Most meetings are useless. It is not because the core concept of people getting together to discuss ideas and make decisions is flawed. But rather because most meetings are bloated (too many attendees), unfocused (unclear what the expected output is) and poor forums for decision making (result of the prior two factors). Those meetings slow progress. Slowed progress kills morale. Axe them.
If you do need to have a meeting, there are rules you can follow to make it a positive force for progress:
1) If there is no decision to be made, you don’t need the meeting. Just send an email with an information update.*
2) A decision should be the goal of the meeting, the agenda should cover the necessary agenda topics to reach the decisions. The goal and agenda must be stated in advance so everyone is aware. How can you expect to get a solid prioritization of feature ideas for the next sprint if the attendees walking in aren’t aware that is the goal? No pre-set agenda and goal, cancel it.
3) The audience for the meeting should be limited to the set of people who are 75% likely to come out of the meeting with an action item. If it is low likelihood someone will have to take action, they don’t need to be there.
4) If a decision is reached early, end the meeting. Goal is met, move on.
5) Keep a block chain. If you stick to above, you’ll start having effective, action oriented meetings. That’s great. One of the by products of this is that other people will want to “see” whats going on and keep abreast of the decisions. This will manifest itself in a growing list of “Hey, can you add me to X…” To keep the meeting effective, you need to divorce transparency from attendance.
The best way to do this is by a keeping a notes block chain – eg a comprehensive, running, transparent set of notes that details 1) who was there 2) what was goal and agenda 3) salient points discussed 4) decisions reached and 5) action items. The best tactical way to do this is running a Google doc, create an email alias (that anyone can subscribe too) and email an update with new notes after each meeting.
NOTE: I come at this from the PM perspective but believe that a good meeting is a good meeting, regardless of goals and the above is useful of all.
*One exception might be a brainstorming meeting, which might not produce a decision but still has a goal of clear output: ideas.