7 Must-Haves for Effective Meetings

Running effective group meetings isn't hard -- it just takes planning, practice, and a healthy sense of urgency. Your reward for all this discipline will be less stress, more time for the work that matters most and a team that thinks you walk on water.

These seven must-haves will ensure your future meetings are (a) necessary, (b) constructive and (c) cost-efficient:

1. A purpose that passes the snow-day test. Imagine on the day of your meeting, a snowstorm keeps the entire group stranded at home. Could you accomplish the meeting's mission in some other way (e.g., conference call, email)? Could you get by without rescheduling? If the answer to either of those questions is "Yes," consider switching to a more efficient Plan B.

2. A designated leader. Every effective meeting needs someone to lead from start to finish, and to walk the line between allowing others to be heard and staying on topic. A good leader sets a positive, energetic tone while making optimum use of the group's time.

3. A clear goal, or set of goals, that merits the time spent in a meeting. What needs to be accomplished? What's at stake? Who needs to attend, and who simply needs to be kept informed? Consider using a meeting-cost calculator, such as the My Meeting Pro Cost app, to help guide your decisions.

4. A carefully chosen environment. The ideal environment suits the meeting's purpose, is accessible and well lit, has the required audio-visual equipment and is comfortable without inviting naps or hand-holding. (Speaking from experience as a participant, I do not recommend holding a serious meeting in a room filled with beanbag chairs.)

5. A clear agenda, sent in advance. Allow time for participants to send you any changes, so you can send a final agenda before the meeting. Taking these steps increases group accountability -- and allows you and your team to hit the ground running. Nothing screams lack of urgency like starting a meeting with mundane details that should have been covered ahead of time.

Your agenda should specify the meeting location, start and end time, who's expected to attend, meeting objectives and who's accountable for each agenda item. Consider also including what time you will cover each item, rather than simply allowing x-number of minutes (a slippery slope, given that meetings rarely start on time or stay on schedule).

6. Ground rules. Will you start the meeting on time, even if someone is late? Does the group know where you stand on the use of cell phones? How about laptops? Do you have standards in place for how participants are to treat one another? Identifying and upholding even a few simple rules will help keep your meetings focused and constructive. Ground rules also create an environment where all participants feel safe and comfortable speaking up.

7. A designated note-taker. Have someone on your team track who's in attendance, key outcomes, decisions made, next steps and deadlines, who's responsible for what and so on. Meeting minutes help keep the group informed and moving forward -- and if you ever need documentation for more serious matters (e.g., performance issues), detailed minutes can be a lifesaver.

Commit yourself to lean, effective meetings and watch morale and productivity climb. Why? Because credibility rests on a foundation of caring and competence. And no one can resist giving their all to a leader who shows respect -- especially respect for each member's time and contributions.