Meetings are a valuable component of business operations. It is during these meetings that information is shared, ideas are explored, needs are expressed, and decisions are made. They are the heartbeat of a highly-collaborative culture. However, when meetings are absent from healthy habits and practices, they can run amok and become a detriment to productivity and team morale.

Healthy meeting habits can come in many forms. In some settings, a highly formal structure such as Robert’s Rule of Order is appropriate. In other contexts, a more open format, as presented in the model presented by Patrick Lencioni is highly welcomed. Regardless of the approach, thoughtful planning and intentionality are the essences of developing healthy meeting habits. While changing the habits of others may be outside of our control, we can be the change we want to see in our business and influence change through our example.

Be prepared
If you are the facilitator of the meeting, provide the attendees with a clear agenda along with meeting goals. In doing so, the attendees will understand why they have been invited, how they can contribute, and prepare their questions and data ahead of time. If you have been invited to a meeting and no goals or agenda has been provided, request one from the facilitator. If one cannot or will not be provided, it is a sign of poor meeting discipline. Decline the request, if possible.

Be intentional
As a facilitator of the meeting, kick it off by restating the goals and reviewing the agenda. Be keenly aware of the conversation pace and path to make sure that they move in the direction of achieving the goals for the meeting. Establish a “parking lot” for topics that stray from the purpose of the meeting to be revisited another time and empower all attendees to call out a conversation as a parking lot candidate. Allow at least five minutes at the end of the meeting to review decisions, action items, and reach a consensus that the objectives of the meeting have been met. Finally, follow up the meeting with a written summary via email to all attendees.

Consider the attendees of the meeting carefully. Include decision-makers, subject matter experts, and stakeholders. It may be tempting to be all-inclusive to gain a broad perspective; However, be mindful of the team’s productivity and invite only those who will contribute to the meeting’s goal. Also, permit the members to leave once their contribution has been made, allowing them to return to their daily work.

Be efficient
Many calendar apps set meetings by default to one-hour segments. In this mode, it doesn’t take very many meetings before your entire day, or week is gobbled up. In most cases, productive meetings can be achieved in 15 to 30 minutes. Abraham Lincoln is attributed to saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax“, likewise, an overly expansive duration of a meeting reduces its productivity; therefore, a tight meeting schedule is recommended. Remember, you are not likely the only meeting on the attendee’s calendar and respecting their time will always be appreciated.

If the meeting is a daily touch base type, encourage the team to conduct the session standing up. This keeps the members engaged and reiterates the intended brevity of the meeting.

Be analog
In your next meeting, observe the number of attendees who bring along their laptop and cell phone to the meeting and interact with it during the session. Consider the impact on their contribution and the likelihood that what they are viewing is aligned with the meeting purpose. Also, consider when the facilitator leverages a slide deck or interacts with a live application to operate the meeting (including teleconference tools). More often than not, a period of silence or side conversations occurs as they attempt to navigate, search, or overcome an untimely system error. In most cases, technology in meetings becomes a distraction. Pen, paper, whiteboards, and good eye-contact are really all you need.

Always start and end your meetings promptly. While the practice may feel overly strict at first, those who attend will be greatly appreciative. The practice of healthy meeting habits contributes to a highly-productive and highly-engaged team because their work hours and periods of concentration are respected. The pace of a well-facilitated meeting is energetic to all involved, much like hitting a home run in your first at-bat for the season.