It's rare to find someone who likes meetings. Countless articles have been written on why people hate meetings, the amount of time that's wasted in meetings, and why meetings kill productivity. You can also find plenty of buzz on why most meetings fail, inspire dread, and are considered interruptions from real work.

Doesn't sound very fun, does it? I would agree that when approached the wrong way, meetings can live up to their reputation as notorious time-wasters. Yet a study published in Management Research Review found that employees actually enjoy meetings under certain circumstances: when they have a clear objective, and when important relevant information is shared. Meetings start to suck when they're seen as resource-draining rather than resource-supplying: when they eat away at time, lack clear structure, and are ultimately unproductive.

It's easier said than done to fix these problems and turn meetings from corporate killjoys into eagerly anticipated events. But it's not impossible if you're committed to the challenge. Your reward for addressing these issues head-on as a leader is potentially great. Instead of fostering a group time-suck on the company's dime, you can create an environment where meetings become one of the most powerful instigators of change within your business.

Here are 5 practices we've put in place at Pluralsight to promote highly effective meetings that lead to engaged employees and positive company outcomes.

Understand why you have meetings. In Death by Meeting, author Patrick Lencioni makes the point that meetings aren't inherently boring or unproductive. They aren't inevitably the place that no one wants to be. To the contrary, meetings represent the hub of activity in most organizations, and therefore have the potential to create some of the most interesting and dynamic exchanges of the work day.

Meetings are also more than just throw-away activities that are peripheral to your business. "For those of us who lead and manage organizations, meetings are pretty much what we do," writes Lencioni. "After all, we're not paid for doing anything exceedingly tangible or physical...Whether we like it or not, meetings are the closest thing to an operating room, a playing field, or a stage that we have."

With those points in mind, you can approach meetings more strategically, bringing an understanding of what makes meetings valuable to participants and the company in the first place. The reason to hold a meeting is to air and share opposing opinions about a specific situation. In the end, the team needs to come together to figure out the best next steps and ultimately arrive at a decision. If you don't approach a meeting as a great opportunity to dissect a problem by really digging into the details from a wide range of perspectives--and then hone in on a resolution that the whole group can commit to and ultimately execute--then you're wasting everyone's time.

Embrace healthy conflict. The definition of conflict in Merriam-Webster is a "competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action." While that may sound like something to avoid, you need to have some level of healthy conflict and debate in order to have a successful meeting. That's the only way to reach the eventual outcome of a decision to which everyone in the group is willing to commit.

What distinguishes healthy conflict from its dysfunctional cousin is trust among participants. When people feel safe expressing diverging viewpoints and know they won't be penalized for creative problem-solving, your meetings will be much more effective. Trust allows teams to get to the root of challenges together and unearth optimum solutions.

Commit to truth-seeking. Being a truth-seeker is one of our core values at Pluralsight. A truth-seeking mindset requires candid feedback and input in sharing new ideas about how to fix something that's broken. Truth-seeking plays a key role in our meetings, and we strive to have everyone approach each get-together as an opportunity to embrace truth-seeking as a process. Meetings provide a chance to examine the data, hear a wide variety of opinions, and try to understand the true nature of all issues on the table.

The philosophy behind our truth-seeking posture is to enquire first, advocate second. Truth-seekers are learners at heart. They start by asking questions, striving to listen and understand before advocating their own position. Truth-seekers aren't hell-bent on convincing others that they have the right or only answer. They're open to exploring all angles to determine the best decision for the company.

Forget consensus. One stumbling block that stymies many meetings is a futile quest for agreement. What often happens if you fail to reach consensus--which can be difficult to achieve in groups of any size--is that paralysis occurs. There's no forward motion, and the meeting ends in frustration with no clear direction outlined.

To avoid this, just make a decision. While consensus is great if you can get it, most of the time, you can't--and that's okay. As the leader of the group, you should be prepared, when you don't reach consensus, to break the logjam.

Drive toward commitment to decisions. Instead of driving the meeting toward consensus, the leader's goal should be to drive the group toward commitment. By the end of the meeting, everyone should be onboard with the ultimate decision, even though they may not have come into the meeting agreeing with that approach. If everyone utilizes the truth-seeking process, all participants will learn to grasp why any rejected proposals really weren't the best answers for the company. By this final stage in the process, everyone around the table will have enough trust in leadership and in the team to feel good about committing to the final decision.

The key to the successful outcome of any meeting comes in the follow-through. After walking out the door, teams need to stay committed to the decisions they reached and take the steps necessary to make things happen. When the whole process is embraced and implemented, meetings can be transformed from torture to teachable moments. Instead of leaving these gatherings with eyes glazed over, simultaneously checked out and frantic to recoup lost time, people will be uplifted, inspired, and invigorated--even if the idea they proposed didn't win.

In addition to facilitating teamwork, meetings can also help move your company forward by becoming a force for needed change. When meetings become the key driver toward commitment--to deeper vision, collective decisions, and crucial next steps that the business needs to take--then they become powerful fuel that's essential to the success of your company. In other words, if you put the right framework and processes in place and then really use them, meetings will no longer suck.

Published on: Sep 23, 2014
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