It’s not uncommon for employees to grumble about having to attend too many meetings. Sometimes they have a point; an excessive number of meetings can become a problem at some companies. However, there’s one kind of meeting that business owners and their leadership teams should never scrimp on: strategic planning.

That doesn’t mean you need to have one every week, or even every month. But regularly scheduled strategic planning meetings are critical for establishing, reviewing and, if necessary, adjusting your company’s short- and long-term objectives. Here are four best practices for running effective meetings:

1. Set a focused agenda. Every meeting should have an agenda that’s relevant to strategic planning — and only strategic planning. Allocate an appropriate amount of time for each item so that the meeting is neither too long nor too short.

Before the meeting, distribute a document showing who’ll be presenting on each agenda topic. The idea is to create a “no surprises” atmosphere in which attendees know what to expect and can thereby think about the topics in advance and bring their best ideas and feedback.

2. Lay down rules as necessary. Depending on your company’s culture, you may want to state some upfront rules — either in writing beforehand or by announcement at the beginning of the meeting. Address the importance of timely attendance, professional decorum and constructive criticism. Emphasize that there are no dumb questions or bad ideas.

Every business may not need to do this, but meetings that become hostile or chaotic with personal conflicts or “side chatter” can undermine the efficacy of strategic planning. Also consider whether to identify conflict resolution methods that participants must agree to follow if particularly heated arguments arise.

3. Name (or engage) a facilitator. A facilitator should oversee the meeting. This individual is ultimately responsible for starting and ending on time, transitioning from one agenda item to the next, and enforcing the stated rules. Ideally, a facilitator also needs to be good at motivating participation from everyone and encouraging a positive, productive atmosphere.

If no one at your company feels up to the task, you could engage an outside consultant. Although you’ll need to vet the person carefully and weigh the financial cost, a skilled professional facilitator can make a big difference.

4. Keep minutes. Recording the minutes of every strategic planning meeting is essential. An official record will document what took place and which decisions, if any, were made. It will also serve as a log of potentially valuable ideas or future agenda items.

In addition, accurate meeting minutes curtail miscommunications and prevent memory lapses of what was said and by whom. If no record is kept, people’s memories may differ about the conclusions reached, and disagreements could arise about where your business is striving to go.

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