Meetings Cost Money.

Even if you cancel the donuts and coffee, you use the meeting space on site, and you use a flip chart instead of a projector, you can’t avoid the biggest meeting expense of all, the salaries of the participants. And, meetings are unavoidable!  A face-to-face conversation is far more effective than phone calls and emails in ensuring clear communication and shared understanding. So, if you must meet, at least try to get your money’s worth.

Because I have witnessed many unproductive meetings over the course of my career, I have developed numerous strategies to increase meeting effectiveness.  To ensure effective communication and efficient use of time, I utilize these three simple methods to encourage meeting participants to remain on topic and ensure that the most important issues are dealt with in a timely manner:

Step 1: Good Preparation
Meeting effectiveness is limited by the quality of the preparation.  It is important to note that the primary purpose of a meeting is to share Information, make decisions, or both.  Two key ingredients in either case are good data and attendees that represent the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to process that data.  So, Step 1 in achieving effective meetings is good preparation.  Invite the right people to the meeting, and make sure they bring the data, or the information, that will be required.

Step 2: Establish The Scope And The Agenda Of The Meeting
Sometimes, teams meet routinely to review “the current state”, to take stock of their business, their project, etc. In those meetings, the information is fluid and complete data collection is neither possible nor necessary. What is necessary is to recognize that the purpose of the meeting is to share information and get the ball rolling toward solutions, not to solve the world’s problems or “boil the ocean” in one session.  Step 2 for effective meetings is to establish the scope and the agenda of the meeting.  I have a process for building an agenda for each meeting from input by all participants.  This ensures that all elephants, red herrings, and pet issues are placed on the table before we start.  Then, as a group, we prioritize the issues to be sure we spend our limited time on the most important items on that list.

Step 3: Address The Issues In Order Of Priority
Once I have a complete agenda, I address the issues in order of priority.  For each issue, we first have to decide which action must be taken in order to move this issue toward its resolution.  Do we need to review the highlights of a report?  Does the issue represent a problem we need to solve?  Can we make a decision to move the resolution of an issue forward?  Do we need to review the details of a plan to identify any potential problems or opportunities?  For each issue, define the following:

    1. Who should lead it;
    2. Who should participate on the team,
    3. What success will look like (solve the problem, make the decision, develop the plan),
    4. What constraints or boundaries must be respected,
    5. When should the team come back with a plan to address the issue, and
    6. When should the issue be resolved.

It is important to keep in mind that during most meetings, the objective is to plan to address an issue rather than actually work on the issue itself.  

Rarely is all the data and all of the right people together to complete the analysis necessary to properly address an issue.  Attempting to do so without the benefit of all the data and the right people is a waste of time and money.  But taking time to identify important sources of data and who should be involved, consulted, or informed is a very valuable use of time and well worth the cost.  The key is to know where to stop the discussion and move on to the next issue.

Following these basic steps will result in more productive, effective, efficient meetings. 


Martin Rybiak is a professional engineer and management consultant, with thirty years of operations experience. He is the founder of OPTIMUM Process Solutions, an Edmonton based management consulting practice that focuses on helping small to medium sized enterprises improve business and operations processes, and create the cultural transformation necessary to make those improvements stick.

Contact Martin Rybiak P.Eng., Certified Management Consultant for a free consultation:
Phone: (780) 405-9417