How to run an effective meeting


by Neal Whitten, PMP, Contributing Editor

“MEETINGS, MEETINGS AND MORE MEETINGS. Aren't we ever going to get some real work done around this place?” How many times have you have heard this? Perhaps you've said it yourself a time or two. It has been my experience that most meetings are poorly planned, conducted and, frankly, waste a significant amount of time.

Let's look at a short list of meeting guidelines that can correct this common but pervasive problem.

Plan the meeting. Make sure that the attendees critical to the meeting's success are properly informed and have committed to attend. Reschedule the meeting if the required attendees cannot participate and the meeting cannot be sufficiently productive. Inform attendees of the meeting objectives so that they can come to the meeting with the proper mindset and come prepared. Of course, disclose the meeting date, time and location.

The best-run meetings almost always end well before their scheduled end time.

Start on time. Always begin meetings on time. Don't review progress for latecomers during the meeting. Consider scheduling meetings to start precisely 10 minutes after the hour so that attendees can arrive on time from prior meetings.

Identify the meeting leader. All attendees need to know who is in charge of the meeting. Everyone looks toward this person to demonstrate the needed leadership throughout the meeting.

State the meeting objectives. Clarifying the scope of the meeting at the start will help the meeting attendees remain focused and productive.

Assign a person to take the minutes. The meeting leader must not take the minutes. This action causes the meeting leader to lose concentration and the ability to be fully engaged in driving the meeting. It also negatively affects the progress and pace of the meeting. The minute taker preferably is a person who is not, otherwise, an essential participant.


Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (, is a speaker, trainer, consultant and author in project management and employee development. His books include Managing Software Development Projects: Formula for Success and Becoming an Indispensable Employee in a Disposable World. Comments on this column should be directed to [email protected].

Keep meeting on track. The meeting leader ensures that the meeting begins and remains on track to achieving its objectives. Overly lengthy discussions, tangential topics, and scope creep are discouraged and the appropriate actions are taken to refocus the meeting attendees.

Enforce common respect for all participants. The meeting leader creates and enforces a productive and respectful meeting environment. The meeting's success is dependent on the free flow of information and ideas, as well as the full participation of the attendees. Problems are attacked, not people.

Summarize meeting achievements. When the meeting objectives have been met, the key points and assignments are briefly summarized. This action helps the attendees to be clear on the meeting outcomes and allows them to immediately begin taking the appropriate actions while the meeting minutes are being prepared.

Distribute meeting minutes within one workday. Either the minutes taker or the meeting leader prepares and distributes the minutes within one workday of the meeting. In either case, however, the meeting leader is ultimately responsible for the content of the minutes and ensuring timely distribution.

End the meeting on or before its scheduled end time. The meeting ends on time to accommodate other commitments of the attendees. The best-run meetings will almost always end earlier than scheduled. Consider ending the meeting 10 minutes early to accommodate attendees arriving to their next meeting on time. If the meeting requires more time than was scheduled and the meeting cannot be continued immediately, then give attendees a heads-up as to its likely rescheduled date and time. End the meeting on time.

THE MEETING LEADER IS RESPONSIBLE for following these or similar guidelines. Attendees rightfully look to the meeting leader to run effective meetings. Posting these guidelines in all meeting rooms can help to educate and remind meeting participants what they should expect and demand when they give up so much of their limited time to meetings. There is a direct relationship between effectively run meetings and the overall effectiveness of the related organization, project or team. images

June 1999 PM Network



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