FOR many executives, meetings are a drudgery they cannot avoid. Many precious hours are spent in aimless discussions where no decisions are made and no problems are solved.

How often have you sat in a meeting, asking yourself why you were there when you could be somewhere else doing more productive work? Meetings are high up on the list of time-wasters.

However, the good news is, they do not have to be. Here are some ingredients for a successful meeting.

Before the meeting

DETERMINING THE OBJECTIVE: Prior to the meeting, define the purpose and desired results. If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will do. It is necessary to know the purpose of the meeting because that is the reason why it was called in the first place.

A meeting can be called for one or more of the following reasons:

* Disseminating information, such as announcing a new policy;

* Solving a problem, such as how to overcome a drop in sales;

* Making a decision — for example, deciding which computer to purchase.

In every instance, ask yourself these three questions:

* Does the subject matter justify a meeting?

* Is a meeting the best way to get results?

* Will I achieve my objectives in a meeting at this particular time?

DEFINING THE AGENDA: Once you have decided a meeting is necessary, decide who should attend, where and when. Participants at this meeting should be either there to contribute, decide, support or have a stake in the issue at hand. The place and time of the meeting should be chosen to suit the convenience of the majority.

Inform the participants by drawing up an agenda. This is a prerequisite to a successful meeting. The agenda should state the purpose and objectives of each topic, names of people attending, date and location of meeting.

Some find it useful to state the expected duration of the meeting as well. The participants should also be informed as to what is expected of them. For example, they could also be required to prepare certain information.

If it is an impromptu meeting, it may be necessary to inform the participants informally and detail the meeting. The agenda can be drawn up at the beginning of the meeting.

During the meeting

Start by reaffirming the purpose and the results desired. This first step serves to establish the direction of the meeting.

Restating the agenda is necessary to draw the participants’ attention to the issue at hand. If the agenda has not been decided, it will be necessary to do so at this juncture. Restating an agenda ensures that you and the participants are on the same frequency.

State or review the ground rules to ensure a smooth flow, and that your participants are aware of the kind of participation that is required. Consider things like roles, time allocation, participation climate and estimating negative currents, etc.

If the meeting has no focus, it will wind up as nothing more than another frivolous exercise. Keeping a focus on objectives prevents deviation. Should the discussion go out of line, it is important for the chairman to redirect it.

Maintaining an appropriate pace requires good judgment to reach a balance between giving time for discussion and coming to a conclusion. It is essential to test for completion by asking the group if it is satisfied before moving on.

As the meeting proceeds, decisions or conclusions should be made. This should be the case for each item on the agenda. Conclusions and decisions should ideally be actionable.

The summary of decisions and conclusions is necessary not only as a measure of accomplishment of the meeting, but also to remind the participants of their tasks and commitments.

At the end

This is the time to decide what actions need to be taken. Ideas alone have no consequence. For results to be achieved, action must be specified and the means by which achievement is possible must be stated.

It is necessary to state the steps, get the support of all those present and ensure that tasks are assigned with clear deadlines.

This is necessary if the task is not to be left hanging as a discussion point. It is therefore not sufficient to state what needs to be done but also who will be doing it and by what date.

It is also at this stage that you need to know how to monitor and evaluate the results.

It may be necessary to specify a monitoring system to be used, for example, requiring weekly status reports or establishing evaluation procedures to determine employees’ responsiveness to a new suggestion scheme.

No meeting is ever perfect, but doing an evaluation will determine what needs improvement. Regular evaluation will soon build a modus operandi for future meetings and prevent meetings from being a complete waste of time.