02/10/2012 02:22 pm ET Updated Apr 11, 2012

Making Meetings Mean Something

For some companies, the usual Monday morning meeting is becoming unusual. It is revamping itself, becoming a stand-up, short-lived check-in. For those who still endure the old sit-down conference table version, the format is unbearably predictable: the boss unceremoniously starts the meeting by reading the agenda, reciting the latest sales report, warning of anticipated obstacles, and then spends the remainder of the time discussing the pet peeves and projects of the few most vocal employees excluding everyone else. Or else there are the endless arguments over old issues that never get resolved.

For many of us, coping with meetings is more stressful than doing the actual work -- it often feels like not much is accomplished. Sixty to ninety minutes of tortuous boredom leads to anger, which, in turn, leads to withdrawing to keep from exploding or else becoming a comedian to camouflage emotions. Most of us are stuck in a frustrating situation we feel unable to change. Maybe the only people who don't bristle during routine, energy-sapping staff meetings are the managers who call them and those unlucky ones whose jobs are even more unbearable than the meetings.

Instead of increasing your blood pressure or clenching your jaws, why not try to turn the situation around to our own advantage? Here are some tactics that can lead you to a more effective meeting outcome and better mood:

1. Start by changing your own role. Play host early and greet people by asking each about some recent good news. Share yours too.

2. During meetings, compliment any good idea out loud and suggest ways it might benefit your group. If two ideas offered are similar or complementary, suggest a way to incorporate both.

3. When factual disputes arise, suggest an immediate decision on principle, rather than fact.

4. When the old, unresolved issue rears its ugly head again, suggest a way towards resolution; perhaps a debate. Offer to find someone who can act as a debate coach, working with your group divided into opposing teams. In a short time, perhaps only two hours, a rational decision can be forged to everyone's relief.

5. When you want to introduce an idea, be strategic. Don't bring it up by the usual method -- flinging it into the middle of the table and hoping that others will respond. Nobody does. Ideas, even good ones, usually fall flat. Instead, prior to the meeting, garner support from your leader and several members of the team so that you are backed up and can ensure better results.

6. Invent more roles to play during different meetings. Ask questions to elicit action or piggyback on a good idea or project. Just don't play antagonist or devil's advocate more than once.

7. Summarize what has already been agreed to; note new agenda items from stray conversations for subsequent meetings.

8. After a major project, suggest that each team member tell what he or she has contributed. Then go around again asking them to tell what they would do differently if the project were repeated. Record their remarks from what they've learned and see how you can use them next time. Don't be deterred by flack by others who think you are overstepping; try to get them involved too. You might talk to your manager about how to gather what's been learned to make the next projects more effective.

9. Of course, not every plan will work every time. But it's worth a try. More than a try. Not only does trying keep your anger quotient and your blood pressure down, but it gives you a chance to realize what the rest of your group craves -- someone willing to change things so that they will work better. Let that someone be you!

Make your luck happen!