#513  from Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 1          January 2001

Five Steps to a Productive Meeting
by Donald E. Wetmore, Ph.D.

Dr. Wetmore, from Shelton, CT, is a speaker and consultant on time management.  He can be reached at: phone (800) 969-377; fax (203) 9298151; email ctsem@msn.com; www.balancetime.com

It is said that on an average day in the United States, there will be 17 million meetings. (It makes you wonder how anything ever gets done!) A meeting is two or more people getting together to exchange information. What could be simpler? Yet, it is one of the biggest institutional time wasters that we suffer.

An informative exercise is to calculate the hourly cost of the meeting. A person earning $50,000 per year represents an hourly salary cost to the organization of $25 (without adding in benefits, overhead, and profit potential). If ten people at this salary level meet for one hour, the cost is $250 for the hour. Then look at what was accomplished. Was it worth $250? Sometimes "yes." But a lot of times, "no."

Iím recommending five steps to help you improve the productivity of your meetings. Even if you are not responsible for running the meeting, bring these suggestions to the person who is.

1. Ask, "Is it necessary?" We always hold the meeting because we have always held the meeting. What would happen if it did not take place? What if we did not meet quite so often? How about if we met once a month instead of every week?

2. Ask the question, "Am I necessary?" Now I do not mean this in the deep philosophical sense, but, rather, "do I get anything out of the meeting?" and "do I contribute anything to the meeting?" If the answers to those two questions are both "no," try to avoid attending the meeting. Or, perhaps just the first half of the meeting is relevant to you. In this case, see if there is a way to get excused from the second half.

3. Prepare an agenda. Just as it is a good practice to prepare a daily "to-do list" to help us get focused, we ought to have a written agenda for our meeting. Circulate it in advance to those who will be attending. Let them know what is to be discussed. Give them a chance to prepare. Do not hold meetings by "ambush."

4. Set the times. Have a starting time and stick to it. Set the time for each item to be discussed so that one item does not dominate the entire meeting, leaving no time to discuss other items. Have an ending time and stick to it.

5. Commit to action. Meetings ought to produce results. Resolve to a course of action. We have discussed the issue, so now what? Assign responsibility for the tasks to specific individuals with deadlines and hold these people accountable.

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