Seven Steps to Keeping Meetings on Track

Keeping your meetings on track takes discipline, yet few managers take the time to think through and prepare their meetings in advance. This may be the result of a lack of training, or that managers are simply too busy, but planning and preparation will result in improved productivity and better decision-making.

Make the purpose clear

Send an agenda and any background materials in advance so attendees know what you’ll cover. Send a list of things that won’t be discussed in the meeting as well. You can also list agenda items as questions – rather than “Discuss production schedule” write “What are the production schedule targets?” to show what objective you have in mind. Next to each item, write who is responsible for making a decision.

Control the size
Only include those who are critical to the meeting. If deputies are assigned in someone’s absence, make sure they are adequately briefed by their line manager.

Set the right tone
As a manager it’s important to ensure attendees feel comfortable enough to contribute. Organizations with a learning culture encourage others to participate and take responsibility. Don’t use the meeting to openly criticize others or convince them of your opinion.

Avoid long discussions
Effective meetings should be about making decisions, not an opportunity for long-winded discussions, speeches or presentations. If background materials are distributed in time before the meeting this will avoid any surprises and focus attendees on what actions need to be taken.

Stick to the agenda
Sometimes people will go off topic or raise points which are not related. Try and refocus them on the agenda and, if this happens too often, address the issue head-on and ask them why they want to discuss this subject. If necessary, pre-present anyone who might try to take over the meeting and ask them to keep their comments to a minimum.

Make careful transitions
Before you move from one agenda item to another, ask if everyone is finished with the current topic. This will help keep the conversation focused.

End the meeting well
End the meeting by reviewing and agreeing the next steps (or actions), agree who should take responsibility for them and what the timeframe should be (due dates). Record the answers and send out an email so that everyone is clear. This helps with accountability and makes it easy to follow-up on progress.

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