It's December, and we're on the cusp of the new millennium. The Y2K doomsday crowd is predicting massive power failures, even economic collapse, while others are prognosticating the dawn of world peace and global understanding. Whichever way it goes, one thing's for certain: Most of us will find ourselves in a staff meeting that first week of January.

The weekly staff meeting is one of corporate America's most despised rituals. The typical version lasts about an hour and is scheduled for sometime Monday morning. Attendance is mandatory.

An anthropologist dispassionately observing this ritual would see one person after another give a brief report on his or her activities of the past or upcoming week. A psychic, able to peer into the thought bubbles above each person's head, would easily see that what most people are thinking about has nothing to do with the discussion at the table.

There's Got To Be a Better Way If you're thinking that there must be a better way, you're right. My first suggestion: Cancel the meeting altogether! Many staff meetings are held for the benefit of one person--the manager. It's his or her opportunity to catch up on what's happening with the team. And while it might be efficient use of the manager's time, it's typically wasteful for everyone else, which translates into waste for the company.

There are other ways for managers to gather their information. Consider the following three, but remember that the key is to do them with the same regularity as the meeting they're replacing: * A manager walk-around--Instead of getting everybody together in the same room, the manager visits with each team member individually for five to 10 minutes. It takes about the same net time for the manager but saves the staff time.

* A written report--How about having employees write up a short status report? Use a standard format that is easy for the employee to complete and for the manager to digest. Do it by e-mail, and your "meeting" is over in five minutes.

* Status boards--Some projects lend themselves to visual displays of information. A glance at a status board may be all a manager needs to feel comfortable that things are under control.

What If the Meeting Is Mandatory? Can't avoid the meeting? Then try some of these other ideas to make it more effective: * Shorten it--Does your meeting normally last an hour? Try scheduling the same meeting for half an hour and see how people's attention and focus change. This is an experiment they're going to want to see succeed!

* Win them over with food--Take the edge off an otherwise unpleasant experience. Set up a rotation schedule among the team so that everyone gets a chance to feed the creativity of their peers. While some folks may stop at the local bakery, others may take this chance to show off their culinary talents. Homemade scones? Now that's a meeting people will look forward to!

* Play a little--Small, quiet toys are preferable. Have an array of squeeze balls, Slinkys, hand exercises, finger toys, and Silly Putty. Or a nice assortment of those visual toys where colored goop, oil, or sand drips when you turn them over. A little tactile stimulation helps to elevate people's moods, and professional facilitators use toys like these all the time to help boost creativity and attentiveness.

* Get competitive--Adding a little competition to the mundane may be all that's required to shake things up. Who can deliver a status report fastest, without compromising completeness and intelligibility? Who can work the "word of the day" into a status report most creatively? The group gets to decide at the end of the meeting, and the winner gets a reward.