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Patrick Lencioni wrote the book, Death by Meeting, over a decade ago; and despite many more articles and books about how to improve team interaction, too many meetings continue to be boring and unproductive.

Have you ever sat through an hour-long meeting and thought halfway through that it feels like you have already been there for an hour and a half?  If not, you can stop reading. If you are still reading, that is no surprise. Sadly, I think most meetings feel like they go on and on and oftentimes not much, if anything is accomplished.

Why are meetings considered a waste of time?But meetings don’t have to be like this—they can and should be productive!  Meetings are the time to bring together a lot of great ideas and different perspectives to come up with a solution better than any one person could on their own.

So, how can you make sure that your own meetings are not a waste of time, and instead are productive and successful? 

1. Start and finish with an agenda.
Just today I received a meeting invitation without an agenda. No agenda leads to a lack of preparation and most likely a lack of results.

Well before the meeting, an agenda needs to be outlined, sent to attendees and then followed during the meeting. If there are sideline topics that come from brainstorming sessions within the meeting, that is great—but the meeting should not be sabotaged by a tangent. Going off topic leads to the group not accomplishing what it met for in the first place. Any new ideas that need to be discussed can be discussed during a future meeting, preferably after those involved have had time to digest the new idea and then a thoughtful and intelligent conversation can be had regarding that topic.
 
2. Ensure everyone has a seat at the table.
There are too many meetings that are dominated by the extrovert(s) in the group. The worst thing that you can do in a meeting is allow one or more people to dominate a discussion, thereby cutting out the quietest person at the table—who may just have the most worthwhile input of anyone involved. It is vital to solicit input from everyone at the meeting. If you believe that everyone’s input is not relevant or necessary, then you have unnecessary people at the meeting and they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

3. Don’t have a meeting if you don’t need one.
It is a great idea to have recurring meetings scheduled in advance to ensure commitment to attendance, as well as the engagement of all involved, but meeting for the sake of meeting is an inefficient use of time and will lead to just the opposite effect. Instead of ensuring participation, participants will anticipate that it is a poor use of their time and stop attending or participating.

4. Set up meetings by focus.
It is not only important to have an agenda, but also to have a specific framework for a meeting. Don’t plan on laying out an agenda that covers the next week, month and year, all in one meeting. The agenda should be set to be either a tactical meeting to clear up policies, administrative decisions, and other quick action items, or to have a longer term brainstorming or strategic planning focus. The type of thinking that needs to be done in a brainstorming session would lead to an administrative decision dragging into an hour-long discussion.

5. Have fun with your colleagues.
Laughter can be the best medicine—and it also builds stronger relationships. While alleviating boredom, a joke or funny comment can also lighten the mood, causing people to relax and be more open to new ideas and productive. A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology outlined findings of a study that showed that humor triggered positive communication, improved the flow of meetings and spurred new solutions in teams where members were secure in their job. So, as long as you aren’t worried that you may be fired for making a joke—go ahead and lighten the mood and see if your team ends up more productive in your next meeting.

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