Are meetings or conference calls a good way for you and your team to get work done or are they black holes sucking vital energy and scarce time out of your day? Many managers, project, or team leaders practice very poor “meeting hygiene.” People drift in and out, side conversations distract from the main discussion, discussions drift off track, meetings don’t start or end on time, decisions and next steps are unclear, there’s a mini-meeting happening among a small group of participants with everyone else as spectators, conflicts simmer and occasionally flare up to burn group members, or sessions are a meeting of the bored.

Whether meetings are with everyone in the same room, on a teleconference call, or coordinated online, the most effective ones follow disciplined processes. Whenever you’re running a physical or virtual meeting, use this checklist to keep you on track. If you’re a participant, raise questions or make suggestions for what you think will help your group have the most productive time together.

Meeting/Conference Call/Online Process Checklist

• Each session has adequate planning and preparation around who, what, when, where, and why;
• An agenda shows the purpose (information giving, decision required, problem-solving, input needed, etc.), desired outcomes/objectives, decision-making process to be used (command, consultative, consensus), and time allocated for each agenda item;
• The agenda has been distributed far enough in advance of the session for participants to adequately prepare;
• Ground rules are clearly established and owned by the group;
• The physical setting/environment/technology for the session provides the right atmosphere, space, and equipment;
• Session roles (discussion leader, chair/facilitator, time keeper, note taker, etc.) are clear;
• Follow-through and follow-up from previous sessions ensures accountability and things don’t slip through the cracks;
• Each agenda item is summarized and actions/decisions documented before moving on to the next one;
• When the time allocated to an agenda item has been reached, but the discussion not yet concluded, the group revisits the agenda timeframes and resets priorities for the rest of the session;
• The session pace contributes to maximum effectiveness;
• Next steps and follow-up action plans are clear;
• The group periodically reviews and improves the meeting/conference call/webinar process;
• Notes are distributed within a few days of the session.

Meeting/Conference Call/Online Ground Rules

Getting a group to agree on basic ground rules describing desired and unacceptable behavior is critical to using your time together most effectively. It’s a simple and high impact step that’s often missed.

You can present a list like this one and vote on the top five you all need to especially pay attention to. Or you can have the group come up with their own list. What’s key is that you keep using, reviewing, and giving each participant feedback when you are on and off track.

• Sessions start on time with all the right participants present and ready;
• We call each other when team norms or session ground rules are violated;
• We stay focused and on topic;
• Sniping, pot shots, or putdowns are not allowed;
• Discussions focus on the problem, issue, or behavior avoiding personal putdowns, judgmental statements, or sweeping generalizations;
• Cell phones, Blackberries/PDAs, texting, and other people do not interrupt the session or divert participant’s attention;
• Everyone participates and stays engaged in the conversation;
• When discussions involve just some participants, we encourage them to have a separate discussion at another time;
• We don’t cut each other off, finish someone else’s sentences, or engage in side conversations;
• Those with dissenting opinions at least feel their point of view was heard;
• We practice “cabinet solidarity” by keeping disagreements and debates inside the session and not continuing debates or disagreement with others outside our team after the session;
• With major decisions/discussions, ending the session, or when we want a consensus decision, we go around the team and get everyone’s point of view;
• We look for lots of opportunities to celebrate, recognize, and appreciate our team/organization successes;
• We have a high laughter index using constructive, positive humor.

Please add your experiences or suggestions on how to keep your virtual or physical meetings highly productive and energizing.