Meetings are vital in business, but they can also become time-consuming showstoppers when they cease to be productive. If you start to get the feeling that your meetings are ineffective, here are 10 helpful strategies to employ.
1: Make meetings the exception and not the rule
If you don't have a reason to meet, don't.
2: Exploit social media
Instant messaging, social media posting boards, and other online collaboration tools can be effective means of getting people together on issues and resolutions without having to call a meeting.
3: Conduct mini preemptive meetings
If your meeting is about a complex issue, or you are working with a group where there are many known incompatibilities, it is best to hold a preemptive meeting first. By meeting separately with smaller contingents of the overall group, you'll be aware of all the issues that could be brought up in the larger forum.
Once you know the issues, you have an opportunity to defuse them and to achieve consensus in advance of the main meeting. Almost always, this assures that your larger meeting will flow better and faster.
4: Publish the meeting agenda/goals in advance
Pre-publication of meeting agenda items and goals helps everyone focus in advance on what the meeting needs to accomplish.
5: Order pizza
There are times when staff is weary, overworked, and hardly in a mood for a meeting. When this is the case, order in pizza and go over meeting issues in a relaxed atmosphere. This is especially helpful for lunch meetings that occur when schedules are tight, and there isn't another time to meet.
6: Run the meeting by the clock
By informing meeting attendees in advance that the meeting will not run beyond its scheduled time, you can often energize the group to get through all of the issues in the allotted timeframe. This tactic works best when the room is booked by another group right after your meeting.
7: Get "meeting mongers" to focus
I'm not a fan of long meetings, so I was surprised to learn there are actually "meeting mongers" -- those are people who enjoy meeting just to meet. It is easy to spot them in meetings: They bring up side issues to the agenda so conversations can be prolonged, and they leave disappointed when the meeting ends.
If you lead a meeting with meeting mongers, it is important to keep these folks focused on the agenda, so you don't lose control of the room.
8: Put a stop to filibusters
People who step in to prolong discussions because they sense the meeting is not going where they want it to can be tougher than the meeting mongers. They systematically try to derail the meeting by taking the floor and discussing fine points of the issues so they can postpone a decision that is unpopular to them.
As soon as you see filibustering, step in immediately to stop it -- the other attendees will appreciate it. You should interrupt the person filibustering, tell them the matter can be addressed "offline," and get the meeting back on track.
9: Call a timeout
If tempers flare and the meeting exchanges get hot, it is the perfect time to call the meeting off with a request to reconvene at a later time. This allows everyone to cool off, collect themselves, and perhaps meet independently before the next meeting to iron out the troubling issues.
10: Talk with upper management before reconvening
Some meetings become so dysfunctional that even the thought of reconvening later is unrealistic. In this case, the best thing to do is to call together upper management of both sides to ensure that you have consensus in goals and executive endorsement before scheduling another meeting.