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A Bad Meeting is Like a Bad Marriage - You Feel Trapped

These tips on improving communication during office meetings may even elevate your standing at home.


We all have experienced the regret of a wasted hour (or several) in an ineffective meeting. Bad meetings generally suffer from one of three problems:

•    Unclear Objective(s): This causes the meeting to go off on tangents or unproductive debate about off-topic issues (because it’s unclear what the topic is)

•    Unnecessary Use of Time: A task or discussion that could be done outside of the meeting by an individual or a smaller group takes up everyone’s time and energy

•    Lack of Clear Action: There’s no consensus on how results of the meeting will be used to push forward the broader objective

We’ve all learned the hard way that we need to use meeting time more wisely. We’ve found success by creating a common agenda that we share in advance of every meeting.

Here’s the basic framework we use for every meeting agenda. We always put it in writing and distribute it electronically or on paper to everyone–before they enter the room–to ensure we’re all on the same page. 

1)    State the objectives for the meeting.

This comes first and can double as a "table of contents." If a meeting has multiple objectives, consider a separate agenda for each. Ninety-nine percent of meeting objectives should fall into one of three categories:
a.    Gain agreement, permission or approval
b.    Obtain feedback, opinions or access to necessary data
c.    Answer questions

2)    Share any progress you’ve made so far to accomplish the objectives.

By providing a status update ahead of time, you only have to spend time on new items in the meeting. If your objective is to gain approval, distributing an appendix or "fact-pack" in advance will save the time required for attendees to review the materials.

3)    Ask attendees for the thing(s) you need from them to push the work forward.

4)    Capture next steps and action items from the meeting.

This provides attendees with specific follow-up tasks, either individually or shared, and a clear view of what you will provide in the future

I can assure that this process will make your meetings much more effective, and if applied to your marriage, it may even save your butt.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Dec 1, 2011

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KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

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