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Warning! Meeting In Progress; May Be Hazardous To Your Career

There ought to be a sign posted on every closed office and conference room door that reads: Warning! Meeting In Progress! May Be Hazardous To Your Career.

Because most meetings burn up a lot of resources that could be spent on useful purposes. These sessions are either not necessary, or they are so poorly organized and conducted that they achieve only a fraction of their purpose.

You'd think any thing that dangerous would be drastically reduced if not eradicated. Not so, the number of meetings appears to be proliferating.

How Much Are Meetings Costing Your Company?

How much of a problem are meetings for you and your employer?

Is the time spent in meetings causing you to be late in turning out your work? Are you going in at night and on weekends to make up for time spent at meetings?

Are meetings worth what they are costing your company?

One company mounted a large digital meter in its conference room. The total cost per hour for each person (salary and benefits) attending a meeting was fed into a computer, which in turn, divided the sum into cost per minute. The device was activated when more than one person arrived for the meeting and was shut off when the last person left the room. The total dollar cost of the meeting was added up, minute by minute, on a screen for all to see. The number and length of meetings were soon sharply reduced.

You can make the same calculation for your firm with a scratch pad and pencil. I guarantee you will be surprised at the cost.

The Reasons Meetings Fall Short

Meetings fail or fall short of their objective for a variety of reasons.

The most frequent cause is that no one ? not even the chairman ? is in charge. This usually means a clear purpose for the meeting has not been established. An agenda has not been drawn. Participants can't prepare in advance. So there is a lot of wandering around.

The door is left wide open for discussion of any and everything, other than the matter at hand. This condition also allows the showboats to get their time on stage.

Some people may even prolong a meeting because they have nothing better to do. Meetings are often called to achieve something a meeting cannot accomplish, such as drafting a statement. Meeting may flop because participants have not done their homework.

What can you do to control the meeting beasts and make them yield better results for your organization?

First, don't hold a meeting unless it is absolutely necessary. It has been estimated that as much as one-third of the subject matter taken up at meetings is not appropriate for that venue and could have been handled by other means ? the telephone, e-mail or a stand-up discussion in the hallway.

Second, if a meeting is necessary, the chances for success are enhanced greatly by a good chairman, one who will be fair, yet relentlessly firm and fully in control of the proceedings. Contrary to popular belief, good meetings are not freewheeling exercises in utopian democracy. The best ones are run by benevolent dictators.

Five Steps To Successful Meetings

The truly effective chairman will take five steps to expedite the conference. He or she will:

1. Clearly state the purpose of the meeting and set a time limit; provide an agenda and clearly state the issue(s) to be discussed. This will be done in writing. In advance.

2. Be sure all points of view are given a respectful hearing, but firmly cut off discussions that stray from the purpose of the meeting or are out of sequence.

3. Ensure there is only one discussion going on at a time.

4. Make certain the meeting comes to some recognized conclusion, with "next steps" understood and agreed upon.

5. Send out minutes of the meeting within 24 hours. These minutes will record decisions made and assign follow-up duties.

It is a tall order to bring the meeting beast under control. It has been around and growing forever. But it is worth the effort in terms of cutting back on frayed nerves and energy taken away from more productive pursuits.

Ramon Greenwood is former senior vice president of American Express; a professional director for various businesses; a consultant; a published author of career related books and a syndicated column. Senior career counselor for

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