation.

DISTRACTIONS: Avoid distractions as much as possible.

If meeting in your office, turn off the computer, mute your desk phone and put away phones and other electronic devices that would be too tempting for people to use as an excuse to check out of the meeting. Encourage others to do this, but allow for reasonable exceptions.

CONCLUSIONS: At the end of the meeting, set clear expectations for next steps and follow-ups. If you are going to follow up, set a date and agree on it.

Another tip is to ask if the meeting was helpful or beneficial. A simple, “Was this helpful?” often is all you need.

Also ask if people had adequate closure to any concerns or priorities. Try to avoid ending a meeting where people feel like they did not get their say or they did not have an issue resolved.

We all need to attend meetings. Often, it is how work gets done.

We should strive to have better and more productive meetings. This may require more meetings.

The meetings, though will be better and more productive. By having meetings focused on outcomes and positive team results, we can begin to love meetings.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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