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Getting More from Meetings

Twenty-One Rules For Getting More From Meetings

excerpt from Mackenzie, R. Alec, The Time Trap, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972), p. 110-112.

In summary, 21 suggestions for limiting the time wasted in meetings are listed below. They are separated into categories pertaining to before, during, and after the meeting takes place.

Before

  1. Explore alternatives to meeting.
    1. A decision by the responsible party
      often eliminates the need for group action.
    2. A conference call
      may substitute for getting together.
    3. Postpone the meeting.
      Consolidate the agenda with that of a later meeting.
    4. Cancel the meeting.
      Ask yourself, “Is his meeting necessary?”
    5. Send a representative.
      This gives a subordinate experience and saves your time.
  2. Limit your attendance.
    Attend only for the time needed to make your contribution.
  3. Keep the participants to a minimum.
    Only those needed should attend.
  4. Choose an appropriate time.
    The necessary facts and people should be available. Schedule the meeting for before lunch, another engagement, or quitting time if this is appropriate to the type of meeting being called.
  5. Choose an appropriate place.
    Accessibility of location, availability of equipment, size of the room, and so forth are all important.
  6. Define the purpose clearly
    in your own mind before calling the meeting.
  7. Distribute the agenda in advance.
    This helps the participants prepare–or at least forewarns them.
  8. Compute the cost per minute of meeting
    by figuring the total salaries per minute, adding perhaps 35 percent for fringes Assess the cost of starting late and of the time allocated to the topics on the agenda.
  9. Time-limit the meeting and the agenda.
    Allocate a time to each subject proportional to its relative importance.

During

  1. Start on time.
    Give warning; then do it. There is no substitute.
  2. Assign timekeeping and minutes responsibilities.
    Keep posted on the time remaining and the amount behind schedule if any.
  3. Hold a stand-up meeting if appropriate.
    This speeds deliberations. Try it on drop-in visitors.
  4. Start with and stick to the agenda.
    “We’re here to… The purpose of this meeting is… The next point to be decided is… “
  5. Control interruptions.
    Allow interruptions for emergency purposes only.
  6. Accomplish your purpose.
    What was the specific purpose of the meeting — to analyze a problem, to generate creative alternatives, to arrive at a decision, to inform, to coordinate? Was it accomplished?
  7. Restate conclusions and assignments
    to insure agreement and to provide reinforcement or a reminder.
  8. End on time.
    Adjourn the meeting as scheduled so that participants can manage their own time. Placing the most important items at the start of the agenda insures that only the least important will be left unfinished.
  9. Use a meeting evaluation checklist as an occasional spot check.
    Questions should be answered by each participant before leaving. Was the purpose of the meeting clear? Was the agenda received in advance? Were any materials essential for preparation also received in advance? Did the meeting start on time? If not, why not? Was the agenda followed adequately, or was the meeting allowed to wander from it unnecessarily? Was the purpose achieved? Were assignments and deadlines fixed where appropriate? Of the total meeting time, what percentage was not effectively utilized? Why? The evaluations, unsigned, should be collected for the chairman’s immediate review.

After

  1. Expedite the preparation of the minutes.
    Concise minutes should be completed and distributed within 24 hours if possible or 48 hours at the outside. If people can rely on receiving well-written minutes, those who really aren’t needed will be freed from attending. Minutes are also a reminder and a useful follow-up tool, as shown in the next suggestion.
  2. Insure that progress reports are made and decisions executed.
    Provide follow-up to insure the implementation of decisions and checks on progress where warranted. Uncompleted actions should be listed under “Unfinished Business” on the next meeting’s agenda.
  3. Make a committee inventory.
    Survey all committees, investigating whether their objectives have been achieved and if not when they can be expected to be. Abolish those that have accomplished their intended purpose.
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