Administration and Leadership, Columns

Be Productive with your Meeting Time and Agenda

Issue 4 and Volume 40.

Anybody who knows me knows I’m not a big fan of meetings “just to meet.” I don’t see the point of stopping whatever you’re working on to gather with no agenda, because those get-togethers always turn into a social hour. Sometimes, something valuable comes out of sitting around and talking, but in my experience it’s generally a waste of time.

I’m familiar with organizations that have scheduled meetings—weekly, biweekly or monthly—not because there’s anything to meet about, but because it’s scheduled; so we better get together! When the meeting time arrives, everyone gathers in a room and someone begins discussing the hot topic impacting the EMS organization at the time.

Don’t get me wrong; I think meetings can be very productive, especially when there’s an agenda or an issue that needs to be addressed. But meeting so we can say we met has never made sense to me.

Setting an agenda and assigning actions to take afterward can prevent meetings from becoming counterproductive. CanStockPhoto/andegro4ka


Threats to Productivity

These are some of the ways a meeting can become unproductive and distract from the main mission of the organization.

1. There’s no agenda. There’s nothing worse than showing up for a meeting and wondering what the topic is going to be about. How do you prepare yourself? Many organizations have Monday morning staff meetings. Maybe it’s to talk about what happened last week, or what happened over the weekend. Perhaps it’s to discuss what needs to be addressed in the upcoming week. Maybe it’s all three.

But, if you’re going to have a Monday morning staff meeting, at least have an agenda with what needs to be addressed by the staff. To say, “We’re going to meet every Monday at 8 a.m.,” and not provide a specific agenda each time, has never made sense to me. It’s imperative you have an agenda for every meeting.

2. Meetings go too long. I’ve been in meetings that have gone all day. We’ve even had to send out for food so we didn’t interrupt the flow of the meeting. Sometimes I’ve sat there and imagined how much work I could be getting done if I wasn’t in a meeting listening to someone pontificate on something that doesn’t impact my particular area.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used to hold standup meetings—where everyone stands up for the duration of the meeting. Usually, as can be predicted, these meetings lasted no more than 20 minutes.

Standup meetings are an excellent way to keep from dragging on when everyone gets comfortable sitting in chairs. They’re also a more effective way to bring everyone on the staff up-to-date on issues in the organization. One good agenda to use in a standup meeting is to have everyone describe what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan on accomplishing today, any problems on the horizon and anything that’s impeding them from accomplishing what they’re working on.

My rule of thumb is that if a meeting goes more than an hour while sitting down, you’re wasting time.

3. No action items are assigned. One of my pet peeves is when you walk out of a meeting with no action items to address issues you just discussed for the past hour. I equate it to going to a restaurant, looking at the menu and then walking out without ordering anything. What was the sense of meeting if you don’t walk away with a plan to address issues that came up in the meeting?

4. People are late. Inevitably, there’s always someone late for the meeting. Why? Maybe they were busy working on something or had to travel from another location to attend. Usually the method for dealing with these individuals is to wait for them to show up—extending the meeting even longer. Instead of waiting, start the meeting on time and if anyone isn’t there, they’re responsible for catching up. Soon, they learn meetings start on time and they’ll plan appropriately in the future.

5. People monopolize. Everyone loves to hear themselves talk. They have something to say on every topic and will frequently interrupt the person who’s talking to make their point. What could be a 30-minute meeting will become an hour-long meeting to accommodate these individuals. Make sure to keep the discussion on topic and minimize interruptions to keep the meeting efficient and effective.


If you’re going to call a meeting, be productive about it. Have an agenda, control the meeting to make sure it doesn’t go too long, be prepared and show up on time.