By its very nature, supervision entails meetings: casual, formal, one-on-one, all hands on deck. Some meetings are strictly for the dissemination of important information that everyone should have; others are to present a problem that would best be solved with input from others who might be more knowledgeable than the person who called the meeting.

Wonderful but rare are the times when meetings end and those in attendance leave feeling their time has been well spent. This is usually the result of poor planning. For your sake and for the benefit of those who attend, it is worthwhile to know how to manage meetings efficiently and productively.

Meetings involving you and at least two other people require careful preparation. Below are guidelines for the most basic steps you should take before, during, and after a meeting to ensure its success.

  • Make sure you need to call a meeting (would a phone call or email work?).
  • Know your purpose (informational, problem solving, both?).
  • Write out the agenda.
  • If possible, distribute it to those involved before the actual meeting.
  • Determine who should attend (hint: the fewer, the better)
  • Handle the logistics (location, seating arrangement, necessary equipment, etc.).
  • Determine how much time you will need to cover the agenda.
  • Start on time
  • Establish the ground rules for how you want the meeting to operate.
  • Adhere to your time schedule.
  • Stay focused (follow your agenda).
  • Encourage discussion.
  • Actively listen to and note what others say.
  • Curtail digressions.
  • Preempt hostile comments.
  • Maintain your composure and dignity.
  • Admit not knowing the answer to a question.
  • Call upon those who do have the answer.
  • Establish completion dates for pending actions.
  • Recap key points, concerns, decisions, and future actions before adjourning.
  • Follow up to see that decisions are being carried out.

As a supervisor, you have the authority to schedule meetings, and you have more control than you realize over how receptive and cooperative your attendees will be. By following the steps above, you will indicate to them the value you place on them by keeping them informed of important issues and problems and the value you place on their time and yours by structuring a well-organized agenda that you follow.

If you have scheduled the meeting, done your homework, laid the groundwork, and are the senior ranking staff member in attendance, you are justified in expecting cooperation, if not enthusiasm, from those who show up. What you should not expect or accept is indifferent, inattentive, or impolite behavior directed at you or anyone else within your organization. Anticipating problems will help you keep them from materializing.

While certainly not exhaustive, the following is a list of behaviors that are unacceptable during a business meeting:

  • Arriving late – in business, never fashionable, potentially devastating. Under no circumstances should you delay the meeting because of stragglers. Make it clear when you announce the meeting that you expect people to be on time. Those who may be late should let you know in advance. Establish your ground rules when you plan the meeting.
  • Having side conversations – especially likely if someone has arrived late and wants to know what’s been covered so far. If you have distributed the agenda along with the particulars of when the meeting will occur, the late arrivers can look on the agenda and see what they have missed.
  • Coming unprepared – you’ve already given them the agenda. The least they can do is show up with it and something to write with.
  • Forgetting to turn off cell phones – as intrusive as yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. If they don’t have enough courtesy to set their phones on “vibrate,” you are under no obligation to extend them courtesy as you try to remember where you were before the interruption.
  • Taking no notes – nobody’s memory is that good. Aren’t you covering important things that you want people to know and act on? Haven’t you gone to some trouble and expended time getting everything arranged? Wouldn’t you think someone would be writing something next to the items on the agenda? Here’s a thought: pick someone who has been taking notes to serve as the recap provider, and pass on some praise. Positive reinforcement goes a long way in modifying behavior.

*If the culprits guilty of the above are your bosses, use the good sense that helped you become a supervisor and don’t point out their shortcomings!