“How many of you have ever felt like that?” asks Church Botwright, a vice president at Remodelers Advantage, a Laurel, Md., consulting and peer group support organization that works with residential contractors. Up on the screen comes a shot of a man rubbing his brow in exasperation. The next image shows a beleaguered business type with his head in his hands.

Every hand in the room goes up.

Every single one of the remodelers who showed up for Botwright’s seminar, just one of many at the Remodeling Show 2008 at the Baltimore Convention Center, had some experience with a bad meeting. And most would admit to having run those bad meetings.

The two main reasons that people hate meetings is that they are most often boring and unproductive. Their No. 1 intent is to communicate – ideas, problems, information, decisions, progress, plans. More often than not, though, meetings waste people’s time and cost a company money.

According to Botwright, successful meetings require two things: an agenda and starting and ending on time. A good agenda should:

  • Be distributed 24 hours before the meeting
  • Have a clear purpose and focus
  • List who is responsible for each agenda item (with advance warning given to those named)
  • Have a time limit attached to each item.

After each meeting, the person in charge should:

  • Review what worked and what didn’t work in the running of the meeting
  • Distribute minutes of the meeting, reminders of commitments (“action” items is what they’re called at many companies), and agreed-upon deadlines.

The purpose of a meeting should be stated clearly up front. Ground rules need to be laid out and time-checks done. Tangents – a big problem for many in attendance – should be nipped in the bud early. “Once you let go of control, you’ll never get it back,” Botwright warned the room. If one or two employees are always late for a meeting, call them on it. If another never speaks up, include him or her in a question that will likely guarantee a response: Name a moment of success you had this week. Make this a regular part of meetings and you’ll start hearing from the silent types. This is also a good way to see if younger workers have leadership potential.

Some hallmarks of a bad meeting are that one person does all the talking (that’s a speech, not a meeting, says Botwright), the focus keeps veering off track, and there is finger-pointing rather than healthy debate.

Daily and weekly meetings are for current, tactical tasks; monthly, quarterly, and even yearly meetings are best for bigger, strategic issues. Don’t mix the two, warns Botwright. “It’s just too hard to talk about day-to-day issues and big picture stuff,” he says.

It might take a while to change a negative culture, but it will change, Botwright promises. “Change doesn’t come easy or fast, but it will come,” Botwright concludes. “Use an agenda, avoid the common mistakes, and communicate commitments. Have a plan and work the plan.”