Get Employees to Stop Dreading Your Meetings

If your meetings stretch out endlessly, don’t end with a clear path forward, or are full of people playing Angry Birds under the conference room table, you might need a meeting intervention!

Here are seven tips to get your meetings back on track.

1. Pause before you send that meeting request.

Before you schedule a meeting, first ask yourself these questions:

• Is this something that could be just as easily conveyed in a memo or email?
• Is this a discussion (meaning there will be back-and-forth, which is what a meeting should be for) or just information-sharing (which might point you back to a memo or email)?
• Who really needs to be there? Are you about to invite people who won’t contribute or benefit from attending?

2. Always, always have an agenda.

If you can’t come up with an agenda, you shouldn’t be holding a meeting. Before calling a meeting, you should be clear on what needs to be discussed and what outcomes you’re looking for.

3. Open the meeting with a clear statement of what you’re there to accomplish.

Announce up-front what you want the take-aways from the meeting to be. You might say at the start, “We have one hour to cover A, B, and C. At the end of this meeting, I’m hoping we’ll have ___.”

4. Stick to the agenda.

If a topic comes up during the meeting that isn’t on the agenda, decide on the spot if it’s truly important enough to displace another topic. Usually it won’t be, and in those cases, you should say, “Let’s put that on the agenda for another time” and move the conversation back to what you’re there to discuss.

5. Be ruthless about starting and ending on time.

If you don’t take the start time seriously, people will start showing up later and later, wasting more and more of the punctual participants’ time. Apply the same rigor to the ending time, too: Set a time limit, announce it at the start, and warn people when you’re five or ten minutes away from wrapping things up.

6. Have a clear “owner” of the meeting.

Whether it’s you or someone else, someone needs to be in charge of keeping the meeting moving, redirecting conversation as needed, teasing out action items, cutting off ramblers, and wrapping it up on time.

7. Create clear next steps.

Nothing is worse than a long meeting that ends with no clear path forward. So at the end of every meeting, make sure everyone is clear on next steps – that the conversation has been translated into action items, and each of those action items has a clear owner.

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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