7 Secrets of the Most Productive Meetings

Convening the right crew for a well-defined planning session can result in an efficient exchange, providing you stick to these rules.

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By Heather R. Huhman

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During a busy workweek, the last thing any manager needs is a wasted hour due to an unproductive meeting.

Managers need to make every minute count. According to a March 2012 survey by Salary.com, 47 percent of workers say their biggest waste of time at work is attending too many meetings.

When done well, meetings can be extremely productive and accomplish a lot in a limited amount of time. Here are seven secrets of highly productive meetings:

Related: The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting

1. Understand the needs, behaviors and schedules of employees. Meetings often take away valuable time from workers, decreasing their productivity. When planning meetings, understand employees' schedules and workload for the week.

According to research done in 2009 by WhenIsGood.net, a service that aids in choosing optimum event times, the best time of the week for a meeting is 3 p.m. on Tuesdays. That's early enough in the week that the meeting won't interfere with deadlines.

2. Create an agenda, and stick to it. Agendas should include step-by-step details for the meeting -- including specifying the time for questions. Even if a detail seems obvious, include it on the agenda so that every attendee can be on the same page. Make sure each item on the agenda is clearly described and allotted a time frame. Skipping an item on the agenda is OK; adding to the agenda during the meeting is not.

Related: A Smarter Calendar: How Tempo Can Help You Rule Your Next Meeting

3. Make everyone responsible. Successful Fortune 500 companies such as Apple and Google have the mechanics of running a productive meeting down to a science. How so? These employers assign every employee a responsibility at a given meeting.

Adam Lashinsky, author of Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired -- and Secretive -- Company Really Works, discovered that Apple builds accountability during meetings by creating a "directly responsible individual." This person is tasked with items on the agenda that he or she is responsible for during the meeting.

Apply a similar concept: For example, the meeting chair should require employees to report on their accomplishments for the week, no matter how big or small. This way, each employee is involved and more accountable for their work.

4. Implement the "two pizza" rule. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos developed a strategy for making sure the right people attendance meetings. For managers to build productive teams, the team should be small enough where it only takes two pizzas to feed every person involved.

Managers can apply this theory to pinpoint the right people to invite to meetings. Instead of holding one large meeting every week for the entire staff, set up smaller groups to meet (perhaps determined by departments) and invite only key employees to attend.

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

5. Create consequences (and rewards) for meeting attendance. When employees show up late for meetings, it can make the meeting last longer than needed and increase distractions. To ensure everyone shows up on time for meetings, enforce consequences for attendance.

First, create a strict start time for the meeting. For example, let's say the meeting takes place every Tuesday at 3 p.m. If employees arrive exactly at 3 p.m., they will be marked tardy. Any employee who is marked tardy will have to stay after the meeting to clean up.

Employees who show up early can be rewarded with having the first choice on a new project, for example.

Related: Why Companies Are Hiring Artists for Their Meetings

6. Make the meeting actionable. At the end of the meeting, require every attendee to share what they learned and their new goals in a 30-second recap. This helps the meeting chair find out what information attendees retained and whether a certain topic needs more clarification.

Meeting leaders can also ask a series of questions at the end of each meeting to find out what each attendee learned. Here are some examples:

"What do you plan to accomplish in the next week?"

"What information from this meeting will you relay to your team?"

"Name one valuable thing you learned from this meeting."

7. Put bookends on the meeting. Every meeting should have a clear start and end time to ensure the meeting doesn't stray from its goals. Start and end times allow meeting chairs to keep attendees on track and decrease room for unnecessary chatter or long-winded, repetitive discussions.

Ultimately, productive meetings must be well-planned and focused on a goal. By getting the right people on board and promoting timely yet engaging discussions, the productivity of meetings will be greatly improved.

What are your best tips for creating a productive meeting?

Related: 5 Signs It's Time to Fire a Company Manager

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

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