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War on Meetings
By Gregory P. Smith

Let's declare war on meetings---time wasting, poorly run, unnecessary meetings that none of us feels should be required as part of our work lives. Some of us have even left the world of corporate bureaucracy to escape the endless schedule of meetings that seem longer than necessary and accomplish less than intended. But meetings cannot and should not be completely eliminated even in a small company, so let's talk about how to spend the time and effort wisely.

I attended a worldwide conference of nearly a thousand people brought together to review and revise the policies and procedures of the organization. A committee of a thousand can barely agree on anything and each word and sentence got intensely debated. At the end of a ten-day period, the participants were exhausted and hardly knew what they were voting on next. They just wanted to get through and go home. Perhaps it was a very democratic process because every delegate had a chance to be heard, but the quality of the effort had noticeably deteriorated by the end of the conference.

First of all, all meetings need to have a goal or objective. It sounds elementary, but if you can't think of a desired outcome of the meeting, then why meet at all? There are plenty of good reasons to meet, including communicating information, solving problems, learning a new skill, etc. But if you cannot easily identify one or more of these reasons, don't move past this stage of planning. Writing down the goals will help to clarify and evaluate them more critically.

Assuming you can pass the goals and objectives test, the next question is who should attend. Invite only those persons who are directly affected and/or have relevant information. How often have you sat in a meeting wondering why you are there? It is interesting to note that productivity of the group increases as new members are added but at some point, an optimal level of effectiveness is reached. If we add participants beyond this optimal point, productivity starts to decline. Fewer participants are better, as the point of diminishing returns is reached quickly.

Once the goals are set and the participants determined, a few ground rules are useful:

1. Prepare a written agenda. Even if there is only one item on the agenda or the meeting is regularly scheduled, write it down and give copies to the participants. You owe it to them.

2. Arrive early. See that the meeting room is clean and necessary materials are available. Usually, something needs to be done to get a meeting place ready.

3. Start on time, end on time. It's not fair to those who arrive on time to wait for those who don't. Pace the meeting to keep the commitment to the promised adjournment time. Participants have planned other work around it.

4. No interruptions. Don't allow outside interruptions or participants to interrupt each other. If they are present, their opinions are important.

5. Be a good participant. If you are a participant, you deserve a well organized and a well run meeting. Don't tolerate a poor meeting. You are also expected to contribute to the success of the meeting.

6. Be a good facilitator. If you are the meeting facilitator, state the goals and objectives, keep it on schedule, and involve everyone in the process.

7. Summarize and follow up. Always review the results and develop a follow up plan to insure that agreed upon action is taken.

Be particularly careful of establishing a standing committee that meets regularly. Attending such meetings gets to be a habit, and habits are hard to break. These meetings can become part of the company culture, and it can be politically difficult to question such an established meeting. But it takes some courage to fight the war on meetings, and don't be afraid to disband an obsolete practice.

One weapon in the fight against nonproductive meetings may be mini-meetings. It may be possible to have several informal, short meetings during the day and get more done than in scheduled and more formal meetings.

Someone once said, "We must conquer war, or war will conquer us." I feel the same way about meetings.

Gregory P. Smith, author of The New Leader, and How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce. He speaks at conferences, leads seminars and helps organizations solve problems. He leads an organization called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at (770)860-9464 or send an email at More information and articles are available at

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