Make the Most of Team Gatherings

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Most of us have experienced the dreaded “meeting with no clear purpose” or its close sibling, the “meeting that never ends.” These get-togethers begin with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the way they run off track.

 

What can you do to avoid these scenarios? For IT professionals, meetings are inevitable. Because IT plays an integral role in companies, you could find yourself in a Web site redesign meeting with the marketing department one day and a discussion of financial planning software with the CFO the next. And you still have your day-to-day projects to accomplish.

 

Fortunately, even if you spend a good part of your workweek in meetings, there are steps you can take to make them more productive and efficient, particularly if you’re running the session.

 

Begin and end on time. If you only follow this tip, you’ll drastically improve your get-togethers. No one wants to attend a meeting that always starts and ends late. If a gathering is set for noon, begin on the hour with the most important item. Avoid the urge to back up and reiterate for latecomers. Otherwise, they’ll have no incentive to be punctual. Stop when time is up, and schedule unfinished business for another time.

 

Decide if you really need to meet. People often gather out of habit. For example, maybe your team met every Monday morning for an update at the beginning of a companywide desktop implementation. Now that the project is winding down and you’re all back to your regular duties, the weekly sessions may have outlived their purpose. Getting together every other week might be just fine. In general, the next time you feel the urge to convene, ask yourself if you could accomplish the same objective in another way, perhaps via a phone conference or group e-mail.

 

Be selective with the guest list. When planning a meeting, invite only those who will be affected by the topics to be discussed or individuals who can contribute useful information. Does the chief information officer really need to attend an initial planning session for a software update? If you think someone might feel excluded if you don’t invite him or her, explain the session’s purpose and let that person decide whether or not to attend. Using care when issuing meeting invites will ensure you don’t waste anyone’s time.

 

Plan ahead. Without an agenda as a guide, it’s easy to lose focus in a meeting. To prevent this, create a written list with priority topics first. When the conversation strays, use it to bring the group back on task.

 

Be a leader. Don’t let one person dominate the meeting or go off on a tangent. If you’ve called the session, it’s your job to prevent these distractions. Ask others for their input, and if a topic comes up that doesn’t affect those present—maybe your colleague wants to talk about the pros and cons of a new PC on the market that has nothing to do with the subject at hand—suggest it be considered at a later date.

 

Bring your ideas. If it’s a brainstorming or problem-solving session, encourage attendees to come prepared with concepts or solutions so the group won’t spend precious time “warming up.”

 

Keep a record. Appoint someone to write down action items, important points, ground rules, discussion summaries and other key information. These notes should be typed and distributed to participants as a record of what transpired.

 

There’s no denying meetings often produce good ideas and are an important source of “face time,” particularly if you have a behind-the-scenes position. With a little preparation, you’ll prevent runaway sessions and increase productivity.

 

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology (www.roberthalftechnology.com), a leading provider of IT professionals for various initiatives, with more than 100 locations in North America and Europe.

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