Tips for Productive Meetings

Meetings are a standard part of every organization, but they often feel too long and end without clear or useful results. Below are a few tips that I hope you will find helpful for making your next meeting more productive.

  • Save meeting time for important deliberation and decision-making only: distributing information, making announcements, and trading gossip should be done using other means such as email, a collaborative documentation web site (AKA extranet or wiki), bulletin boards, newsletters, memos or chats over drinks.
  • Create a realistic and useful agenda: for each item include a practical allotment of time, some key background information, and the key questions to be answered, e.g. what is our policy related to this matter, what are some potential solutions, or what is our plan for action.
  • Have all your information on hand: have at least one person responsible for bringing and organizing by-laws, policies, budgets, minutes, and other organizational documentation to be easily referenced throughout each meeting.
  • Use concise point form in your documentation: make it easy for members to skim and reference backgrounders, reports, plans, minutes, and other written materials before and during meetings.
  • Allow the chair to interrupt speakers: establish meeting rules that include the option for a chair to interrupt a speaker and ask if they are on subject, being concise, or repeating already stated points.
  • Share the responsibility for effective chairing of the meeting: everyone present should work to ensure that the meeting follows the agenda and that discussion stays constructive and on topic.
  • Push for concrete outcomes: while deliberative process is important, your organization needs a clear direction to move forward. Throughout the meeting drive discussion towards answering the key questions, documenting decisions, and delegating action items.
  • Give clear direction for delegated responsibility: use the meeting to decide basic plans and then empower individuals to make them happen. Give them goals, parameters, scope, a time line with milestones, any related policies, and specify when and how they will report on their progress.
  • Immediately publish concise meeting outcomes: distribute point form action items and decisions from a meeting to the members as soon as possible in order to promote momentum towards their application and completion.
  • Display key information in the meeting to inform the discussion: use a white board, flip chart, overhead projector or data projector to allow all participants to read and reference pertinent questions and information for the current topic of discussion. This will help reduce the chance of a “What were we deciding?” conversation occurring.
  • Refrain from creating unnecessary debate: playing the "devil's advocate" is popular in our culture, but if you don't really believe in a counter argument, don't waste the group's time by raising it.
  • Don't deliberate about what you don't know: if an issue under discussion requires further investigation in order to make a sensible decision, then specify the required research, delegate it as an action item, and move on to the next item on the agenda.
  • Don't let meetings deal with issues that should be delegated: don't give agenda time to issues that should be addressed by an individual responsible for that area of a project or organization.