101: Managing meetings



We've all attended them, been late for them, led them and daydreamed during them. We're talking about meetings, which are as much a part of everyday office life as water-cooler talk. More than gathering people in a room together, here are some key elements of making a meeting productive, efficient and focused.

Call out chatterboxes. Oftentimes managers will let a meeting participant drone on and monopolize the conversation to be polite. But these individuals can derail meetings, said Neal Hartman at “Say, 'We appreciate your contributions, but now we need input from others before making a decision.' Be public about it,” he advises. This not only keeps that person from using more than his or her fair share of input, it creates a healthier collaborative tone and framework for the group.

Make an agenda, with extras. An agenda is meeting discussion topics, of course. But there are some areas to fine-tune to ensure you head off certain problems before they arise. Amy Gallo of Harvard Business Review tells of a person seeing a sign in a conference room at Intel saying, “If you don't know the purpose of your meeting, you are prohibited from starting.” Taking that advice further, she said: Send not only an advance agenda, but background materials. And be specific about what will and won't be discussed. “Rather than, 'Discuss video schedule' write, 'When will videos be completed?' ... Next to each item, you can also indicate participants' roles,” she writes.

Don't end a meeting until these things are done. Meetings with vague calls to action are short on accomplishments and efficiency.'s Kristi Casey Sanders advises recapping what has been agreed to, repeating it and writing it down before a meeting concludes. “You need to figure out who's responsible for taking each action, what resources they need … and set deadlines that are realistic,” she said.