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You can show your busy colleagues that you value their time with these tips for conducting effective meetings.

Fam Pract Manag. 2000;7(6):78

At a time when the practice of medicine leaves no time to spare, you can't afford to spend one minute more in an unproductive meeting. But what can you do when meetings are an unavoidable fact of your life? The answer is “plenty.” Whether you're a meeting planner or participant, the following tips will help you add structure and purpose to a meeting — and reduce the stress that bad meetings can cause.

When you're in charge

Since very few people know how to run effective meetings, they don't happen as often as we'd like. The next time you find yourself planning a meeting, add structure, energy and purpose by following these guidelines:

  • Make good use of your colleagues' time by asking participants for agenda items beforehand.

  • List four or five objectives at the beginning of the agenda that clearly state what the meeting should accomplish. You can then measure the success of the meeting by how well these objectives were met.

  • Provide each participant with a copy of the agenda before the meeting.

  • Don't accept additional agenda items during the meeting unless they're critical.

  • Put a time limit on each item to be discussed. It helps keep participants focused.

  • Include what is to happen to each item (e.g., decision/action, FYI, call for ideas, clarification).

  • Find out in advance who will not be at the meeting.

  • Build some fun into the meeting. For example, try to find something the whole group has in common (everyone has a dog). A few chuckles can help ease tension.

  • Provide snacks.

  • Start exactly on time.

  • Ask for agreed-upon rules for meeting behaviors (e.g., “We will focus on issues, not personalities”).

  • Don't meet in the same place all the time. Choose a different setting once in a while.

  • Assign responsibility for action items and ask for a follow-up report at the next meeting.

  • Celebrate when your team has accomplished a major objective.

  • Don't meet when it's really not necessary.

  • Begin work on the next agenda before the current meeting ends.

  • End exactly on time.

  • Try not to spend a lot of time explaining what happened at the meeting to people who couldn't attend. When possible, provide only a brief synopsis.

When you're not in charge

You don't have to be held hostage by unproductive meetings. As a participant there are some things you can do to increase a meeting's effectiveness:

  • Ask how long the meeting will last, if you're not told.

  • Ask about the purpose of the meeting before you agree to attend. If you're not the right person for the discussion, you'll find out before you waste time at the meeting.

  • Ask what the meeting rules are if they aren't provided. If there aren't any, explain the benefits of having some.

  • Do your homework before the meeting. Read pertinent materials and collect your thoughts.

  • Try to keep the group focused by asking for brief summaries of the issues being discussed.

Accept nothing less than a healthy meeting. When a meeting works for you, it says to everyone involved, “I value your time.” And in today's health care environment, those are powerful words.

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Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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