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Maximizing Meeting Times

Written by Mike Lewis

Regularly-scheduled staff meetings with employees in the workplace can be one of the most powerful business tools. When managed effectively, staff meetings will build trust and morale, increase productivity, provoke new ideas, and resolve any open issues. However, most meetings fall short when it comes to these goals. Oftentimes, staff members feel meetings are a waste of time. When they are not engaged, they spend their time doodling or just watching the time pass.

These things can be avoided with the creation and execution of a proper agenda. When planning a staff meeting, use the following tips to be more effective.

Create a schedule and agenda. It is important to schedule the meeting and give the attendees an agenda ahead of time; everyone attending should have time to prepare. The staff is supposed to work together as a team and not giving them time to prepare for the meeting can lead to defensiveness and, ultimately, decreased productivity.

Set a conducive meeting time. Asking staff to come in early or stay late is often not conducive for a productive meeting. Find out from the staff what works best for them. While it is impossible to keep everyone happy, if they are in the right mind and ready for the meeting, results will greatly improve. If meeting before or after hours, employees should be compensated; they will feel more appreciated and be more willing to give input during the meeting. If the meeting is during lunch, food should be provided. These are small investments that will greatly improve the staff's attitude.

Set a time limit. Setting a time limit will force conclusions or create action items and move through the agenda quickly. If necessary, schedule follow-up meetings. It is more important to finish on a positive note than have the staff watching the time, waiting for the meeting to end. Managing the agenda effectively allows for feedback while still moving along in a timely manner. Also, watch their body language. If necessary, take a break and allow the staff to come back refreshed.

Stick to the agenda. While it is important to get feedback from the staff, sticking to the agenda, making decisions, and moving forward is necessary. It is easy to get distracted and off topic; stay in control of the meeting and discussions. If a topic that needs to be addressed comes up, but is not on the agenda, either add it to the end of the meeting or schedule another meeting.

Discuss staff issues. Use staff meetings to get feedback on what is affecting employees' work and productivity. Be sure to remain calm and manage the conversation. Never allow emotions to arise and turn conversations into arguments. Focus on coming to a decision that resolves the issue while leaving everyone still feeling positive.

Do not allow staff meetings to be gripe sessions. These meetings are for business problems, not personal problems. While it is important to address an employee's personal issues, staff meetings are not the time or place. Set aside time to address these issues specifically with the parties involved rather than with the entire staff, which can often cause the staff to turn against each other or take sides with one party over the other.

Avoid interruptions. If an agenda is in place and has a strict time limit, it will require the meeting to move along. Ban cell phone usage from the meeting; incoming calls, e-mails, or texts are very distracting and should be avoided.

Less is more. Having meetings too often can bring on its own set of problems. Having fewer, but better, meetings is more important to making sure the staff meetings are productive and not wasting valuable time.
Be action oriented. When action items arise, be quick to assign them and give them deadlines. After the meeting, spend a few minutes compiling a summary of the tasks and deadlines and send them out via e-mail. This affirms the verbal discussion and leaves everyone clear about their responsibilities and when those tasks are due.

Change the environment. Periodic meetings outside the normal work environment can spark creativity and new ideas from the staff. These alternative locations can be anything from a local restaurant to an outdoor park.
Maintain a positive approach. It is key in the team building process to phrase questions in a positive manner. For example, look at the difference between asking the question, "How can we better work together?" versus "What can we do to stop the tension and manipulation between each other?" The first one takes a positive approach to the situation whereas, the second one leaves them blaming each other and taking a defensive standpoint.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Allowing playfulness in staff meetings can help keep overall attitude light and positive. Do not allow the meetings to be serious and tense 100 percent of the time; it will wear on your staff over time.

Acknowledge the small things. In the struggle to motivate the staff, be sure to take time to give praise when it is deserved. Acknowledge the small things to show the staff that their efforts are not going unnoticed.
Rotate leadership. Changing who leads the meeting on a volunteer basis allows the employees to learn about different aspects of the business and is great for team building.

Match merit increases with performance levels. Keep employees motivated by giving awards based on performance. If lower-performing workers are receiving the same compensation as the top performers, there will be a decrease in productivity seen from the top performers. Send the message that performance matters; award those who work harder and are more dedicated.

Balance the discussions. If too much feedback from some and not enough from others is happening, ask for others to give their ideas or thoughts. It is important to make sure everyone is participating and that one or two people do not dominate the majority of the discussions.

Establish ground rules. Setting ground rules for the meetings helps the staff understand the rules of engagement. As mentioned previously, feedback from the staff is important. However, if there are no boundaries, staff meetings can quickly get out of hand and off topic. Set ground rules for how to handle new ideas or topics that may not be on the agenda. This way both the employers and the employees will know what the process is when these situations arise.quote

Start the meeting with a member check in. By doing a member check in and asking a simple question, such as "What do you wish to accomplish in today's meeting?" or "What issues have you had recently with any of the items on the agenda?" This prompts immediate engagement from the staff and allows everyone to contribute from the start.

Assign roles. Along with creating structure with a well-planned agenda, creating a leadership structure within the meetings should also be done. Every meeting should have a time keeper to assist in keeping the agenda moving along, a person taking the overall meeting notes, and a facilitator who provokes engagement from those not contributing and keeps the discussion focused towards the goals. With a smaller staff, sometimes these roles can be consolidated. Avoiding the staff feeling like the meetings are a dictatorship is essential. Giving some authority and roles within a meeting can bring out leadership from the employees and help them be motivated to contribute more.

Positive results are achievable when staff meetings are planned and ran properly. The effectiveness is determined by organization and encouragement from the management staff. It is a huge responsibility to get the employees involved and excited about attending meetings. Implementing the tips above may take some time, but learning to maximize the effectiveness of the meetings is the ultimate goal.

authorMike Lewis is the managing partner and internet strategist at Perfect Circle Media Group. He has been developing websites and e-commerce sites for 10 years. Lewis is a search engine optimization and search engine marketing consultant for many companies around the world. His expertise lies in developing online communities, professional and social networking, SEO, SEM, and custom website applications. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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