Many managers consider meetings to be a huge waste of time. They often grumble that they spend all day attending meetings rather than doing "real work". However, if the objectives of meetings are to solve problems, make decisions, and communicate with others, isn't this the job of management? Meetings are an essential part of management. I'm all for eliminating unnecessary meetings, but it is unrealistic to expect that you can eliminate them all. Your challenge is to make all of your meetings effective, both as a leader and participant.
The first step of improving the effectiveness of your meetings is to make them more efficient. Prepare a well thought out agenda, and start and finish on time. If people have become accustomed to arriving late, start the meeting without them - they will soon get the message. Once you start paying attention to the efficiency of the meeting, it's amazing how quickly meeting effectiveness improves as people become more focused.
I often encounter managers who spend all day running frantically from one meeting to the next. They have no chance to follow-up on their commitments from previous meetings, or to prepare for their next meeting. Like dominos falling, later meetings are increasingly delayed as earlier meetings run over. My suggestion for these people is to schedule 15-30 minutes between meetings to allow time for the inevitable delays.
Another critical discipline for effective meetings is to keep a log of decisions taken and actions agreed to. I'm not talking about minutes, which often take days to transcribe and distribute, and are seldom ever read again. Instead, I recommend a simple action log capturing a brief description of each issue discussed, the actions agreed to, who is accountable for following-up each, and when they will get it done. At the start of each meeting, review the action log from the previous meeting. At the end of the current meeting, review the updated action log combining incomplete actions from the previous action log with any new actions. Distribute a copy of the action log immediately following the meeting, or better yet, distribute it before people leave the room.
For additional ideas on improving meeting effectiveness, Seth Godin offers some suggestions in his excellent blog.