Do you hold regular meetings with your staff? Are you considering such meetings but are concerned about what the cost will be?

If your business has a workforce of, say, 30 to 40 employees, or multiple stores, then all-staff meetings will present a host of logistical challenges. In these cases, to communicate with their staff, some employers rely on a combination of employee newsletters, (paper and/or electronic), announcements posted on a bulletin board or in a notebook, and regular department or store meetings.

Nevertheless, there are times when bringing everyone together in one room can build unity and commitment to the business. If well-organized, such meetings can be a cost-effective forum for group training on new products and policies. They can be a celebration of group and individual achievement. They can even help create support for what might be controversial changes, such as expanding store hours or instituting a dress code. Below are some guidelines for successful meetings.

Tips for successful meetings

Know your purpose. Meetings are great for for two-way communication. If you’re just going to make announcements, where you do all the talking and employees do all the listening, writing a memo is a less expensive alternative.

Manage expectations. If your employees think the meeting will be an exercise in participatory democracy, but you aren’t planning on asking them to vote, be clear up front that you’re looking for input, not a group decision.

Set an agenda. If the meeting has more than one purpose – for example, a presentation on a new product, an awarding of a prize, and a discussion of a new policy – plan the order of your topics, and allot a certain amount of time to each one. Then publicize the agenda ahead of time and post it at the meeting where all can see it.

Set meeting rules. At the minimum, ask participants to speak one at a time and wait to be called on. If you want questions held to the end of a presentation on a topic, let that be known.

Appoint a facilitator. While the presenter of a topic focuses on content, the facilitator pays attention to process. If discussion runs over the time allotted, the facilitator asks the group to decide whether to extend the time for that topic, and if so, where the deficit will be made up. To keep a few people from dominating the meeting, the facilitator asks to hear from those who haven’t spoken yet.

A common mistake managers make is to attempt to facilitate meetings themselves while presenting agenda items. Delegate this task if you expect to be doing a lot of the talking.

Appoint a scribe. If you’re collecting staff ideas for solutions to a problem or a wish list for an expansion, ask someone to write these ideas on a newsprint pad or white board as they are verbalized. This helps people remember what’s already been suggested, which may spur their own thinking or at least minimize repetition.

Focus on the positive. Don’t take up airtime with harangues about tasks undone or customer complaints. Deal with performance problems individually outside the meeting. But do use meetings to give praise and recognition to those who’ve earned it.

Summarize agreements. At the end of the meeting, if you’ve asked for input, tell the group what you will do with the ideas you’ve heard, with an approximate time frame. If others have volunteered during the meeting to take on specific tasks, ask them to re-state what they will do and when.

Start and end on time. This builds respect for the institution of the all-staff meeting itself and prevents meetings from becoming time-wasters. •

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