By Donald L. Caruth and Gail D. Caruth
Executive SummaryAccording to Thinkexist.com, humorist Dave Barry summarized meetings thusly: “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’” A more serious comment comes from the late management guru Peter Drucker: “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.” Unfortunately, some meetings are necessary. However, by following a checklist of things to accomplish before, during and after the meeting, you can shorten their timeframe and even eliminate unnecessary gatherings.
Meetings – the very word can evoke feelings of dread in some managers while conjuring up visions of long nights and wasted weekends in others. Nothing seems as ubiquitous in organizational life as meetings: big meetings, small meetings, formal meetings, informal meetings, scheduled meetings and spur-of-the-moment meetings. It has been suggested that in some large organizations a person literally could spend an entire working life going from one meeting to the next without feeling that he or she has accomplished anything remotely productive.
Someone once observed that “half the time spent in meetings is wasted, but unfortunately no one knows which half that is.” If there is any truth to this observation, the problem of meetings has reached such a critical point that something needs to be done.
Fortunately, something can be done to make meetings more effective: They can be planned; they can be controlled; and they can be evaluated. In short, they can be managed.
Meetings can be turned into effective endeavors by following a three-pronged approach that uses some simple but effective rules for managing meetings. The approach consists of preparation (those things that must be done before the meeting starts); control (those things that must be done during the meeting); and evaluation (those things that must be done after the meeting is over).
Every endeavor must begin with proper preparation or planning. Management typically assumes that every hour spent in planning saves three to four hours in execution. Thus, pay attention to what you need to do before the meeting starts.
A meeting that is planned carefully and meticulously will save time when you conduct or hold the meeting. Therefore, managers who plan meetings will find that they will decrease the amount of time they spend in them. One key consideration is preparing and distributing an agenda in advance. The agenda should identify at a minimum the purpose of the meeting, who will be in attendance, topics to be discussed, time limits per topic to be discussed, and the overall time allocated for the meeting.
Planning lays out goals and objectives, identifies ends to be accomplished, and specifies the means by which results will be achieved. This not only helps the manager planning the meeting but also those who will be attending the meeting. In reality, there is no such thing as a successful unplanned meeting. For successfully planned meetings, this means addressing the following 12 considerations:
Adhering to these 12 points will help assure that your meetings are well-planned and thoughtfully organized before they start.
Control is something that must be handled during the meeting. Once it begins, the leader must keep the meeting focused so that it remains on target, on task and on time. Managers who control meetings will find that they achieve greater results.
One key consideration in controlling an effective meeting is managing time effectively. A meeting must always start and end on time. There must be no exceptions. Never delay the start of a meeting because someone is not present. It is the chairperson’s job to see that the meeting moves smoothly and expeditiously to a successful conclusion.
For successfully controlled meetings, this means addressing the following 14 considerations:
Following these 14 considerations should keep the meeting on track and ensure that it accomplishes its purpose.
When the meeting is over, it doesn’t mean that your job is finished. No task is complete until follow-up has been done to see how things went. When it comes to meetings, evaluations seldom happen. All meetings and other efforts must be subjected to evaluations to determine if these activities are necessary, beneficial or efficiently accomplished.
At the conclusion of a meeting, tie up all loose ends, evaluate how events transpired during the meeting and make other assessments. Managers who evaluate meetings will save time and money for their organizations. One key consideration is to ask if this meeting was necessary. If the answer is no, consider eliminating future meetings of this nature. Among the things to be done after the meeting are the following six tasks:
Obviously, when a meeting is over the work associated with it is not. No job is complete until thorough follow-up has been done. Completing these six tasks after a meeting will help ensure that management has followed up correctly.
Stop wasting meeting time now. Start using the three-pronged approach for managing meetings — plan, control and evaluate — and see the difference it can make in your organization’s overall meeting productivity.
Donald L. Caruth is an independent management consultant. He is a senior professional in human resources. His articles have appeared in numerous academic and professional journals.
Gail D. Caruth is a Ph.D. candidate in educational leadership at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She is a former human resource manager and a senior professional in human resources. Her articles have appeared in a number of academic and professional journals.