According to Atlassian, the average employee spends 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings. This raises a critical question for managers to ask themselves: Am I running effective meetings or wasting my team’s time?
This article will cover tips that can help you organize your meetings better, making them the most effective use of everyone’s time. In this article, we’ll walk through all of the necessary steps you’ll need to take:
What is an effective meeting?
Effective meetings go beyond an agenda. It’s about involving the right people, having a purpose or goal for this time, making decisions (and action items to follow), and most importantly, avoiding the dreadful “should have been an email” meeting.
Let’s dive in!
1. Ask yourself: Do I really need this meeting?
Just like we mentioned before, every meeting should have a purpose or goal. If you’re only planning to share information with your colleagues, is a meeting necessary or is that information best served in an email or Slack message?
Outside of recurring meetings like team meetings and one-on-ones, other meetings you’ll need to spend time assessing whether or not they’re needed can include:
- Brainstorming meetings
- Project retrospective meetings
- Project kickoff meetings
2. Only include relevant people
Once you’ve decided to set up a meeting, you need to consider who should be involved in this meeting. When deciding on who to include in your meeting, think about the following roles:
- Key voices – Those who are there to share their viewpoints and form the decisions
- FYIs – Those who are there to listen because the decisions made will affect their day-to-day or a project they’re working on.
3. Send the agenda before the meeting
Before you send your meeting invitation to all the attendees, be sure it includes a meeting agenda. Sharing the agenda ahead of time means that:
- Everyone is accountable for coming prepared to the meeting
- Meeting participants can add in new agenda items or context to existing items
- You can better prioritize what’s discussed during the meeting
4. Have a defined meeting goal
Every meeting should have a goal or objective. Meetings are a great option for:
- Understanding and eliminating roadblocks
- Reviewing how the team is tracking against goals
- Developing new ideas to help reach those goals
- Making decisions
- Motivating and engaging the team
If you’re not what you’re hoping to get out of the meeting, try finishing this sentence:
At the end of the meeting, I want our team to…
Once you have a meeting objective, you’ll be able to organize each step of the meeting quite easily. Don’t forget to share the meeting goal with the rest of your team. You can easily do this by adding it to your agenda or calendar description.
5. Think about the time frame
When it comes to the meeting’s duration, there are no precise rules. It all depends on the meeting’s purpose and its topic. Of course, nobody likes sitting for hours and going around in circles. Frankly, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
When thinking about the time frame, ask yourself:
- How much time is needed to accomplish your meeting goal?
- Is there enough time saved for items that others may add to the agenda?
- Is this the best use of everyone’s time?
When you’re able to answer those questions, you’ll be able to define your meeting length.
However, keep in mind that the time frame isn’t set in stone forever. As you run your meetings more frequently, you’ll be able to gauge whether or not you’ve booked too much, not enough or just the right amount of time.
When it comes to team meetings, here are some recommended meeting lengths:
- Bi-weekly team meeting: Consider starting with a 45-minute meeting.
- Brainstorming session: The recommended length for this type of meeting is anywhere between 15-45 minutes with the sweet spot being 30 minutes.
As you continue to meet, remember to track the time of your meetings. This will ensure that you’re being respectful of everyone’s time, while getting through all of the agenda items everyone’s added.
6. Be remote-friendly
FYI surveyed 486 people about remote work. They asked the participants: “Did you have a remote meeting in the last 7 days?”, 91% of people said yes.
Whether you have a fully or partially remote team, you need to make sure your meetings are remote-first/accessible for remote workers.
Here are some useful tips for having a successful remote-friendly meeting:
Have the right tech in place
There are so many collaboration tools built with remote employees in mind. Leverage those to make your meetings and overall communication more inclusive to these workers.
Some tools to consider include:
- Meeting management tools
- Time tracking software
- Knowledge base software
- Video conferencing tools
In the same FYI survey, they asked, “Which of the following video/audio chat tools do you use in remote meetings?”
- 69% said Zoom
- 41% said Google Hangouts
- 22% said other
- 22% said Skype for Business
- And 10% said WebEx.
Assign a “remote buddy” so that no one is forgotten.
This is great for partially-remote teams. A “remote buddy” is a dedicated onsite worker who is responsible for making sure that all remote members of your team are always included in things like:
- One-off or recurring meetings
- Keeping remote members looped in, especially in situations where onsite team members have spur-of-the-moment conversations
A remote buddy makes the workplace inclusive for all remote workers on the team.
During the meeting
7. Start on time
Set the tone with your team. Not only is everyone accountable for coming prepared to discuss what’s on the agenda, but they’re also accountable for showing up on time.
