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3 Steps to More Productive Meetings

Workers and managers despise meetings for good reason. These gabfests often start late, drag on too long and are dominated by a few of the chattiest participants.

Even so, meetings are a staple of the management to-do list, with many executives spending more than half their time in meetings. Some, such as Swiss management expert Fredmund Malik, have declared jihad on the practice.

“Among the main evils in organizations are the number and duration of meetings, as well as the number of people involved,”

Malik writes in his book Managing Performing Living: Effective Management for a New World.


Meetings act as a time suck in many organizations, Malik argues. Some meetings are probably necessary, he acknowledges, but increasing complexity in the business world has spawned a proliferation of pointless powwows.

While movements to ban meetings have taken hold in some corners, that seems an unlikely solution. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that meetings will become shorter and more focused.

To that end, Adam Bryant of the New York Times suggests three simple steps for hosting efficient meetings:

1. Set an agenda

2. Start and end promptly,

3. Conclude with an action plan.


Bryant also suggests a surefire way to get introverts from being shut out of the conversation: Don’t just encourage them to participate, require it.

For example, a manager could level the playing field in a meeting by giving everyone an opportunity to judge the proposals being discussed. Bryant suggests this approach: Write ideas on a white board, and give everyone a set of index cards with the words “Nice!” “Wow!” and “Who cares?” written on them.

Solicit votes on each idea and, to keep groupthink from dominating, have everyone show a card at the same time. “Wow!” ideas get priority and further consideration, “Who cares?” ideas are jettisoned and “Nice!” notions are saved for another day.

Bryant’s suggestion to vote on ideas touches on another crucial concept for confabs: If they’re boring, they’re a chore. If they’re out of the ordinary, they can generate enthusiasm.

In his book Make Meetings Matter, communications consultant Charlie Hawkins says managers not only allow meetings to drone on with no clear point – they also forget to focus on fun. Humor can perk up meetings and help cut through tension.


For instance, Hawkins suggest, you could bring a foam ball to your meeting and chuck it at someone who’s being nasty or overly critical. Or you could switch the mood by moving the meeting from the usual conference room to a location outside or offsite. Use games and other activities to dispatch the drudgery and make meetings memorable.

For more tips on how to make your meetings matter, visit our library:

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