Think of all the unproductive meetings you have attended: Meetings where people showed up unprepared, one person dominated the conversation, and everyone left wondering who’s going to be held accountable for the next steps. In fact, according to a recent study by Zight (formerly CloudApp), 1 in 4 office workers list meetings as their biggest time waster.
Despite this rap, great managers know that meetings can be one of the most effective tools to foster team collaboration, exchange feedback on projects and ideas, and set clear priorities – but only if they’re well-run.
This post will walk you through 10 tips that will help you and your team have meetings that produce great results.
1. Prepare and share an agenda in advance
The first rule of running effective meetings is to craft an agenda that states what’s going to be discussed and is easily accessible for everyone.
“Everyone should know why they’ve gathered and what they’re supposed to be accomplishing,” says Adam Bryant, author of The Corner Office and Quick and Nimble. “The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course.”
The most important part about this step is that your meeting agenda should be collaborative – which means that everyone on the team can add talking points and things they’d like to discuss. This will help you ensure that the meeting isn’t dominated by one person, by giving everyone on the team an equal chance to participate.
“More companies need to create meeting cultures where diverse contributors have equal impact,” say leadership experts Kathryn Heath and Brenda Wensil. “As a leader, it’s your responsibility to actively and intentionally give them opportunities to do so.”
Pro tip: Create a standard template for frequently held meetings (such as weekly team meetings). Once you’ve created that template, preparing an agenda every week will become a matter of filling in the blanks. A meeting agenda app like Fellow can help with this.
2. Review the attendee list
Meetings are expensive. As Andy Grove argues in the book High Output Management, gathering a group of employees in the same room represents a big cost for your company – and should only be done when there’s a clear purpose.
Creating a meeting agenda is the first step towards ensuring that you’re spending that time well. However, you should also review the attendee list, in order to ensure that everyone who’s invited actually needs to be there.
“People don’t often really think about who really needs to be at the meeting,” said Neal Hartman, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “Lots of people get invited and if the topic isn’t relevant to them, they feel like they have nothing to contribute and they are sitting there thinking of all the other things they could be doing.”
Pro tip: Before you send out your next meeting invite, ask yourself: Who on this list will add (or receive) value from this meeting? Is there anyone who doesn’t need to be there?
3. Bring all voices into the conversation
Sometimes, people might find it hard to contribute – but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t attend the meeting. In fact, it’s your responsibility as a leader to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to participate.
According to Adam Bryant, there are three common dynamics in a large meeting:
- A few people dominate the conversation, while others hang back.
- Some people volunteer ideas, while others only offer criticism.
- People are reluctant to offer opinions that go beyond their area of expertise.
“Any one of these scenarios can lead to people censoring themselves, which leads to a lost opportunity to get the best ideas and make the smartest decisions,” says Byant.
Pro tip: Next time you have a meeting, go around the room and ask the quieter members of the team for their opinion. Be on the lookout for interruptions, and foster a welcoming environment by repeating that there are no ‘stupid’ ideas or questions.
4. Use the Parking Lot technique to stay on track
A meeting parking lot is a tool that keeps the meeting focused on the stated agenda.
Here’s how it works: Whenever someone raises an interesting point that doesn’t relate to the already-crafted agenda, the facilitator writes that point in the parking lot (a section at the bottom of the meeting notes). This ensures that the discussion stays on track and that those points and ideas get explored at future meetings.
“Non-agenda items always seem to find their way into meetings. It is important to honor and recognize the existence of these important non-agenda items, but without interrupting the focus and goals of your meeting agenda,” says Ava Butler, an organizational development consultant.
Pro tip: Write down detailed meeting notes (including the parking lot items) in your shared meeting agenda. This will allow you to go back and track the history of your discussions.
5. End with an action plan
Just as important as taking notes during the meeting is assigning clear action items and takeaways.
“Leave the last few minutes of every meeting to discuss the next steps,” advises Adam Bryant. “This discussion should include deciding who is responsible for what, and what the deadlines are. Otherwise, all the time you spent on the meeting will be for naught.”
Your goal should be that by the end of the meeting, everyone feels better about the topics discussed and has a clear insight into the next steps.
Some effective meeting strategies to help ensure that people leave the meeting with clarity include:
- Make the meeting notes and action items accessible to every attendee.
- Share the notes with people who couldn’t attend – or better yet, record the meeting and send out the video afterwards.
- Send a follow-up message (via email or Slack) if the meeting involved an important announcement / controversial discussion, or the team morale seemed low.
Pro tip: Include an “action items” heading in your meeting agenda and go over those action items at the end of each meeting. If a meeting doesn’t produce action items, it might be time to change it … or completely remove it!
6. Ask for feedback
“We’ve always done it this way” – that’s probably one of the most dangerous phrases you can use as a leader.
If a meeting hasn’t been producing clear takeaways and people’s expressions show you that they’re not excited to be there, you should ask for feedback on how to improve the meeting!
Giving employees the opportunity to express their opinion will help you develop an inclusive culture and ensure that all your meetings are useful.
Some questions you can ask to improve your meetings include:
- Should this meeting be shorter?
- How would you rate this meeting?
- How can we make this meeting more effective?
- What’s your favourite part about this meeting
Pro tip: To keep meetings in check, make it a habit to run a meeting audit every quarter. Send a feedback request asking the attendees for suggestions on how to improve the meeting so it’s valuable for everyone.
There you have them! 6 Tips to run more effective meetings. If you want to run meetings like a pro, remember to craft a solid agenda, bring all voices to the conversation, assign clear next steps, and ask for feedback. Your team will thank you!
Hungry for more? We wrote a guide to help managers run effective one-on-one meetings.
About the author:
Fellow helps managers and their teams have more effective 1-on-1s and team meetings, exchange feedback, and track goals – all in one place. Try it for free at www.fellow.app