First things first: Why are meetings so ineffective in the first place?
Chances are, if you’ve experienced unproductive meetings first-hand, you’ve already done your fair bit of research and have found some advice on improving your meetings. Things like creating a better agenda, starting and ending on time, or checking whether the meeting content could be summarized in an email…
And while all of these tips are valid, if you’ve tried them, you likely realized that they’re not hugely effective. Sure, taking a critical look at your meetings and suspending some of them freed up your time, but the remaining meetings still suck, no matter how elaborate or cool your agenda is. That’s because these tips are a band-aid fix for the symptoms of a much bigger underlying problem.
The main reason meetings are such a drag is because their whole essence goes against the grain of how humans function and process information. Without a set of tools and processes in place, every meeting follows more or less the same pattern.
The introverts and juniors in the room don’t feel comfortable speaking up, even if they think they might have the right solution. The loudest, most extroverted, or the most senior team members dominate the conversation. Groupthink takes over, and team members don’t feel free to share their ideas. The conversation goes off-topic, and the team loses the focus of the initial challenge. Everyone understands the job to be done differently. No tangible outcomes are produced, and yet another meeting is scheduled.
Meetings like this are deadly to productive, meaningful work, not only because they are boring to be in, but because they don’t fulfil their primary purpose: providing alignment for the team and clear next steps for a project.
So what is the solution to ineffective meetings?
By now, it’s pretty clear that cooking up a better agenda or a new note-taking system will not drastically improve your meeting because the underlying problems– information overload, groupthink, and navigating team politics–are not being solved.
Workshops fundamentally change the way collaborative work is done. They take out the unstructured discussion and replace it with streamlined processes that help teams fully concentrate on the challenge at hand. Groupthink and talking over each other in circles are replaced by structured discussion and uninterrupted ideation.
If you’re feeling especially motivated, give it a go and try to run a Lightning Decision Jam in place of your next meeting; a Problem Framer workshop for your next project kick-off; a 10 for 10 workshop instead of the conventional brainstorming session; or an Action Board workshop in place of the normal decision-making discussion.
Cautious about getting buy-in from your team or just want to take it slow in ease yourself into the workshop ways of working? Then start by incorporating some of the techniques that make workshops so effective into your next meeting. Trust us, that alone will make it 10 times more effective.
Once you have an agenda prepared, you need to circulate it to the participants and get their feedback and input. Running a meeting is not a dictatorial role: you have to be participative right from the start.
Perhaps there is something important that a team member has to add. Maybe you have allotted too much, or too little, time for a particular item. There may even be some points you’ve included that have been settled already and can be taken off the list for discussion.
- If certain people are dominating the conversation, make a point of asking others for their ideas.
- At the end of each agenda item, quickly summarize what was said, and ask people to confirm that that’s a fair summary. Then make notes regarding follow-up. Our article, Writing Meeting Notes has more advice on how to do this efficiently.
- Note items that require further discussion.
- Watch body language and make adjustments as necessary. Maybe you need a break, or you need to stop someone from speaking over others.
- Ensure that the meeting stays on topic.
- List all tasks that are generated at the meeting. Make a note of who is assigned to do what, and by when.
- At the close of the meeting, quickly summarize next steps and inform everyone that you will be sending out a meeting summary.
After the meeting is over, take some time to debrief, and determine what went well and what could have been done better. Evaluate the meeting’s effectiveness based on how well you met the objective. This will help you continue to improve your process of running effective meetings.
Finally, prepare the meeting summary. This will be forwarded to all participants and other stakeholders. It is a record of what was accomplished and who is responsible for what as the team moves forward. This is a very crucial part of effective meetings that often gets overlooked. You need a written record of what transpired, along with a list of actions that named individuals have agreed to perform. Make sure someone is assigned to take notes during the meeting if you think you will be too busy to do so yourself.
What Is Meeting Etiquette?
Etiquette covers behaviors such as timekeeping; the use of laptops and cell phones; eating and drinking during the meeting; whether you can interrupt while someone is speaking, or only ask questions at the end; where you sit, and so on.
These rules will vary according to the culture of your organization, your management style, and the preferences of your team. And some meetings may be more formal than others, depending on the agenda and who is attending. But agreeing to these basic standards – and sticking to them – can help you and your team to conduct meetings in a more professional manner, and to achieve your objectives with the minimum of fuss or disruption.
Running an effective meeting is more than sending out a notice that your team is to meet at a particular time and place. Effective meetings need structure, order and ground rules. Without these elements they can go on forever and not accomplish a thing.
With a solid objective in mind, a tight agenda, and a commitment to involving the meeting participants in the planning, preparation, and execution of the meeting, you are well on your way to chairing great meetings.
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Make meetings more inclusive
Being inclusive doesn’t mean putting everyone in the company on the invite. Quite the opposite! Inclusive meetings are a safe space for people to express opinions—a place where people’s ideas matter more than their titles.
- Encourage team members to take written notes. Research shows that writing notes by hand helps people learn more, recollect facts better later, and gain a deeper understanding of the material than when they type notes.
- Have people write down their questions during the meeting. Collect them and go over them as a group. If meeting remotely, encourage your team to share questions in the messages section of your video conferencing platform, or encourage them to DM you on Slack. This can help introverts, or those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up, get their concerns addressed.
- Break people into groups and have them accomplish small tasks, or make decisions, together. Then have them share their findings with the larger group.
- Break the meeting into sections with a different person leading each section or part of the agenda. Switching up presenters helps refresh people’s attention span and encourages attendees to feel ownership over a topic or project.
- Ask for feedback. Where possible, check-in with meeting-goers regularly to gauge if the meetings are a valuable use of their time. Find out if the meeting was meaningful for them, and if it wasn’t, ask for their feedback on how you could improve them.
- If you’re working in a hybrid team, account for time zones. For those working remotely, face time is invaluable. Check in with remote participants to make sure they can see and hear everyone clearly before you get started. It’s also a good idea to provide dedicated space during the meeting when remote team members can participate, like during an icebreaker question or other group activity.
Leave meetings with clear next steps and owners
You know those days where you’re in back-to-back meetings? We’ve all had them. At the end of these hectic days, it’s likely that you’re not going to remember what’s needed from you. So, if you’re running a meeting, be sure to categorise the important takeaways and action items and share them with your team as soon as you can after the meeting. Where possible, assign roles and responsibilities to individual items.
- Sum up the meeting with notes and action items. Make these notes accessible to everyone who attended the meeting by posting a summary and any relevant documents on the relevant Slack channel. Alternatively, you could record the meeting and send out a link to the video meeting after. This is particularly valuable for team members working remotely or companies with a globally distributed workforce.
- Assign action items to specific individuals. It’s also helpful to schedule a deadline or a time when someone will check in on progress.
- If there were side discussions that were tabled, make sure they are surfaced afterwards. Tag the relevant people on your dedicated Slack channel, so participants can choose how, when, and if to keep them rolling.
Running effective virtual and in-person meetings can feel like a tall order, especially in a hybrid work-from-anywhere world . Too often, meetings ask for employees’ time but not for their thoughts or skill set and it’s easy to get distracted. By meeting only when needed, crafting a solid agenda, priming people to listen deeply, being inclusive, and leaving with clear next steps, you can host effective and productive meetings that leave everyone feeling inspired rather than frustrated.