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When I conducted my informal survey about what constitutes bad manners in the workplace, in-house meetings were the number one forum for transgressions. From smartphone use to eating, interrupting to surreptitious texting, the things we bring to the table – literally – in meetings had everybody up in arms.

It makes sense. Meeting etiquette is an important piece in the productivity puzzle. We’ve all been in a nightmare meeting where people are interrupting, going off topic, texting and losing interest. It’s both annoying and time wasting. Good etiquette ensures not only that meetings run smoothly, but also that participants can share their ideas.

The most important piece of good meeting etiquette is to be prepared, which we wrote about in our blog Team meetings that run perfectly: follow the 5 Ps.

Smartphones: we’d love to banish them from the meeting room, but they are handy when you want to call up that email or refer to the notes from that meeting last month.  Rather than ban them, the rule could be that phones are in flight mode unless actively being used for the meeting. If the meeting runs for less than an hour, ask yourself if you really have to respond to that ‘urgent’ request right now. In longer meetings, wait until a break to check emails and messages.

If you want to use a phone or tablet to take notes, ask if the chair of the meeting is okay with it. That way, other participants understand that your tapping isn’t you texting a mate or tweeting about the dull meeting you’re in (which of course you will never do).

Another absolute no-no is scrolling through emails or checking your social media accounts or the sports scores. Don’t think that nobody notices. It’s distracting and disrespectful. The message you are sending is that the people in the room are not important. If you’re meeting with anybody who can influence your job or career, this is foolhardy; if you’re meeting clients, it’s potentially disastrous for your organisation – and ultimately for you.  Nothing will make you look less like team player.

So what if you really are expecting an urgent call?  The best course of action is to let the meeting organiser know, and take the call outside the room

Whether you are running the meeting or not, it can be tricky keep others on topic without seeming rude. The key is to make them feel valued. Instead of telling them they are off track, you could say something like: ‘That’s an important point and I’d like to discuss it, but I feel it’s not the topic of this meeting. Can you email me after the meeting?’ This lets the person know that their input is valuable, just not timely. If their input is in fact not valuable, the email conversation will be brief. If it is valuable, another meeting may be required. But this method ensures both meetings are highly focused and productive.

Another thing that was mentioned was eating in a meeting. Unless it’s something prepared for a lunch meeting or your routine is to get out the office bikkie tin, don’t eat. Having a coffee is okay; tucking into a chilli chicken panini is distracting and off-putting to others. And if you have a coffee or use a plate, clean up after yourself and leave the room the way you found it.

Finally, respect everybody’s time by sticking to your schedule. Don’t be the person who makes meetings run over time by reserving your questions for the end, just as the meeting is wrapping up. Learn to ask questions and make your contribution at the right time. Meetings that run over time clog up rooms that are needed for other meetings, and tie up people who may be required for other groups’ projects. And good manners are, after all, about considering others.


By Alison Hill

You probably spend a lot of your work day in meetings.  According to software company Atlassian, on average we attend a staggering 62 meetings a month, for a total of 31 hours. And we find half of them are a waste of time.

Whether time in team meetings is time well spent or time wasted depends on the five Ps: purpose, planning, preparation, participation and P.S.



A meeting needs to be the best way to use the hour or so it takes. Make sure the purpose is clear before the meeting begins, and start by stating what you hope to achieve in the time allotted. Be specific by saying something like, ‘We have an hour to decide between x and y, hear a report back from Z, and to revise the tasks allocations for the week.  By the end of the meeting we should have our decision and a list of seven tasks.’


Send out an agenda if you are responsible for running the meeting, or ask for one if you’re not. Be clear about what the outcomes should be, invite those who need to be part of the decision-making, and leave out those who don’t. Arrange the agenda items so that the most important items, or those that involve the entire team, are dealt with first.

Allocate a time to each item and move o when the time is up. This way you will cover everything and avoid the team leaving feeling cynical and sour about wasted time. Have a designated note taker who will pay attention and record decisions


Read the agenda before the meeting. Think about the issues and consider what you will contribute. Do your research before the meeting if items on the agenda are a mystery to you. Having to explain to one team member what the rest already know is a time waster, and a poor reflection on you.

Make sure you have any reports, facts, statistics or examples with you, as well as any items to be handed to team members. Take along extra copies of the agenda. If you use a whiteboard or projector, make sure they are set up before you start.


Make the hour count. Concentrate and participate. Leave your laptop and devices outside the room (unless you ABSOLUTELY must be contactable, in which case switch to silent and leave the room to answer calls). Don’t ramble, and don’t introduce a topic that isn’t on the agenda. If it’s really, really important, mention it and set up another time to discuss it.

If others are not participating, ask them for their opinion. Most importantly, don’t do other work, or daydream, or start side conversations. That merely demonstrates disrespect for others in your team.


