Meetings are essential for team building, decision making, and collaboration. But poorly organized and inefficiently run meetings can drain employee morale and decrease productivity.

Here's a revealing exercise: In your next meeting, look around the room and estimate the hourly pay for each attendee. Add up those numbers, tack on an additional 33 percent for corporate overhead, and multiply that total by the length of the meeting in hours to gauge the cost of the meeting. You'll probably be amazed by the number you come up with, and it doesn't even tell the whole story. Because it's common for IT employees to be paid salaries rather than hourly wages, it's actually the employees who absorb the cost of the meeting by having to put in extra hours at the office to make up the time and complete their work.

Given how expensive meetings can be, the lack of training courses and information on how to run effective meetings has always surprised me. So I've compiled the following 10 tips for planning and running efficient, meaningful meetings.

1. Create goals for the meeting.


Every meeting—even mundane ones such as daily status briefings—should have a stated goal. Meetings that don't have explicitly stated goals tend to last the entire duration of the scheduled time—or even longer.

A meeting's success is determined by whether the goals are met or a reasonable course of action is decided on. For example, you might schedule a meeting with the goal of deciding what the review objectives for 2007 will be. From this goal, you can work backwards to determine who should be invited to the meeting, what information the attendees will need to have, and what items need to be on the meeting agenda.

2. Gather agenda items and distribute the agenda ahead of time.


All meetings should have an agenda that maps to the goals of the meeting. The agenda should lay out the meeting schedule to ensure that all items and presenters receive sufficient time.

To establish the agenda early, create a straw man agenda based on your best guess as to the topics that need to be covered during the meeting. Then distribute the straw man agenda to the people you're inviting to the meeting and ask that new agenda items or changes to the agenda be sent to you as soon as possible. Refine and redistribute the proposed agenda as often as necessary,-but try to finalize it at least one day before the meeting.

3. Invite all relevant people and ensure that essential people attend.


Few things are more frustrating than scheduling a meeting only to find out that some or all of the people who are critical to successfully accomplishing the meeting's goals can't attend. Meetings typically consist of two groups of people: those who are essential for accomplishing the meeting's goals and those who are interested parties or might contribute to the discussion. For inclusiveness and collaboration purposes, invite both groups, but ensure that those who are essential to accomplishing the meeting's goals will definitely attend. If an invitee sends someone in his or her place, make sure the substitute has the invitee's proxy; otherwise you might have to reschedule the meeting.

4. Eliminate distractions.


Having everyone's full attention will help accomplish the goals of the meeting as quickly as possible. Do your best to eliminate distractions during the meeting from cell phones, laptops, open windows, and everything else you can think of. If you plan to use a projector, laptop, electronic whiteboard, or other device, make sure that the equipment works and that you know how to use it.

5. Assign a facilitator.


If you can't facilitate the meeting, assign someone else to do it. The facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the meeting proceeds in a productive fashion. He or she should end the discussion if it gets off topic or ceases to be productive.

6. Assign a recorder.


The recorder's role is to record the meeting notes, decisions made, action items, and all other relevant information from the meeting. Having good notes helps you ensure that information doesn't slip through the cracks. You might want to create meeting notes for some regular or routine meetings, such as daily staff meetings, ahead of time.

7. End meetings when the goal has been accomplished.


Meetings should never end just because time is up; instead, they should end when the meeting's goals have been accomplished or a course of action has been decided on. If it appears that the allotted time won't be sufficient for accomplishing the meeting's goals, the facilitator should reserve time at the end of the meeting to determine what steps are necessary to accomplish the goals, and action items should be assigned accordingly.

8. Assign action items and move on.


It's important not to get stuck on a topic. The facilitator should identify action items that have been suggested or assigned, ask the recorder to make a note of them, and then proceed to the next agenda item. All too often, meetings get off track because a group begins discussing details of an action item that aren't relevant to the meeting's goals.

9. Distribute meeting notes.


Get the recorder's meeting notes and distribute them to attendees as needed. Ensure that the attendees concur with the notes and that everyone who's been assigned an action item knows what's expected and to whom he or she is accountable. To help new employees or those who missed the meeting get caught up quickly, archive the meeting notes on a Web site or in a file share.

10. Periodically gather feedback.


Periodically gather feedback on how meetings could have been more meaningful for the attendees, especially for recurring meetings. You can gather feedback formally (e.g., through a survey) or informally (e.g., by making it an agenda item and discussing it during the meeting).

As you progress in your management career, the effectiveness and efficiency of meetings, whether you schedule them or simply attend them, will become increasingly important. These 10 tips will help your meetings be successful and productive rather than painful and boring.