How to Make Management Meetings More Productive

Productive management meetings work.
If anyone measured the amount of time lost in unproductive management meetings, it would boggle the mind. Games, like buzzword bingo, have been invented to offset boredom and frustration. When people start planning for idle time during a meeting, then the benefits are significantly diminished.

While it is tempting to ban meetings, everyone working together is necessary for corporate success. Ironically, it is the differences between the departments, divisions, and channels that disrupt meetings. When people feel that they need to present their case or protect their territory, their minds are focused on survival instead of cooperation. Any meetings that they attend are fact-finding missions to determine what their competition is planning.

My first experience trying to run effective meetings in an adversarial setting was when I was the COO for Ballard Designs. I hated our weekly meetings. The objective was to communicate issues between marketing and operations so we could work together to resolve them. I was overwhelmed by the “us” versus “them” competition. (Prior to that, unproductive meetings were extremely rare for me. It is amazing how efficient people can be when they are paying you to participate!)

Our meetings were planned carefully with a published agenda, but we were not productive. Meetings scheduled to run for an hour took three or four. Some of them ended with managers angry at each other. All of them ended with me being extremely frustrated. After a few weeks of ineffective meetings, I took action. I bought a timer.

Every manager had three minutes to present departmental issues. If time was spent complaining about other departments, the challenges weren’t addressed until the next meeting. It wasn’t long before competitive meetings became cooperative ones and the timer was retired.

We allowed time in each meeting to discuss solutions and outline an action plan. The next meeting began with progress updates. Meetings evolved from being the bane of my existence to informative, growth and profitability sessions. I hope the same thing happens for you.

Productive management meetings save time, solve problems, improve communication, and reduce costs. If you want productive meetings, you have to plan. Establish your ground rules from the beginning. Some tips to get you started:

  • Communicate the purpose of the meeting to all attendees. What is the topic or topics to be discussed? Who needs to be present? What information do they need to bring? What needs to be accomplished by the end of the meeting?
  • Create an agenda with topics and allowed discussion times. If possible, assign and enforce time limitations for all speakers. (Timers are cheap and effective.)
  • Have an objective. What do you want to accomplish in the meeting. If there isn’t an objective, the meeting isn’t necessary.
  • Stay on topic. If the subject strays, quickly move back to the planned agenda.
  • Do NOT blindside anyone. If the meeting requires information not requested, reschedule. (Remember, you are teammates, not adversaries.)
  • Practice makes perfect. Odds are, you will not get it right the first time out. Keep trying. It gets better.
  • If you are running the meeting, it is your responsibility to keep it productive. Don’t let others derail your meeting.

If you want to discuss how to make your meetings more productive, please email me at

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Curt McElroy

    This is a great post.
    Meetings can be so boring they become exhausting.
    I have been involved in alot of meetings through the years.
    The meetings I have enjoyed and felt were the most productive were those where the one in charge used a timer. You were given so many minutes and when that timer beap, buzzed , or whatever you were done and we moved on to the next topic, no exceptions. It motivated those participating to stay on track on condense what information or issues they wanted to discuss.

  • Debra Ellis

    Curt, Thank you for your comment. The timer worked great for us, too. The participants came to the meeting prepared and focused.

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