Following up after a meeting is perhaps the most important step. It’s a good idea to have the note taker record actions and decisions and who is responsible for them, and distribute them to all the meeting participants straight after the meeting, or at least by the next morning. Put a deadline against as many actions as possible, and then get them done. That way your team meetings will become surprisingly productive.

Do you have tips to share about making time in team meetings productive? Let us know.

Find out about Challenge Consulting’s tailor-made team building workshops here.


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Meetings. We all have to attend them. Sometimes we actually need to. But it is an incredibly common bugbear of most professionals that meetings get in the way of actually doing work. 

Our online survey last week asked: “What is the #1 reason meetings are a waste of time?” 

It ended up being a tie for first place. More than 20% of respondents selected both “No set agenda or purpose for the meeting” and “Meeting turns into a pointless gab-fest because no-one is in control”. 

One financial services manager I personally asked this question of did not draw breath for at least two minutes as he described (somewhat more colourfully than I will paraphrase here) his feelings about meetings: “I spend more than half my time in meetings on an average day. Frequently, the meeting commences and after about three minutes I find myself thinking ‘why am I here?’ There is no clear purpose, no set agenda, no notes are provided or taken, and no-one is assigned to any action items at the conclusion. Utterly pointless. 

“Another thing I hate is when people attending the meeting have not come prepared by reading any of the pre-meeting information provided. Half of the meeting is wasted bringing them up to speed. 

“It is also extremely annoying when the person who has called the meeting is unwilling or unable to maintain control over the pace and length of the meeting because they allow attendees to talk endlessly about the meeting’s topic or, worse still, get off topic altogether. Someone has to run the meeting, even with clients. Especially with clients. Some of the clients I deal with have all day to talk. I don’t.”

Right then. 

Knowing all of this, is there such a thing as a worthwhile meeting? Of course there is, but, as Dr Ken Hudson, author of the international series “The Idea Generator, The Idea Accelerator and Speed Thinking”, says: “I may be being harsh on corporate Australia, but making the most out of meetings seems to be lost on most managers.” * 

So, what can be done? Here are some tips for effective meeting management to guide you (or your organisation’s meeting organisers – pass this on!) through preparing and running a meeting that people want to attend and actually benefit from **: 

1 – Plan the Meeting: Effective meetings that produce results, begin with meeting planning. First, identify whether other employees are needed to help you plan the meeting. Then, decide what you hope to accomplish by holding the meeting. Establish doable goals for your meeting. The goals you set will establish the framework for an effective meeting plan. 

2 – Make Sure You Need a Meeting: You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or by distributing and requesting information through the company newsletter. Make sure the meeting is needed and not just convenient for you – you’ll get better results from attendees. 

3 – Ensure Appropriate Participation at the Meeting: If a meeting is the appropriate means to accomplish your goals, check with the participants who must attend for the meeting to succeed. The needed attendees must be available to attend the meeting. 

4 – Distribute and Review Pre-work Prior to the Meeting: You can make meetings most productive and ensure results by providing necessary pre-work in advance of the actual meeting. The more preparation time you allot, the better prepared people will be for your meeting. 

5 – Effective use of meeting time builds enthusiasm for the topic. It generates commitment and a feeling of accomplishment from the participants. People feel part of something bigger than their day-to-day challenges. Therefore, a well-facilitated, active meeting, that sets the stage for follow-up, will produce meeting results. 

6 – Effective Meeting Facilitation: An effective facilitator, who keeps participants on track, ensures the accomplishment of expected, desired results from the meeting. 

7 – Use the Pre-work in the Meeting: You reinforce the need for participants to spend the time needed upfront to review material that is integral to accomplishing the desired results. 

8 – Involve Each Participant in Actions: Every work group has various personalities that show up for meetings. You have quiet co-workers and people who try to dominate every platform. Whether facilitating or attending the meeting, you need to involve each attendee in the accomplishment of the meeting goals. 

9 – Create an Effective Meeting Follow-up Plan: During the meeting, make a follow-up plan with action items, including: the specific action item, the name of the person who committed to “owning” the accomplishment of the action item, the due date of the action item, and an agreement about what constitutes completion of the action item. 

10 – Publish Meeting Minutes: Begin by publishing your minutes and action plan within 24 hours. People will most effectively contribute to results if they get started on action items right away. 

11 – Effective Meeting Follow-up: Following the meeting, each person with an action item should also make a plan for their personal accomplishment of their commitment. Whether they write the steps in their planner, delegate the tasks to another staff person, or just complete the task, the individual is responsible for follow-up. So is the meeting planner. Your goal is to check progress and ensure that tasks are underway. Remember that what you ask about gets accomplished.


* Too Many Meetings Hurting Business

** Effective Meetings Produce Results: Tips for Meeting Management