Meetings are the most dreaded part of office life. Too often, they feel aimless and unproductive, and can quickly sap employee morale. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The best leaders can run effective meetings that empower employees to actually get things done. Here’s how.

Go in with goals and a plan.

The worst meetings are the ones that feel aimless. So go in knowing what you want to accomplish. Inc.com’s Josh Spiro identified four types of meetings:

  • Action-oriented meetings: meetings that solve a time-sensitive problem
  • Creative meetings: free-flowing sessions that are about churning out new ideas
  • Short-term planning meetings: meetings that involve team interaction and strategizing
  • Long-term planning meetings: meetings in which executives--and perhaps other staff--set long-term goals and strategies

No two meetings will have the same aims and goals, so it’s crucial for you to establish a clear purpose to your meeting before going in. Doing so will help you set your agenda and decide whose attendance is crucial. It will also demonstrate to meeting participants that the gathering is crucial, not pointless.

Respect the schedule.

Time management is crucial to run an effective meeting, so create a schedule with time limits for each item to help participants stay focused and on task. Respect employee time; if you’ve got a reputation for starting and ending meetings on time, everyone will make every effort to attend your meetings. Appreciate that not just your time is valuable; everyone in attendance has the same 24 hours in a day. Having an efficient meeting style will make employees feel respected and valued, and can help your business operate more efficiently.

Think carefully about hierarchies and roles.

Depending on your company culture, your meetings might be most effective with one person in a clearly defined leadership role. Or, your staff might work best in a less hierarchical environment. As you plan your meeting, think carefully about your staff. Are they at their best when working under clear instructions, or do they work well in a more free-form setting? As a leader, you need to understand the personalities of your staff, and structure your meetings to take advantage of the group’s abilities. Simple factors, such as where the leader sits, can shape the mood and effectiveness of the meeting. In a traditional boardroom environment, the leader sits at the head of the table, as befits someone high up in a hierarchy. But in meetings where you want to put participants at ease, the leader might be better off sitting at the middle of the table.

Be prepared--and prepare your staff.

As Glen Parker explained to Inc.com, all the careful planning in the world won’t result in a successful meeting unless everyone in attendance is prepared. Distribute necessary materials--agendas, reports, etc.--to participants ahead of time, and make it clear that you expect them to have reviewed the materials. If you want participants to help develop strategy or vision, provide them with information or prompts so that they can begin formulating ideas ahead of time. It’s important for everyone--leaders, executives, and staff--to have done their homework for a meeting to be effective.

Published on: Sep 3, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.