Run Effective Meetings

How to Run Effective Meetings Everyone Enjoy [Full Guide]

“If you aren’t meeting regularly with your team, you don’t have a team. What you have is a collection of boxes in an org chart.” - Barbara Burke

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.” - Dave Barry 

These quotes represent two radically different perspectives on meetings. While the first quote recognizes the necessity and value of regular team meetings in developing a team’s identity, relationships, and teamwork, the latter represents meetings, generally, as a waste of time.

The truth, however, is that meetings are what you make them. As Bob Weir aptly sums it up, “The meetings can be a lot of fun or they can be frustrating.” This makes you the master of your team meeting’s fate. Adopting team meeting best practices allows you to run enjoyable and effective meetings and transform how your team works. 

We will discuss them extensively in this article. 

Why Are Meetings Important in the Workplace? 

By definition, a meeting is a gathering of two or more people who come together to discuss or exchange information on a particular topic or to make decisions. 

It can be formal or informal and can take place in person, over the phone, or online. They are often used as a way to communicate and collaborate with others in a professional setting.

While we often use instant messages and emails to communicate ideas in the modern workplace, we must admit that sometimes, a team meeting that brings all stakeholders together for a quick discussion is more efficient and necessary.

Being a crucial part of a company’s communication and operation, meetings fulfill different purposes besides the obvious one of sharing information. Some are listed below:

  • Building alignment

Meetings allow team members to communicate with each other actively and are a sure way to guarantee that they are aligned. These yield several benefits for teams, including improved productivity, responsiveness, and efficiency. 

Teams that lack alignment on these crucial aspects tend to have a disjointed approach toward projects and goals. 

  • Inclusive decision-making

Decision-making and planning within teams should not exclusively be the manager’s responsibility. Managers who monopolize the decision-making process are often left with inequitable and sub-par decisions, as well as an excessive workload.

Team meetings counteract this and foster inclusive decision-making by giving room for team members to contribute their knowledge, opinions, and ideas during the decision-making process.

  • Improving team bond and collaboration

Meetings are very valuable in building rapport as nothing matches face-to-face communication in fostering relationships - a practice that is threatened by the remote work culture and the increase in asynchronous communication.

During team meetings, members typically have open discussions, talk about both social and work-related topics, and gradually become better acquainted.

Improved affinity further helps create harmony in the workplace and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. A survey found that 37% of employees rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important” and teamwork is the reason why over a third of them stay with a company.  

Despite the bad reputation, meetings are vital to every area of a team’s work. Therefore, every team should see them as an opportunity and adopt the right practices to make the most of them.

When Should We Hold a Meeting and When Not?

While meetings are beneficial, they are not appropriate for every situation, or else there won't be complaints about how a meeting could have been an email.

Knowing when to hold a team meeting and when to communicate through instant messaging will help avoid overburdening employees and having unproductive meetings.

You should hold meetings when

There is a clear goal for the meeting 

Meetings should never be held on a whim. A meeting without a clear intention or goal you seek to achieve might not be held in the first place. 

Sometimes, having a goal is often not even sufficient. You should take it a step further by interrogating whether the meeting goal can be efficiently achieved through asynchronous communication and only proceed to hold the meeting if the answer is negative.

The subject matter is sensitive or complex

Not every discussion can be efficiently done over email. Where the subject matter you wish to discuss requires the input of team members, or it is sensitive or too complex for textual communication, for example, the sprint planning, a meeting is necessary. 

A good way to test if the subject matter falls in this category is if the outcome of the discussion has a far-reaching impact on the company or team. 

Immediate action or feedback is required

Some situations might require prompt action or decisions from the team. For example, during a crisis or emergency, it might be necessary to brief all team members and come up with suggestions on how to approach the problem.

A key thing to note here, however, is that while emergency meetings might sometimes seem fitting, you should avoid them unless you are convinced that they are absolutely necessary because they tend to disrupt employees’ schedules and workflow. 

Real-time collaboration is necessary 

The increasing popularity of remote work has made asynchronous collaboration the method of operation for many teams. However, there are instances where real-time collaboration is necessary for tasks to be efficient and productive. 

You should avoid having team meetings when

There is no agenda for the meeting

No agenda, no attendance.

You should have second thoughts if you are going to hold a meeting without an agenda that outlines the details of the meeting and the topics for discussion.

Without an agenda, the meeting is likely to be unfocused and unproductive. The lack of an agenda is also often indicative of the absence of clear meeting objectives and topics. Going on to have a meeting in such an instance would be a bad use of team members’ time. 

It is merely for sharing information 

Meetings are unnecessary where your intention is simply to share an update or non-sensitive information. Using emails or other messaging software would be more appropriate for such events - they are quicker, and employees can have a look when they are available without interrupting the current work.

Key participants are unavailable

You should never hold a meeting where key participants necessary for having a meaningful and productive conversation are not available. In cases where the conversations proceed without them, resolutions might be reached without the necessary information, input, or legitimacy.

It is not uncommon for the resolutions reached at such meetings to be upturned and another meeting rescheduled to accommodate the key participants.

Participants are unprepared for the meeting

Before going into a meeting, ensure the expectations and guidelines are set and communicated clearly. You should also share all the information and documents relevant to the discussion so that every participant can take the time to prepare and have something to share within the meeting.

Where these are not in place, proceeding to hold a meeting would often be a waste of time.

Making this distinction between when to hold meetings and when not to and only calling for meetings when necessary will save your team time and money and will be appreciated by employees. 

