Make Your Meetings Count

Make Your Meetings Count

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: For the last three years I've attended a weekly staff meeting that, for the most part, has been unproductive and frustrating. Now I've been promoted and have to take responsibility for these dreaded get-togethers. How I can shape this time with my employees into a positive experience for all of us?

A: If you feel that "We just can't go on meeting this way," you're not alone. Statistics show that poorly planned and executed meetings decrease employee productivity and morale before, during, and even after they happen.

To rejuvenate your staff's faith that meetings are a useful part of the workday, try these tips:

Often the weekly gathering becomes a sacred cow. No one dares question its usefulness. If you ask yourself, "What's our goal?" and can't think of one, cancel the meeting. Be sure to give advance notice so that people can make other plans.

Too often, an entire department gets mired in irrelevant and unnecessary details. Smaller can be better.

If you will be discussing a complex issue, distribute background material at least one day in advance, so people can prepare.

Pick an individual who has backbone and the trust and respect of your staff. Tell all participants that this person's role is to promote a fast-paced, productive meeting. If anyone gets off track – including you – they will steer things back to the subject at hand.

  • Be sure your meeting has a purpose.
  • Decide whether you need everyone to attend, or if a smaller group would suffice.
  • Make an agenda listing what will be covered, and how long you'll discuss each item.
  • Designate someone other than yourself to keep the discussion on point.

A good meeting requires the attention, commitment, and cooperation of everyone attending. While the leader's preparation and style have a significant impact, participants also have the power to facilitate or sabotage the agenda. Below, I've listed a "dirty dozen" attendees who put their own priorities before the group's. As the meeting chair, you must understand the motivations of these people and deal with them. If you don't, they will often succeed in undermining your purpose and derailing your discussion.

The Mouth loves to hear the sound of their own voice, and will monopolize a meeting given half a chance. You must firmly remind the Mouth that you have a schedule to maintain, and that other people have ideas as well.

This person is an expert at throwing cold water on every suggestion. All of their remarks start "Yes, but…" Fault-finding makes them feel superior. If you are brainstorming options, begin your session by stating that all ideas have merit and none will be automatically rejected.

The Kitchen Sink just can't stick to the subject. They're a verbal wanderer who makes it almost impossible for anyone to gain the floor. Cutting this type of person off mid-sentence is generally the best method for wresting control. Just be sure to smile as you do it.

This person thinks their contributions are more important than anyone else's. They run roughshod over everyone, grabbing the floor without waiting for others to finish. To restrain an Interrupter, you must enforce a policy that only the chair or the moderator may interrupt the discussion.

The Sleeper's body is present, but their mind is out to lunch. You can usually get their attention by running a stimulating meeting.

Unlike the Sleeper, the Observer is paying attention but not interacting. This individual is either too shy to speak, or is processing the discussion and needs time to think things over. Unless a public contribution is critical to this person's career success, consult with an Observer privately or assume that they agree with the group.

The Manipulator person likes to play a wicked game of "I'm okay, and you're not." Their comments are judgmental and geared toward making others feel inadequate. This person is difficult to squelch, but one way to counteract a Manipulator is by complimenting her victim's suggestion.

This is an employee who feels that some co-workers have inferior opinions. Often they regard people of the opposite gender or lower-level employees as universally undeserving of their attention. As the meeting chair, repeat ideas they've purposely slighted to reinforce their value.

This person uses ever opportunity to complain about things. Naturally, a meeting is their favorite forum. Because their attitude can quickly depress the entire group, you need to point out that voicing complaints without alternatives is unproductive.

The Zealot has an overriding mission that precludes discussing any topic outside a single agenda. They monopolize the conversation, and because their quest often is irrational, logic rarely dissuades them. A Zealot requires firm handling and a one-to-one conference to help them climb down from their hilltop.

The Overkiller is so determined to win your support that they keep on pitching when you're already sold. A positive vote to accept their idea will usually help them stop talking.

Finally there's Mr. Impatient, whose body language and "Can't we get on with this" remarks discourage useful discussion. Mr. Impatient is anxious to get back to work, having decided long ago that meetings are superfluous and boring. Try using this kind of person as a barometer of how your meeting is going. They're probably mirroring what others are thinking, but would never say.

  1. The Mouth
  2. The Naysayer/Yes, Butter
  3. The Kitchen Sink
  4. The Interrupter
  5. The Sleeper
  6. The Observer
  7. The Manipulator
  8. The Selective Ignorer
  9. The "Ain't It Awful" Game Player
  10. The Zealot
  11. The Overkiller
  12. Mr. Impatient

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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