Making Your Meetings Productive

Meetings can generate ideas, provide clarity and facilitate action. But many people dread them as big time-wasters or interruptions to a busy day. To find out how to conduct meetings with maximum efficiency, we turned to FedEx, a global enterprise, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK, a small startup gone international—two companies that have turned meetings into mastery.

Paul Tronsor, managing director for FedEx’s Global Operations Center, says FedEx officials value daily operations meetings in which they evaluate business efficiency from the previous day and make continual improvements.

As one of the largest express package-delivery and freight companies, FedEx meetings involve a recap of the night’s performance, and key representatives from around the globe report on their operations with a fire-drill like urgency. The meeting has a set time; it’s fast-paced and action-oriented.

Other strategies FedEx incorporates include following a checklist, using audio/visual material for clearer communication and using a “post-game” philosophy in which issues that can’t be resolved in the meeting are given an action item and a deadline.

What began as a small junk-removal service has turned into a household name with presence in more than 300 locations across four countries. Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, says effective meetings require preparation, clear communication, clear roles of participants, an agenda and follow-up.

“At any given day our staff is closing franchise deals, booking customer jobs and working with the media,” Scudamore says. “We are a fast-paced, high-energy company. To stay on top we have to manage our time very efficiently. That means scheduling meetings for a half hour, 15 minutes or five minutes if that’s all that’s needed.

“Consider the total time spent in meetings for any professional person, from sales to strategy to on-the-fly important meetings,” Scudamore says. “The percentage of time we spend in meetings can be staggering. To be efficient with time is critical. Conducting meetings with a start and end time, and sticking to those, is key.”

Don’t invite people to meetings who don’t need to be there. Participants should be contributors, problem solvers and decision makers. “One of the things we have done is to consider who really needs to be at meetings,” he says. “Does it make sense to use up this person’s time if it’s not critical they be at the meeting?”

Both companies believe in establishing a clear objective for all meetings. Define the type of meeting for all participants ahead of time. Is it a reporting session? Brainstorming? Problem-solving? Give context and a goal, not just a meeting time. Make sure regularly scheduled meetings also have clear objectives.

When adhering to a plan for effective, productive meetings, people will begin to perceive meetings as an opportunity to make significant progress at work.

Preparation and clear communication can make or break a meeting. Use an agenda, outline or plan of action for every meeting. An agenda can keep participants focused and be used as a frame of reference. “It’s up to the meeting facilitator to determine what needs to be done in advance of the meeting so that time spent in the meeting is used wisely,” Scudamore says. “The facilitator also should prepare the participants and communicate what the objectives and expectations are.”

The leader of the meeting should ensure that everyone is heard, no one is dominating exclusively and there are no extensive side discussions between two people. Put someone in charge who is respected by everyone. Sometimes it is more effective to encourage individual reports and not just discussions.

A meeting is of little use without results. “Follow-up is crucial, because this is where we get to the results of the meeting,” Scudamore says. “The question is asked, ‘Who will do what by when,’ and then single-point accountability is assigned to each person.”

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