If you feel like your team isn’t great at this, consider adding in an agenda item to discuss at the start of your meeting. You can even add it right into your meeting description. An example of this could be:
- Agenda item: “Meeting rules: Arriving on time and come prepared”
- Meeting description: “Please remember to respect everyone’s time. That means that everyone is accountable for showing up to these meetings on time and prepared.”
8. Leave distractions behind
More on meeting expectations, also make a point to let everyone know that when you’re meeting, you’re meeting. You’re not there to focus on other work, like writing that blog post or fixing that bug.
Ask all the meeting participants to put away any distractions – phones, laptops, etc. This should apply to everyone but your assigned notetaker. To make this meeting even more effective, project your agenda onto a screen so everyone can follow along as you move through the meeting.
9. Encourage others to participate
There are many ways to encourage your team to speak up during meetings. Different mechanisms will work for different teams. Let’s walk through two that you can start implementing today.
Using a shared agenda
As mentioned earlier, when your team has access to the agenda prior to the meeting, they’ll have more time to form their thoughts and opinions. When people feel confident in their answers, they’re more likely to participate in discussions.
In addition to that, some individuals just don’t want to speak during a meeting (and that’s okay). By giving them a digital means to contribute to the agenda, you’ll still be encouraging them to participate but in a way that is comfortable for them.
Fostering a culture of psychological safety
One of the best ways to do this is to foster a culture of psychological safety on your team. Harvard Business School Professor, Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” She further defines it as “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”
If meeting participants feel safe enough to open up and share their thoughts and ideas, your team will be able to tackle problems and think up ideas more holistically.
10. Add notes and summarize items as you go
Do you remember what you had for lunch last Friday? What about the meeting you had two weeks ago? You might remember its topic, but not the details. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. People simply can’t recall every piece of information.
According to Dr. Art Kohn, Professor at Portland State University School of Business, on average, we forget 50 percent of information after one hour, 70 percent in 24 hours and 90 percent of information after one week.
The best way to keep track of everything you’ve discussed during the meeting is by taking notes. That’s because you’ll be able to revisit them and review past decisions or conversations.
When it comes to taking notes, here’s what you should know:
- Your notes should be accessible to everyone
- You should always document decisions and why those decisions were made
- Before adding the decisions to your meeting summary, repeat them out loud to the team to make sure that everyone agrees
11. Assign the next steps/follow-up
During the meeting, you’ve made certain decisions. What are your next steps?
Assign tasks to your team members and add deadlines. This will keep everyone on your team accountable for the things they’ve committed to. When it comes to next steps, here are some practical tips:
- Have all of your next steps in one place. This makes it easier for people to go back and check on what they’ve committed to and action on those items.
- Keep the lines of communication open: Make next steps visible to everyone on the team that way, when things get completed, everyone is aware.
12. Send meeting notes to everyone
Whether your notes live in a meeting management app or you send them via email, make sure that they’re accessible to all participants.
You want to make it easy for people to go back to your meeting and review what decisions were made, what next steps they agreed to and any other context they’ll need to do their job effectively.
Some things to consider including in your meeting notes are:
- Who was at the meeting
- A list of the items that were on the agenda with summaries of each
- Action items that people committed to
13. Ask everyone to rate the meeting
Getting feedback is the best indicator of whether or not the meeting was effective. As you collect more feedback, you’ll be able to make the necessary iterations needed to improve the meeting.
The most simple yet effective way to get feedback is by asking your colleagues to provide feedback immediately after the meeting has ended because it will be fresh in their minds. The feedback doesn’t have to be extensive. It can be as simple as asking, “How would you rate this meeting?”
You can offer three simple answers to this:
- Needs Improvement
Pro tip: Soapbox will automatically send out a meeting feedback request to all participants after you finish every meeting.
14. Do a meeting audit once in a while
Just because you’ve been having a recurring meeting for a few months doesn’t mean it’s crucial for you and your team.
To double-check which meetings are necessary and which aren’t, you should do a meeting audit. It’s an evaluation you can do every few months.
- Are current attendees the right ones for each meeting?
- What results do you get from each meeting?
- Do you manage to achieve the desired goal of each meeting?
15. Cancel your regular meetings for some time
Now, this may sound too radical an idea, but it can be effective.
Would you like to know which meetings are significant for you? If so, cancel them all for a particular period – a week or a month.
Here’s why this method can be quite helpful: You’ll realize that you absolutely need some of these meetings. Also, for some of them, you won’t even notice they’re not happening.
And that’s it, you’ll be able to distinguish meaningful from irrelevant meetings.
Although each of these tips are equally important, be sure to implement what will work best for your team. When your meetings are run effectively, your team will be more aligned, productive and on track to reach your team goals.