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Key to Productive Meetings? How You End Them

There are a million tricks for more productive meetings out there, but here's one idea you probably haven't heard before.
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Meetings are a favorite whipping boy of the business world, and it’s not hard to see why.

Often aimless and inflated, they pop up in your calendar like dandelions in your lawn, breaking your concentration and eating up your workday. Then, in the end, they often get hijacked by the most insistent participants rather than the most insightful ones rendering the whole exercise pointless. 

Ugh. But if there are many reasons to hate meetings, there are also many ways to improve them. Geoffrey James recently offered nine ideas, while other experts have suggested everything from making people stand, to limiting participants or forcing them to prepare by penning lengthy memos. Seth Godin has even offered a field guide to common types of meeting trolls. With so much advice out there it’s hard to imagine uncovering a truly fresh tip or trick.

But Twitter and Medium co-founder Ev Williams may have done it. For a recent post he steals an idea for better meetings from Holacracy and urges readers to consider stealing it as well. What’s the essence of the idea? You could probably improve the way you close your meetings by having a "closing round." What’s that?

In a closing round, you go around the room and give everyone a chance to comment on the meeting. There is no discussion or back-and-forth allowed. People tend to talk for less than 30 seconds (often a lot less), so you could close a large, 10-person meeting in less than five minutes.

An example closing-round comment might be something like:

"Good meeting. I’m glad we got a chance to finally discuss the Flimflam situation, because that’s been bothering me. Next time, I think we could be crisper with our status updates, so we can get to the meat faster."

The closing round is worth doing, because it gives everyone, in a sense, a “last word”--the chance to get something off their chest that they might otherwise carry around or whisper to their colleagues later. It creates more mindfulness about what just happened--and how things might go better next time. And it lets you know where the group is at emotionally, as well as potential issues to follow up on that weren’t strictly part of the proceedings.

A closing round, like keeping a journal but quicker, pushes meeting participants towards self-reflection, requiring everyone to stay conscious of the good and bad of your meetings, and encourages your team to make continuous improvements.

Keep up with Williams’ posts on Medium for lots of other insightful ideas for founders and managers.

Will you give the idea of a ‘closing round’ a try at your next meeting?

Last updated: Jun 12, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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