One thing everyone can agree with is their universal hate of meetings. Every organization has them and they seem to take on a life of their own.

In theory, meetings are supposed to help leaders and their employees keep up to date, pass along information and make decisions. The reality is that very little gets accomplished.

Leaders have the power to stop this meeting madness. Meetings are necessary for productivity, communication, and transparency--but many companies handle them poorly. The problem lies in a "status quo" mentality. People are so used to going through the motion that they don't realize there's a better way.

Too much discussion doesn't leave enough time for any doing. This is why many leaders, and in turn, their followers, literally spend more time in meetings than doing their jobs.

I decided to apply the same problem-solving process I use for assessing any business problem to meetings. I created a model consisting of several elements that have been proven to fundamentally change the nature of meetings, get better results and recover enormous amounts of time that can be put to more productive outcomes.

Here are my five tips:

1. Cut time length and be disciplined about attendees.

Keep meetings short and sweet. Shoot to have meetings last no longer than 30 minutes, or less if that can get the job done.

Attendance should be on a "need" basis, not simply inviting the names that come to your mind. It's not necessary for three people from a single department to attend a meeting--have one attend and report out to the team, allowing the other two to do real work.

2. Prepare an agenda and send materials out in advance.

Focus your objective by making sure the agenda is clear and crisp. Clearly express why this meeting is scheduled, what will be discussed and what type of outcome you expect.

Send this information out at least 48 hours prior to the meeting, providing your employees sufficient time to prepare and formulate their own thoughts and ideas. Most importantly, you'll be able to skip the "catch up" segment of the meeting and immediately start talking about solutions and action. This will allow time for meaningful discussion and ultimately new decisions.

3. Stay on target.

One of the biggest meeting pitfalls is going off target--discussing tangential issues that are interesting but irrelevant to the stated purpose of the meeting. Whoever is leading the specific meeting needs to take charge and manage the conversation to ensure the stated objective can be solved.

Distracting conversations need to be interrupted, not tolerated. Argumentation without facts needs to be called out.

Remember, you're in the meeting to solve a problem, not merely to vent. Staying focused will allow you to achieve the stated outcome from the agenda.

4. Appoint a rotating Meeting Czar.

The biggest problem with meetings is that no one "owns" them. Someone needs to oversee them, but this would be a terrible, thankless job and no one would want to do it.

I devised a program where a member of the leadership team becomes the "Meeting Czar" for two weeks.The employee's job is to:

  1. Approve all requests for meetings.
  2. Approve the individual attendees.
  3. Ensure an agenda is created and pre-meeting materials are sent out in advance.
  4. Set the time limit for the meeting.
  5. Lead the discussion and ensure that the stated objective is achieved.

It's a tough responsibility, but as each leader gets a turn every two weeks, they begin to realize how important it is to manage this process well. They also discover how much more productive the entire team can be and love the dozens of hours they recapture.

Attack this problem with a vengeance. Your team will love this and you'll find renewed engagement from everyone in your organization.