Most projects can benefit from collaboration. But sometimes when people get together to collaborate, the meetings get sidetracked.

How can you help keep meetings on track, so your collaborative efforts can stay effective, creative and productive? Try the following:

  1. Start with an agenda. Without a common focus, meetings can go off the rails quickly. Having an agenda makes it clear what you want to accomplish – even before you schedule your first meeting.

  2. Watch the size. Yes, you want everyone’s input, but too many cooks can make a very chaotic kitchen that never actually serves a meal. Limit the size of the team by determining upfront which departments should be involved, then choose one team member to represent each department.

  3. Connect. The central theme of any collaborative meeting should be to connect with the team, and to share and respond to thoughts and ideas. Spend a little time at the start of your project getting to know the team personally.

  4. Define roles early in the project. Don’t leave people wondering “Why am I on this team?” Establish roles early in the project. Google VP of Business Operations Kristen Gil advises that all meetings should have a clear decisionmaker.

  5. Assign reasonable homework. Unfortunately, your collaborative project isn’t the only item on everyone’s to-do list, so assign reasonable actions that team members can complete between one meeting and the next. Put the actions in writing and share them with the entire team. Does one person have too many responsibilities? See if other team members can help out.

  6. Talk regularly. Can’t have a formal meeting every week? Check in with the team in a casual environment – whether face-to-face, through a group chat or via phone or videoconferencing calls. It helps to keep the project front-of-mind with everyone on the team.

  7. Be visual. Use mind mapping and other visual techniques to diagram project ideas and information for a quick overview of the project from start to finish.

  8. Speak up. The best part about collaboration is that every idea is valuable. Encourage team members to talk, to work in small groups – and to be open-minded.

  9. Be open to old ideas, too. Even if the company tried approach “B” before and it didn’t work, if the idea seems good, use it as a springboard. Maybe there’s a way to take the best parts of the idea and spin them into a new, winning approach.

The idea behind project collaboration is to come together as a team with a common purpose – and then to make sure that purpose isn’t derailed by inefficiencies and ineffective behavior. It’s a process of bringing order to chaos, a fun challenge we all take on every single day. And learning how to keep meetings on track is a key part of that process.

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