People First HR Services

Don’t let meet become four-letter word at work

Colleen Coates

Such a disruption is rarely welcomed by employees and managers during a busy workday, as most of us view meetings as a largely unproductive but necessary evil. But is it possible to actually enjoy meetings? Absolutely.

A 2010 post in the Harvard Business Review went so far as to suggest that some of us secretly love meetings for three main reasons: 1) we enjoy an occasion for social contact; 2) they keep us in the loop; and 3) being invited represents status (“I’m important”) and that our opinion is valued.

That might be a bit of a stretch, but there is no arguing that with a little organization and better team collaboration outside of the boardroom, “meet” does not have to be a four-letter word, nor a waste of time.

It’s healthy for organizations to step back and review their meeting patterns and the effect they have, not only on productivity, but the bottom line. Is it truly cost efficient to pull your best (and often highest paid) people away from their workstations to throw them at each and every problem that comes up? Of course not. That only nibbles away at salary, capacity and eventually, staff morale.

I recently developed this “reality check” for managers to ensure they are running their meetings effectively and efficiently:

DON’T meet if the same information can be conveyed in a memo, email or a brief report. This is especially true when you are merely disseminating information rather than asking for two-way information sharing. Stop and ask yourself, “is a meeting the best way to handle this?”

DO meet if your meeting has a clear purpose. Set your objectives beforehand and know what outcomes to expect, so you can fill in this phase: “By the end of this meeting, I want the team to ____.”

DON’T forget to distribute agendas so that attendees can prepare in advance. The agenda should include the location, date, time and place as well as a list of topics to be covered. It would also be beneficial to provide any background information, reports or documents to be reviewed ahead of time.

DO limit the list of invitees only to those who absolutely need to be in attendance. Can the information discussed by a few be disseminated later to the many via smaller departmental meetings or a memo?

DON’T delay the start of the meeting until everyone arrives. If you are chairing, show up early and begin exactly at the time you promised the meeting would commence. You’ll set the tone for future expectations on arriving on time.

DO use the agenda as a means to keep your meeting on track, on topic and on time. Review it periodically to ensure things continue to move along, as well as to note areas requiring further discussion or the action that will be taken.

DON’T allow one person to monopolize the discussion. Think of a meeting as a living thing that must be kept in motion in order for all the participants to stay involved. If someone is going on too long, respectfully advise them that their time is coming to an end. “Bob, you have about another two minutes before we need to move on.”

DO use a “parking lot” for items or issues that come up beyond what is on the agenda. Just write the topic on a flip chart or white board for future discussion or save them to review during the last five minutes of the meeting when your group can decide to take action, table or ignore.

DON’T fail to assign one person to write up the key messages, actions and owners, as well as records of decisions made.

DO end on time. Be respectful of others’ commitments. If you need to run over, ensure you ask the group five to 10 minutes before the originally scheduled end of the meeting and then stick to the amended time.

We all tend to think we’re experts at holding and attending meetings, but the truth is, if you don’t control your meetings, they’ll soon control you. That’s why I advise organizations to conduct periodic evaluations of their meetings. From time to time, be sure to find out what your team gets out of your gatherings and what ideas they may have for improving them.

But just ask them. You don’t have to hold a meeting to find out.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at



Running Effective Meetings presentation by Colleen Coates, People First HR Services Ltd.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 H2