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Meetings suck, but they don't have to

In my experience technology managers and executives are so inept at conducting effective meetings you'd think it's rocket science or a rare genetic trait.

What is it about meetings that brings out the worst in otherwise reasonable and intelligent people? Is it an opportunity to childishly engage and disrupt others? Or perhaps it's a chance to demonstrate animalistic dominance. Who knows.

All I do know is, for companies to operate effectively, executives, managers, and key employees need to know how to run effective meetings. Meetings are how conflicts are resolved and plans are agreed upon. They are how critical strategic and operating processes are developed, managed, and to some extent, executed.

Conversely, ineffective meetings result in lost productivity and frustration. They can also be a sign of a dysfunctional workplace, which can result in operating failure.

In my experience technology managers and executives are so inept at conducting effective meetings you'd think it's rocket science or a rare genetic trait. I have no idea why that is.

In any case, 15 years ago, a consultant taught me his version of the rules for effective meetings. I've adapted those rules to my own style and used them to help management teams work together effectively ever since. And let me tell you, they really work.

So here they are in two parts: The three rules of meeting etiquette and the five rules of engagement for effective meetings.

Three rules of meeting etiquette

Every meeting has a start time and an end time. That means it starts on time and ends on time. If someone is chronically late to meetings, the others must bring peer pressure to bear on that individual. If most of a company's executives exhibit this trait, then find another company. It's a sign of immaturity and disrespect for others.

Every meeting is run by someone who is responsible for every aspect of the meeting including agenda, attendance, punctuality, and documentation. That person keeps everyone on topic and moves the meeting along using the methods described below.

Key decisions that are reached during the meeting regarding strategies, plans or objectives should be published by whoever ran the meeting within one day. That also goes for follow-up or action required and an owner for each item.

Five rules of engagement for effective meetings

Listening is good. Gratuitous speech is bad. Silence means consent. Don't chime in just to hear your own voice.

Presenting new ideas or brainstorming is good. Knocking down another's idea is bad. There's a time for reaching consensus.

Attack the problem or issue, not the person you disagree with. "I don't agree with you" is okay, but "I think you're an idiot" isn't.

Stay on topic, but don't beat a dead horse. Save other subjects for other meetings. Use a "parking lot" for important issues that may need to be revisited at a later date.

Be open, honest, and forthcoming. Don't hold back, bullshit, or sugar-coat issues. This is especially critical in meetings where key decisions are based on the information presented.

Don't just follow these rules yourself; teach them to others. Present them at meetings you conduct. Make work life easier and less frustrating for all your fellow employees and help to make your company more successful. It'll pay off big-time in the long run.

Happy meetings.