Most people don’t like meetings, yet most people would also say that there is not enough communication within their team or organization…that seems to be a dichotomy.  “I want more information, but I don’t want to go to a meeting where I could get the information I need.” How can both of those truths co-exist?  I believe it is because we often don’t make good use of the meetings we have.  Here are several questions to consider, and 5 ideas to help make meetings more productive.

First, does your team have a regular (daily, weekly, bi-weekly) meeting?  If so, why?  Do you really NEED to meet regularly?  Do you do it just because you’ve always done it?  Is it STILL merited?  These questions seem elementary, but they are legitimate.  Years ago, meetings were the primary mechanism for disseminating information to team members.  Now, with technology, there are many ways to get the word out, and in many cases, you can almost do it in “real-time”.  If collaboration isn’t going to occur, then you can probably do without a meeting. Only have a meeting if it is going to be engaging, constructive, and productive.

Second, who needs to attend?  Does everyone really need to be there?  Do they need to stay for the entire meeting?  Start with topics that apply to the most people.  Once you’ve covered all of the topics that apply to particular team members, could you offer to allow those individuals to leave if they so choose?  Not ALL topics will apply to ALL attendees, but if you try to arrange the agenda so that people aren’t sitting for long periods of time listening to things that they can’t affect, or that really don’t matter to them, they will likely be more engaged and find the meeting more worthwhile.

Do you have a team member that seems to bring a dark cloud with them to meetings?  If their attitude and demeanor make it difficult to create a positive environment, you need to do one of two things.  You can work with them to help them see what a negative effect they are having on the meeting/team, and reestablish what “acceptable behavior” looks like.  Then, you’ll have to have the courage and commitment to hold them to the new standard.  If that doesn’t work, consider uninviting them to your meetings.  Many managers don’t like this strategy.  You may feel like it is a reward for bad behavior.  I would respond to that by saying, if people are excited to NOT have to come to your meetings, you’re doing a bad job of making the meetings engaging and productive.  Others may feel like they just can’t have a meeting without everyone there.  But, if the neg-head isn’t making a positive contribution during the meetings through collaboration, ideas sharing, and interaction, then your meeting will be better without that person.

Next, could you accomplish the same outcome with a standup meeting?  These are quick, high energy, “one-shot” meetings, that shouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes.  By not sitting down, it is understood that “we’re not going to be here long”.  This won’t work for all topics, but if you need to come to a quick consensus, or get some popcorn brainstorming ideas, this may be a good way to do it.  Don’t try to cover a lot of topics.  These should usually be limited to one topic, or they may be effective if you’ve got 2-3 bullet points you need to convey, and you want to “look ‘em in the eyes” while you tell them.

Finally, let attendees have a part in the meeting.  Assign topics for which they can lead the conversation.  Have them give an update on a project, and ask pertinent questions to others who are involved with that project.  This will spark engagement, raise the energy level and create “buy in.”  It may also allow them to see how hard it is to lead a meeting when all you see is bored faces and blank stares.

By answering these questions, refreshing your approach to planning and conducting meetings, and working hard to create a positive, productive environment during the meetings, you can make meetings matter, and maybe even help your people hate them less.