How to Run an Effective MeetingCharlie Bedell
Just because a meeting is efficient doesn’t mean it’s effective. An efficient meeting starts on time, ends on time (or earlier), and achieves the stated mission.
An effective meeting, on the other hand, has all of those qualities plus an actionable objective and leaves employees feeling organized, motivated and with a creative mindset for the week ahead.
Effective meetings don’t just happen by chance. They’re the product of thoughtful planning and decision-making by leaders who have a defined goal. If you’re running your first meeting, learning how to lead the discussion in a productive direction is vital.
Keep reading to learn the six rules for hosting meetings that will help you to empower your team.
A clear purpose
After leaving an ineffective meeting, the same thought tends to be on every attendee’s mind – “That could’ve been an email!” Don’t be the person who schedules a 30-minute meeting for something that could’ve been a simple message sent out to those who need to know.
Use these common work situations to help you decide if you need to schedule a meeting at all:
Situation: You need to report information to others without their input.
Action: Send an email or instant message.
Situation: You need to ask a few simple questions to an individual or group.
Action: Send an email or instant message to each individual or to the group.
Situation: You need to provide a helpful tool, resource, or link.
Action: Send it via email or instant message.
Situation: You need to come to a decision that will affect multiple people or teams.
Action: Schedule a meeting.
Situation: You need multiple people’s expertise to help you solve a problem.
Action: Schedule a meeting.
Situation: You want to get to know someone, help a new team member onboard, or start working more closely with another team.
Action: Send an email or instant message first to introduce yourself, and then schedule a meeting.
Once you’re sure that a meeting is in fact necessary, recognize what kind of meeting you’re holding. There are generally three types:
- Strategic meetings - sprint meetings, department planning, decision-making
- Routine meetings - Weekly projections, Friday recap, quarterly performance review
- Company-wide meetings - yearly review, presentations, trainings
The duration and number of participants in your meeting should be dependent on the type of meeting you’re running. For example, a routine weekly projection meeting should be limited to one specific team for forty-five minutes to an hour. There’s no need for a two-hour meeting with multiple teams attending. However, it would be necessary if you’re running a department planning meeting.
Make sure your meeting is purposeful and set intentionally before sending that invitation – your work colleagues will thank you.
Participants who can contribute
We want to be collaborative and inclusive at work, and oftentimes this prompts us to keep adding names to our meeting invites. But more meeting attendees isn’t always better.
In fact, less people in your meetings means they’re likely to be more effective.
When deciding who to invite to a meeting, choose only those who can meaningfully contribute. Otherwise, you’re just wasting their – and the company’s – time.
Ask yourself these questions before sending your meeting invitation:
- Do they offer a unique perspective or knowledge needed on this meeting’s topic?
- Will they have something to say in the meeting?
- Does their role or job description relate directly to the outcome(s) expected from this meeting?
Without the right people in your meeting, you won’t get anything done. Just make sure you’re being thoughtful about who you choose to invite.
A focused meeting agenda
With the constant multi-tasking many of us face at work, it’s easy to forget the specific reasons meetings were scheduled for in the first place.
This is where a meeting agenda comes in. We’ve all been in meetings that rambled or digressed in multiple directions. An agenda helps ensure timeliness and focus for the meeting. Before you click “send” on your next calendar invite, make sure you’ve included a list of agenda items in the invitation message. This will serve as your reminder of the meeting’s purpose when the scheduled time finally comes.
Every meeting invite should include an agenda. And it doesn’t have to be long or complex – simply put together a bullet point list of the discussion points you want to consider in the meeting.
When the meeting starts, read the agenda aloud to the group so everyone is on the same page about what the meeting is expected to accomplish. Then, right before the meeting ends, check back in with the agenda to make sure all topics were covered.
Think of agendas as the tracks on which your meetings run. No agenda means there’s nowhere for your meeting to go.
Full engagement from attendees
It’s hard to get the most from your meeting attendees when they’re distracted.Prepare ahead of time to ensure your attendees are as engaged as possible during your meeting.
First, make sure you’re scheduling the meeting at a good time for everyone. It’s often best to avoid meeting times that are early in the morning or late in the workday when people may be distracted or tired.
In fact, research has found that the best time to schedule meetings for engaged attendees is:
- Late morning, around 10am-12pm
- The middle of the work week on Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Thursdays
And in today’s age of hybrid and remote work, it’s possible that you’re inviting meeting attendees who are in different times zones. If that’s the case, make sure you’re aware of each person’s time zone, and try to schedule meetings within everyone’s regular workday.
Additionally, make sure your attendees aren’t distracted during the meeting because they’re scrambling for information. Send resources beforehand via email or instant message or attach them to the calendar invitation for attendees to read at their convenience.
It’s easier to keep your attendees’ attention if they have the materials being presented and discussed at their disposal beforehand. They will be familiar with the information and able to refer to it without interrupting anyone speaking.
Running a virtual meeting may seem trickier when trying to increase engagement during meetings, but it can be just as simple as in person. Make sure to interact with as many attendees as possible and open the floor for discussion when you can. If you’re running a smaller meeting, you can even have everyone take turns giving their input and listing any concerns.
Set up your meeting attendees for success by preparing for their full engagement. A few minutes of thinking ahead of time can turn an ineffective meeting into an effective one.
An action plan
The last few minutes of your meetings should be dedicated to discussing the next steps – the action plan. Decide who is responsible for what, and what the deadlines are. If you use team management tools like Trello or ClickUp, remember to update the relevant boards or designate an attendee to be responsible.
Every meeting should have a resulting action or outcome. If you can’t think of an action that might come from a meeting, it’s time to rethink if a meeting is necessary at all.
Consider using this question at the end of your next meeting: “Who will do what by when?” This question helps prompt you and your meeting attendees to create a plan for what needs to get done and when.
Action plans can get complex, especially when they result from effective meetings. In these instances, it’s a good idea to send a follow-up message to meeting attendees that includes the agreed-upon action plan. This keeps everyone on the same page about what needs to result from the group’s time together.
All great leaders understand that constructive criticism is a valuable tool for improvement. Checking in with your team to gauge their thoughts and feelings about your meetings promotes a positive company culture. Open communication usually leads to great collaboration, which makes the workplace better for everyone.
You might have missed something important a team member had to add. Maybe one attendee wanted to ask a question about something covered earlier in the agenda, but you moved on too fast. Whatever it may be, circling back at the end of the meeting ensures that everyone feels heard and you don’t miss anything.
When looking for feedback, it’s important to encourage honesty and ask the right questions. You want your employees’ answers to be actionable for you, so you can easily implement changes during the next meeting. Here’s a few ideas to get feedback from your meeting attendees:
- Be sure to let people know you want it! Add ‘Feedback’ at the end of your meeting agenda.
- Ask about team meetings and their effectiveness during one-on-one meetings with team members. Some people are more forthcoming with less of an audience.
- Make it simple. Create a form in Microsoft Teams or Google for feedback and attach it with the meeting invite.
How you go about garnering feedback doesn’t matter as much as receiving and internalizing the information. After all, you don’t want your meeting attendees to feel like their comments and concerns aren’t being heard.
You may be running highly efficient meetings already – but are they truly getting things done? Making sure your meetings are every bit as effective as they are efficient is a skill, but it can be learned like any other.
Effective meetings ensure that you and your organization’s time is being put to best use. And it’s fair to say that all of us want to get the most value out of the time we spend at work.
Before scheduling your next meeting, make sure you’ve thought about these 6 essentials for an effective meeting. May your next meeting be your most effective yet!