It is widely accepted that the worst time waster in business today is that ubiquitous meeting. We all know that if the meeting was productive that the time spent would be worthwhile. But typically that is not the case. Most meetings leaders are not schooled to lead meetings.

What follows are 13 key guidelines to guide you in leading your meetings. You will improve your meetings dramatically by using these keys. Each guideline is powerful when used by themselves. However, when you use most or all of them together, in earnest, expect great results. I guarantee that your meeting attendees will enjoy your meetings better and you will get lots more accomplished.

1) Plan the meeting so it has a beginning, middle and end. Plan your meeting to have a beginning that includes the context (“frame it”). The context should include: the “why” of this particular meeting, your meeting goals and any constraints (such as time). For the meeting to be effective there needs to be an ending that encompasses some sort of summary (review decisions made, ideas generated, information delivered and the plan of action), evaluation (see Key #10) and conclusion (for example, have each person state one word to sum up their perspective of the meeting).

2) Be clear on the outcome for each agenda item and communicate the outcome to the attendees at the meeting. Spend time establishing what you wish to accomplish for each of your agenda items. The clearer and more specific you are the more effective the meeting will be. Do you want a decision made? If so, what type of decision? Perhaps you want the attendees to know specific information. What is that information and why do you want them to know it? Do you want ideas? What kind of ideas and to what end? Communicate to the attendees these outcomes. The meeting will be more meaningful and purposeful to the attendees when you articulate clearly the outcomes for each agenda item. The meeting will appear like it has direction and therefore worth the time.

3) Use appropriate processes and tools. Use specific processes for generating ideas (e.g. Brainstorming), making decisions (e.g. using a decision matrix), resolving conflicts (e.g. establishing ground rules) and solving problems that are clear to everyone. Attendees will then be more confident that the goals of the meeting will be achieved. This way they can better focus on the “what” (the task at hand) rather than the “how” (the process).

4) Generate ideas when you generate ideas; decide when you decide; present when you present. The three key operations that occur in meetings are generating ideas, making decisions and presenting information. Often in meetings these operations get mixed up. One person is generating ideas, another is sharing information, and still another is making a decision. This does not work since each of these operations has it own set of rules that do not co-exist productively together. In other words, the act of decision making does not mix psychologically well with the act of idea generation. Make it clear to the attendees what operation you are using.

5) Ensure equal contribution. Provide an opportunity for everyone in the meeting to contribute to the meeting. This means that when there is an agenda item that calls to have the group generate ideas make sure everyone's ideas are heard. When you discuss an issue, everyone gets a say. That way, when you make decisions, you'll tap into the best thinking of everyone in the meeting. This is not just about being “fair,” but rather leveraging the talents and perspectives you have brought together.

6) Record the ideas, decisions and results. Record the meeting results in a way that all members can literally see the work in progress. Doing this will also provide visual focus to the group. Use a flip chart and assign a recorder.

7) Establish meeting ground rules. As a group have the attendees co-create a set of guidelines or ground rules for how each person should treat one another and their ideas. These guidelines will make it clear what is expected of one another. An example of a guideline might be "only one person talking at a time."

8) Use warm-ups and energizers. We tend to over-pack our meetings and end up with little time to set the stage for great participation and collaboration. If you take the time to energize and juice your group, you’ll get better results: more creative ideas, better participation, diverse perspectives, more energy, and better decisions.

9) Plan for Action. At the end of the meeting make sure that some action will result. Ask “who will do what and when?” Even if done in the middle of the meeting it is best to summarize the meeting with the plan for action.

10) Evaluate the meeting. Make sure that you take the time at the end of each meeting to have the attendees provide feedback. Ask “what worked?” and “what needs improvement?” This will enable you to continuously improve your meetings.

11) Accept and value diversity in knowledge, ideas and styles. Make sure that all ideas, knowledge and styles are embraced. Find ways to get your team members to not only be open and respectful but to actually value different points of view. Reinforce good listening. A good team listener listens attentively to ideas and perspectives they don’t like. The great idea often comes from the diverse.

12) Recognize introverts and extroverts. Include processes that focus on both introverted approaches (“alone time” for generating ideas) and extroverted approaches (“group time” for generating ideas). Some people think more effectively by themselves with no distractions, and some like the stimulation of other people. Most of us need both.

13) Pace the meeting. It is important to be aware of the pacing of the meeting. If you move too slowly, you’ll bore your team members and sap some of their energy. If you move too quickly, you’ll lose most of your team members or they will feel anxious. Stay flexible and get feedback on the speed. The right pacing will differ from group to group. A good rule of thumb is to increase your pace when you generate ideas and slow down when you make decisions.

For more detail please feel free to contact Bruce Honig, Honig IdeaGuides (bruce@ideaguides.com).

Author's Bio: 

Bruce Honig is the founder of Honig Idea Guides. Bruce brings over 27 years in the field of Training, Facilitation and Organizational Development to his clients. Bruce has focused his practice on the development of organizational creativity and team collaboration. He has successfully worked with hundreds of companies representing most industries.

Bruce has a B.A. in Educational Philosophy and a M.A. in Educational Psychology and Curriculum Design.

He did research in the area of creative behavior and design at Farwest Laboratories for Educational Research and Development. Using a systems approach Bruce developed a theory and program for promoting creative action, which later became the basis for his own consulting firm.

Bruce's unique understanding of the creative process led him to invent a nationally marketed board game, CREATE: The Game that Challenges and Expands your Creativity, as well as many other games such as Just Imagine, Sproin-n-g and Choices. He edited and wrote The CreativeMind, a newsletter devoted to supporting innovation in business, and wrote many journal articles on the creative act. Additionally, Bruce was previously the owner and operator of Camp Invention, a children's camp devoted to the creative spirit in all of us.

He is also the principal author of Creative Collaboration: Simple Tools for Inspired Team Work.

Bruce was a board member of the American Society for Training And Development and a current member of the International Association of Facilitators.