Meetings. Aren't they just gripe sessions, fostering negativity? Don't they bore you to death and distract from the real work that needs to get done that day? Aren't they a waste of your company's time and money?

This is what many remodelers think about meetings. Consequently, they don't hold formal meetings, even in multimillion-dollar companies.

I believe the opposite. Well-run meetings harness your team to achieve goals and to be accountable for results in their day-today roles. Meetings allow an owner to communicate a uniform message efficiently and build future leaders for the company.

Run Like Clockwork

Picture this: It's the weekly key management team meeting. It's always held Tuesdays at 8 a.m. It includes the company owner, the office manager, the sales manager, and the production manager. Everyone has learned to be there on time because they know the meeting will start right at 8 and they'll be embarrassed to walk in late. They know that it will end by 9:30 and have scheduled their day accordingly. There are no interruptions unless it's an actual emergency. The meeting is facilitated by the company owner, working from a written agenda. If the company owner is on vacation, the meeting is run by one of the key team.

The office manager has e-mailed the agenda to everyone before the meeting. She compiles it by checking with each attendee as to whether they have an issue they want to discuss, how much time should be allotted to that issue, and how high a priority it is (just in case there's too much on the agenda). She arranges the agenda with departmental reports first, ongoing project reports next, and new issues last.

The office manager also makes sure the Flash Report -- a concise one-page report with key data -- has been compiled and copied for each attendee. It includes leads taken in, sales made, jobs closed, client evaluation scores received, and much more.

The key team finds that having this information prepackaged for the meeting saves considerable time and keeps them focused on the important numbers they want to track.

Reading Financials

Once a month, analyzing the latest P&L and balance sheet is on the agenda, as well as reviewing the 2004 budget to actual report. This meeting is two hours long because the key team's goal for 2004 is to become better educated about how to read financials and use the information they provide to manage better.

To train themselves, they read and discuss a chapter in a book on financial management for nonfinancial people and their accountant comes in to answer questions and teach a short lesson.

As the meeting progresses, the office manager takes minutes. The minutes are a record of what's been agreed on by all present and who will do what and by when. These minutes will be e-mailed to all attendees. The record of who will be responsible for which tasks or projects will be rolled forward into the next agenda.

The meeting chair keeps the meeting on task and time and will ask participants who might have gotten off track to work on that later, outside the meeting. Everyone leaves updated on the state of the entire company and with a sense of accomplishment that they are invested in the company's success and that the company is continuously improving.

Yes, this is the picture of the perfect meeting. Of course the point is that great meetings don't just happen. They're the result of organization and planning. So if your meetings are foundering, make them productive with these seven tools: a clear purpose; guidelines for behavior; a written agenda; a defined time frame; a facilitator; minutes; and flash reports.

And don't forget to throw in some fun, celebration, and recognition. They'll make good meetings even better.— Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage Inc. in Fulton, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. (301) 490-5620;;