When was the last time you attended a bad meeting? For far too many people the answer to that question is probably within the last week, if not the last day. If bad trades are a part of baseball as Annie Savoy says in Bull Durham, then bad meetings must just be a part of business. They happen everywhere, every day, zapping the energy and engagement out of everyone involved. But what it if they didn’t have to? What if we could have productive, healthy meetings where things were accomplished everyone left on the same page? It’s possible, but we have to follow the rules.

Rule #1 There Must Be An Agenda

Any meeting without a written agenda is a meeting bound for chaos and confusion. While this might seem like something logical that should go without saying, conference rooms in every corner of the country are in use every day with busy people wasting time without a definite, set, written agenda keeping them on track. If you’re going to call a meeting, take the extra time and put an agenda on paper. It will save you hours of frustration.

Rule #2 Only Invite Interested Parties

One of my mentors used to tell me that camel is a horse built by committee. This makes sense if you’ve ever watched a room full of people try to work out problems and find solutions with too many voices being heard a once. Not everyone has to attend every meeting. If you want to be effective and efficient at the same time, shrink the number of voices you’re letting in, especially in the beginning. Narrow the invites to the people who need to be there and meetings become much more meaningful.

Rule #3 Always Assign Roles

In every meeting, there are three main roles that must be filled. It’s best if three different people fill these roles and it’s best if it’s worked out in advance. These roles are a facilitator, the person making sure that all voices are heard. Secretary, (meant in terms of an office, not a job title, and let me be the first to mention that men can and should fill this role too!) the person recording the minutes. The timekeeper, the person whose job it is to ensure that the meeting ends on time. When these roles are filled, everyone else has the responsibility to be prepared and participate to make the meeting successful.

Rule #4 Start Every Meeting On Time (Regardless of who’s not in the room)

The biggest reason why most meetings seem to run on and on is that we spend way too much time waiting for people to arrive. This is really our fault because we’ve conditioned people to believe that we’ll wait on them, so they show up on their schedule. Set a new tone. Start every meeting on time and refuse to take time out to catch up late arrivals. Stay late if necessary but out of respect to those who made it on time, don’t backtrack, proceed and watch as more people make more of an effort.

Rule #5 If Your Meeting Is Longer Than An Hour, You Need Two Meetings

The average adult attention span is about 50 minutes, That’s all the time we really have to give any issue significant focus. I understand that marathon meetings are seen as a sign of strength in corporate America, but it’s truly just time being wasted. Set an end time to your meetings and stick to it, regardless of the outcome. It will force economy, focus your group on what’s really important and keep the engagement that big ideas truly need. If an hour doesn’t cut it, schedule another meeting, but respect the time of your team and end on time, no matter what.

Ask anyone in business today what their biggest time wasters are and most will tell you, it’s meetings that don’t yield results. Follow these rules and I guarantee you will reclaim lost time, increase focus and see infinitely better outcomes. Meetings don’t have to be as bad as they are, it just takes the discipline to follow the rules and a leader to set the standard.