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Short and productive meetings

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MeetingMeetings are one aspect of a business life that can't be avoided. However, there are two problems with meetings: many just hate them, and they are time-wasters. But it doesn't have to be that way.

This is not without a reason: meetings were evolved from a short discussion to at least one-hour gathering and it seems that they exist because of themselves, not as a tool which can help to solve problems.

Since one hour is too much time to be wasted doing nothing, more and more companies are trying to cut the time down and they come up with rules that should convert long and meaningless meeting into a short and productive conversation.

Here we will give a few ideas how to organize meetings and don't be surprised with them: many companies don't follow them although they are simple down to earth approach.

Plan ahead, that's the rule number one. Develop a clear purpose and agenda with estimated minutes for each item. Deliver an agenda far ahead of the meeting so participants can prepare and participate. Let others contribute to the agenda.

Manage the attendee list: If attendees don't have direct oversight then they don't need to attend the meeting. The bigger the meeting, the more unnecessary people, the more wasted time.

Although we are living in the information age, apply the rule number two: phones off, laptops closed. If an attendee is not a note-taker, the laptop is not necessary and mobile phone has nothing to do during the meeting.

If you, as a senior manager, can spend some time uninterrupted, so can everyone else. Besides, the use of phone can mean just two things: the owner is not prepared and he's asking for an advice, or there's totally unrelated conversation going on. Both are very bad for the meeting.

The rule No3: the meeting must start at designated time. There's no "15 minutes rule", no 5 minutes rule, not even 1 minute rule. Meetings take place during working hours and they are part of working time indeed, so there's no reason to be late.

Every attendee being late, or those who complain and trying to divert topic in other direction, should bear consequences.

To achieve that without much punishment, try to schedule the meeting early in working day, say at 9AM. Recall the old manager's saying: "One thing can push another and everybody can be late during the day. But there's no excuse to be late for breakfast".

And for the end, some overall rules that will make your life easier. Every unprepared attendee should be leaving the meeting immediately; he's wasting his time, your time and everybody else's time.

Moderate the meeting so that every speech is short and to the point. Of course, you should allow the answer "I don't know", but don't allow a 15-minutes speech that ends with "I don't know".

Surprise your subordinates and organize stand-up meeting. That will bring you two important things: first, people don't like standing and they will be short and precise trying to end it as soon as possible.

Second, unprepared people will shift their weight from one leg to another, they will look at their papers or around the room, and they will cover their lack of knowledge much harder than while sitting.

Are we talking here about dictatorship, you ask? At the first sight, yes. But after few meetings everybody will see the point, meetings will be shorter and more useful and people won't think "Oh, no, no another meeting" anymore.

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