People talk about team meetings like they’re a dirty word, and it’s true that without the right preparation they can often feel like a waste of time and energy. Minds wander, focus is lost and before you know it your meeting has missed its mark.
According to software developer Atlassian, the average employee attends 62 meetings a month and yet 31 of those hours is considered a waste of time. This results in massive direct and indirect costs for organisations. So, why is it that when time is such a valuable resource, we spend so much of it in unproductive meetings? In this podcast and post we look at four essential ingredients of an effective meeting. We’ll also provide a link below to our simple Meeting Agenda Template.
#1: An effective meeting has a clear purpose
All too often someone calls a meeting without articulating or even considering what they actually want to achieve. If you don’t know what your end goal is, how can you have clarity or direction?
So, before calling a meeting, think about what you want to get out of it. At the end of it, what do you want people to say or know? What outcome or next logical step do you want people to agree on? Or consider it this way, if your manager asked participants what the meeting achieved, what would they say?
To help you define your purpose, think about the following:
- Is this a catch up meeting?
- Is this a planning meeting?
- Is the intention to learn something or share knowledge?
- Is this meeting to generate and develop ideas?
- Do we need to solve a problem?
- Do we need to make a decision?
When you’re clear on the meeting’s purpose, don’t forget to share it with participants before the event.
#2: An effective meeting gives a feeling of achievement and engagement
On the whole, people complain that meetings are energy-draining and time-wasting. This is often because they’re not engaged and don’t feel involved. Sharing the purpose of the meeting beforehand will go some way to build engagement as mentioned above.
Circulate the agenda itself in advance but go one step further and ask for comments on it. This not only engages participants in the planning process but also means issues brought up before the meeting won’t disrupt your agenda during the meeting itself.
To encourage a sense of involvement during the meeting, don't do all the talking. Ask questions and invite contributions. At the end of each agenda item, summarise the key action you took out. If further items need discussion, note whether or not they should be covered in the current meeting or in another meeting. And always distribute actions within 24 hours.
Encourage people to note down or photograph the actions you've taken or get each person to take note of their own actions. Just because you're running the meeting doesn’t mean you must be responsible for all the administration of it. Share the love!
Staying on topic is a key issue and meetings can quickly lose direction if things digress too far from the matter in hand. If someone dominates the conversation, affirm their contribution but steer things back to the agenda or to another participant. Remember, you’re in the driver’s seat.
#3: An effective meeting is short, starts and ends on time and follows a sensible structure
Sticking to a schedule starts with starting on time. Pre-arrange with participants to start the meeting promptly. All too often, time is wasted recapping for those who turn up late. When you’ve agreed with the group about start time, tardiness should not rewarded with recaps and summaries. Press on with the meeting and if people are late it’s on them to get up to speed. Let everyone know that's how meetings will be run from now on.
Your agenda will keep things on track and on target - but only if you stick to it. If someone hijacks the meeting and threatens to derail your agenda, ask diplomatically but firmly whether this is the best use of your time or if you can take this offline.
There are some people who love process and structure, but for the others who like things more fluid, meetings can veer into ongoing discussion. Take charge by making sure to build sufficient discussion time into the agenda before moving on to X or Y actions, or next steps.
If time is running low, explain what you intend to do about it and how you’ll tackle agenda items not yet covered. It might be that you defer to the next meeting or have another discussion offline. One tip is to put a timer on 10 minutes before the end of the meeting so everyone can hear it. (Another tip is to finish five minutes early. This way people will definitely leave with a smile on their faces!)
To prepare an agenda, consider these factors:
- Results - what do you need to accomplish?
- Participants - who needs to attend for it to be successful?
- Sequence - what order will the topics be covered (tip - high priority first)?
- Timing - how much time will be spent on each topic?
- Date and time - when will the meeting take place?
- Location – remember to be specific.
#4: An effective meeting has the right participants
An important aspect of running effective meetings is to make sure you've got the right people in the room based on the meeting’s purpose. This could be a real game changer for those who make assumptions about who should attend. For example, you might assume that if the meeting is important to you, your manager should be there. But is that always the case? Think laterally and consider whether there’s someone else, perhaps closer to the problem, who could attend instead of your manager.
If you’re the manager in the above scenario or in cases where you don’t feel you need to attend a meeting you’re invited to, consider asking the organiser if you can provide the information required without having to be there. Or, ask if there’s a time when you can pop in and present the information. Be mindful of your time. It’s a finite resource.
Scrum meetings - an example of simplicity and efficiency
It’s worth noting the efficient simplicity of the Scrum meeting. These are highly effective for very fluent teams and typically run for 15 minutes, inviting each team member to share just three things:
- What they achieved yesterday
- What tasks they plan to complete today
- What problems may prevent them from achieving those goals.
As a manager, isn’t this exactly what you want to know? And don’t you want to make sure everyone leaves a meeting with a clear understanding of the state of play and what needs to be done? Exactly!
Effective meetings improve focus, collaboration and performance
Meetings give us the opportunity to exchange ideas, discuss objectives and leverage the collective intelligence of our people - but only when the right ingredients are in place. If you follow these four criteria and steer with a firm hand, you can bring your team meetings to whole new level of focus, collaboration and performance.
We encourage you to download our meeting agenda template then start with one or two of these insights and incorporate them into your repertoire. And please give us some feedback. We’d love to know how you're going.
Four Essential Ingredients for Effective Team Meetings