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How to Get More Out of Staff Meetings

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It’s long, boring and it’s going to make you late for your next appointment. “It” is the dreaded staff meeting – that gathering of co-workers designed to check in, catch up, and give that annoying guy from sales a chance to grandstand.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says business consultant Jennifer Martin, founder of Zest Business Consulting, Inc., a San Francisco, Calif., business consultancy. It’s possible to keep the meeting moving with fewer annoyances and more productivity, she says. Here are six tips to do so:

Start and end on time. This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to make staff meetings more bearable, Martin says. Respect others’ time and don’t let the meeting drag on too long. Participants will be less resistant if they know that the meeting will end promptly.

Publish an agenda – and stick to it. Solicit discussion items from participants and publish the agenda at least a day or two in advance, Martin suggests. You can even assign a time limit to each item to ensure that the discussion doesn’t focus on one topic for too long. If agenda items aren’t covered by the meeting’s end time, participants should resubmit them for inclusion on the next meeting agenda instead of just carrying them over.

Related: 4 Ways to Stop People From Using Their Phones During Meetings

Assign a facilitator. Let someone new host the meeting each time. This person will be responsible for starting the meeting, making sure everyone sticks to the agenda items, and wrapping it up on time. She recommends assigning a different person to monitor timing of each items discussion, but the facilitator is also responsible for preventing anyone from dominating the meeting, so everyone has a chance to have a say. Martin also says you can ask facilitators to get creative by moving the meeting to new spots – including outdoors if it’s a nice day and it’s appropriate for the meeting content.

Tap creativity. Take the pressure off and have a little fun. You might find that it stirs creative thinking. Martin likes to bring in coloring sheets and crayons. If it sounds childish, just try putting fresh boxes of crayons in front of the people around the table and see if they can resist opening them. “It really works!” she insists. “Some people just have an easier time engaging when they’re doing something else while talking.” Walk-and-talks also work well for small group brainstorming. Bring a recorder to capture ideas, since it’s tough to take notes while walking, she says.

Mix it up. Martin suggests switching up the agenda. Start with the third item or the last item on the list and then continue to reorder the items until you are done. “This absolutely will require your entire team to be paying attention,” she says. Just be sure that everyone has a chance to contribute to the conversation. You can do this by asking for specific feedback from people who are reluctant to participate.

Celebrate. Be sure to recognize wins or successes, she says. Bring in guests – such as members of the management team – to witness kudos or to thank them for helping your team, she suggests.  

Related: Secrets to Yawn-Free Board Meetings

Gwen Moran

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GWEN MORAN is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).