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Get Focused: Know Your Type of Meeting in Order to Keep Your Project on Track

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We've all been in a meeting that never seems to end and you wonder to yourself, "Why am I even here?" Most companies are what I like to call "meeting happy" and call meetings for just about everything and everyone is invited. These gatherings end with little accomplished, sap away time from busy employees' schedules and leave everyone feeling downtrodden. In a 2012 Salary.com survey, employees cited "too many meetings" as the #1 time-waster at the office, up from No 3 in 2008." Striking a balance in terms of who should attend and helping them prepare is equally important. It is time to get smart about how and when we gather employees and set up standards to make the best use of everyone's time.

Not all meetings should follow the same template. Using a variety of meeting techniques helps people focus, feel productive, and helps teams keep projects on track. Knowing your "meeting type" and following these best practices can keep you from wasting time and depleting your team's motivation. The following list outlines five different types of meetings that you can leverage to keep people on task and productive.

1. Brainstorm Generation. We all love to hate a brainstorm. Everyone knows the goals of this type of meeting so let's focus on some best practices.

Many times people are invited to these meetings that have no set purpose. In my last article, I outlined The 8 Types of People You Need in a Brainstorm so if you find yourself inviting people that do not fit into these types they likely do not belong there.

In addition, the right space and structure is critical for a successful brainstorm. For example, Chip Saltsman, SVP at consulting firm CapGemini, has developed a non-bureaucratic ideation strategy that shuns traditional collaboration. His strategy includes what he calls Accelerated Solutions Environments, or ASEs, which are varied spaces and media such as writable walls and surfaces, books and even toys for brainstorming. These spaces allow teams to brainstorm without boundaries, feeding off of one another to inspire additional ideas.

2. Revisions. A revision meeting is when a project is underway but requires additional refinement -- think of it as a phase two. It is imperative that these meetings stay focused, so sending out prep materials in advance is helpful in order for all stakeholders to come prepared. Only those that are involved in the creation of this product/initiative or those that will use it once it is completed should attend. Be sure if you've already had the brainstorm, you skip ahead to this step, or your participants will feel like they're stuck in the same brainstorm session on "Groundhog Day."

3. Progress. A progress meeting, and what should be one of shortest meetings, is all about accountability. If it can be handled via email, it should be, but at times a brief meeting is more productive than lengthy email chains. If the project is stuck or not on target, this is the time to address it. However, one thing to keep in mind is that there is a time for a public hanging and a time for tough love in a private setting. Lighting a colleague on fire in a group setting is a delicate matter that can have serious long-term ramifications so make sure the item being addressed is specific and needs to be addressed forcefully. Be sure to address each task and move on. This is not the time to discuss issues of the project in detail.

4. Process Mapping. During these meetings, participants are encouraged to map out a process towards a set goal and help avoid roadblocks or delays. By doing this, the entire team can work together to generate with a resolution to keep the project moving on schedule. Many companies use this to help not only improve processes, but bottom line costs. For more information, check out this link.

5. Team Building. This is perhaps one of the most important meetings, because what good is any project if the team does not trust one another? Or, better yet, what about those projects that involve multiple groups that might not know each other? A simple exercise like moving desks based on project affiliation or going on a team outing can help boost morale and build camaraderie among teams. These types of meetings and events can also help form a bond of trust between different groups and will significantly improve the overall success of a project.

As I stated before, the common theme among these meetings is structure and focus -- meetings truly require these factors in order to be successful. The right space, people, and goals are vital to the success of the project.