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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
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Where did your day just go? Chances are good that some portion was swallowed up by meetings. In a recent survey by Salary.com, 47 percent of workers cited “too many meetings” as the No. 1 time waster on the job.
To learn where meetings go wrong and what can help improve them, we assembled a team of campus experts: Alice Cumming, general manager, Conference Center at Bentley; Henrietta Genfi, assistant director, Academic Advising Center; Brenda Hawks, associate director, Counseling and Student Development; Barbara Hyle, director, Alumni Career Services; Diane McNamara, senior business partner, Human Resources; and Duncan Spelman, professor and chair, Management Department.
Question your motives. Before gathering the troops, ask yourself, “Is this meeting really necessary? What are the goals and what decisions have to be made?” Putting a group of people in the same room is often assumed to be the gold standard for solving problems. But sometimes a different approach – say, a one-on-one conversation with each key stakeholder – is more effective.
Strong agenda or bust. If you are running a meeting, be sure to think hard about your agenda and share it with fellow meeting-goers ahead of time. It’s crucial that everyone understands the topics for discussion and the meeting goals before getting in the room.
Establish ground rules. Facilitators should begin a meeting by setting out some simple guidelines to prevent unproductive behavior and foster a cooperative environment for participation. The first rule is always to start and end on time.
Comfortable attendees are happy attendees. When choosing a meeting space, consider the comfort of participants. Everything from chairs to sightlines to noise level are factors to keep in mind.
Silence the peanut gallery. Side conversations among attendees are a distraction for all. The same goes for texting: “Talking” with fingers is a no-no.
Always stay the course…usually. Productivity can get derailed when discussion wanders from the agenda. The meeting leader should commit to staying on task, but participants also bear responsibility for doing so. A challenge is being flexible enough to allow for tangents when they could lead to important or creative discussions.
Practice triage. Establish a hierarchy of topics for regular staff meetings. Start with decisions that must be made today, then address issues that require a decision – but later. Next come items that will affect the group in the future, and finally, announcements of general interest. Bring the topics in written form or email them to the group in case time runs out.
Create accountability. Wrap up meetings by reviewing action items. The who, what and when of task completion should be agreed upon by all concerned.