by Steve Adubato, PhD

You can tell a lot about a workplace team by observing its meetings. Do people look forward to the weekly staff meeting as an opportunity to brainstorm, make important decisions and share valuable information? Or, do employees dread these meetings as a huge waste of time?

Since professionals in business spend so much time in meetings, consider some questions and answers that can help.

Q—What is the optimal number of meeting participants?

A—Four to eight. Once you get to ten, twelve or more meeting participants it is extremely difficult to accomplish anything meaningful or productive. The more people at a meeting, the greater the invitation to hide and not engage. In addition, with such a large group, a meeting leader has to be an experienced and accomplished facilitator to get people actively involved. Many meetings have such a large number of participants because managers feel more secure knowing that everyone on the staff is attending a meeting. However, this is a misguided leadership approach that produces many negative outcomes.

Q—What is the best time of day to hold a meeting?

A—Sometimes, the time of day that you hold a meeting is beyond your control. However, mid-morning is usually best, after employees have settled in and had the opportunity to check their e-mail, voicemail and get a cup of coffee. Energy level is high and people aren’t yet distracted by the many challenges and problems they are likely to face. One of the worst times to hold a meeting is at the end of a business day, particularly if the agenda items are challenging and difficult. Lunchtime is fine as long as you provide food, which presents another excellent opportunity for team building and the informal sharing of information.

Q—What are some other reasons why meetings don’t work that this column hasn’t explored in the past? (Past Star-Ledger columns can be found at

A—Following are just a few:

--Certain meeting participants dominate the discussion while the meeting leader does nothing.

--Meetings that go on forever and simply end out of fatigue.

--Sometimes technology can dominate a meeting. Facilitators are convinced they need PowerPoint presentations or other high-tech communication devices to deliver an important message. Sometimes this approach creates more barriers and obstacles to the kind of personal, human communication that only a team meeting can offer.

--Uncomfortable conditions—too hot, too cold, uncomfortable seats, poor ventilation, etc.

Q—What should a meeting leader do if he gets stuck on a particular agenda item?

A—This can be very frustrating. As a meeting leader, after 15-20 minutes discussing the same topic with no decision or consensus reached, a meeting leader should seriously consider tabling the item for a future meeting. However, it is important to assign specific tasks moving forward and ask people to come prepared to offer concrete recommendations and make a decision at the next meeting. One of the things professionals really hate is having the same item on the agenda week after week.

Q—How important is a meeting leader’s attitude and approach to a meeting’s success?

A—It’s absolutely critical. Even the best teams have meetings that can fall flat when the meeting leader is uninspiring, unfocused or simply doesn’t communicate effectively. No matter what difficult or challenging agenda items are on the table, a meeting leader must remain upbeat and positive, consistently communicating that he or she believes the team can accomplish its goals. As soon as participants sense that the meeting leader has gone on auto-pilot, they begin to shut down and stop contributing. When this happens it is fatal to any meeting.