This way, you can also clear up time and divert them instead to more productive activities.

12 Pro Tips to Lead an Effective Team Meeting 

Here is a shocking number: an abysmal 11% of meetings are productive. The problem with this figure becomes even more apparent when the amount of time and resources invested in meetings are considered.

Employees spend an average of 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings while businesses lose $399 billion a year, in the US alone, to them. 

Meetings are also unpopular among employees - and even more surprisingly, managers - because their values are, sometimes, not apparent. In a study by the University of North Carolina which surveyed 182 senior managers in various industries: 

  • 65% of the respondents said that meetings prevent them from completing their work 

  • 71% consider meetings unproductive and inefficient 

  • 64% believe that meetings come at the expense of deep thinking

But as we explained earlier, whether team meetings are effective or waste-of-time largely depend on how you run them. Based on research and our true experience, we have prepared a list of team meeting best practices to make them effective and enjoyable. 

1. Define the purpose and goals of the meeting

As a leader, you must consistently drive effective communication. Meetings must be deliberate and intentional - your organizational rhythm should value purpose over habit and effectiveness over efficiency. 

- Chris Fussell

The starting point for organizing any effective meeting is defining its purpose and goals. The purpose is why you are holding the meeting. This could be because you want to conduct a review, make a presentation, discuss an idea, receive and share updates and information, brainstorm on a campaign or improve team affinity.

The goal of the meeting, on the other hand, is what you hope to achieve with the meeting. In other words, “What do we hope to achieve at the end of this meeting?”

In the case where recurring meetings have been scheduled, it is important to constantly evaluate if there is a purpose and goal for the meeting before going on with it. For example, if you have weekly team meetings, it is bad practice to go into each meeting only because it is expected without interrogating and defining the aim. 

2. Draw up a participants list

“Meetings should have as few people as possible, but all the right people.”  — Charles W. Scharf

What makes a good participant list is not volume, but function. 

An easy way to trim a lengthy list of participants is first to ask, “Who is vital to this meeting?” These are the most important stakeholders in the meeting, including the key decision-makers, contributors, and anyone who will affect the outcomes of the meeting.

Secondly, “Who is it expedient to include?” These are participants that are nice to have but who the meeting can go on without.

And thirdly, “Who does not need to be there?” They usually only receive information and have nothing to contribute.

After identifying where each participant falls, you can proceed to remove those that fall in the third category. You can further trim the list by removing participants in the second category too.

3. Create and share an agenda in advance

Besides serving as a guide for meetings and letting participants know what to expect, agendas are a very effective way to make meetings more productive and save time. 

After drafting up the agenda, share it with other meeting participants for their feedback and input. Sharing a meeting agenda shouldn't just be for notification purposes. A good meeting agenda enlists what preparation your attendees should have ahead of time. 

Do they need to create a report? Are they coming with a proposal? Are they to come up with potential solutions for a particular problem? All these are what your shared meeting agenda should address.

As a manager setting up a meeting, it is also important to assign roles well ahead of the meeting, provide clarifications on anything participants are not sure of, and provide them with all the information they require. 

4. Send meeting invites and follow up with reminders

The meeting invite should be sent at least 1 day before the meeting to allow participants time for preparation.

A study showed that 96% of employees had missed meetings due to a plethora of reasons. But a way to avoid this is to follow up on meeting invites with reminders.

Reminders are even more necessary when there is a stretch of time between when the meeting invite is sent and when the meeting is scheduled for. The reminder should emphasize the importance of attending the meeting and provide details of the date and time. 

5. Test tech equipment and software

Both virtual and in-person meetings often require reliance on tech equipment and software. You might need projectors to make presentations, video conferencing apps, or meeting management software. 

The organizer should be five minutes early to test these out to ensure that you are familiar with how they work and that they are in good condition before going into the meeting.

Detecting and fixing any problems ahead of the meeting will prevent unpleasant surprises and time wastage when the meeting starts.

6. Start the meeting on time 

Tardiness is especially common with internal meetings. According to research, the average delay time per meeting for employees is 10 minutes and 40 seconds. This adds up to 3 days and 2 hours lost annually. It is even worse for senior executives with an average delay of 15 minutes and 42 seconds per meeting and 5 days and 19 hours annually.

Starting meetings late is another culprit in why there are delays in meetings. Delayed meetings, in turn, affect the work schedule of participants, waste time, and diminishes meeting productivity. 

So, avoid keeping participants idling in the waiting room or sitting and expecting the meeting to start by starting the meeting on time.

Having a 5-10 minute window where participants can join before the official meeting time is ideal. This way, the meeting can start right on schedule.

7. Facilitate participation  

Employees are, more often than not, reluctant to express their thoughts and opinions in the workplace and in meetings. It is common to have people who tend to speak up or participate during meetings and others who do not speak up at all or only do so when called upon. But participation is key to having effective and enjoyable meetings.

According to research by the University of North Colorado Social Research Lab, the absence of psychological safety in the workplace is the leading cause of workplace silence and the absence of innovation. 

This is a major problem that goes into the organization’s very culture. So, creating an environment of psychological safety within the larger team and organization is an important first step.

Within the meeting, however, managers can employ simple conversation facilitation devices such as asking open-ended questions to involve more quiet team members, involving them in the conversation by inquiring about their thoughts and opinions, starting the meeting with ice breakers, and listening actively and attentively when they speak.

Also, ensuring that all team members practice respectful communication and show regard for one another within and outside meetings might make participants feel more psychologically safe.

8. Keep the meeting on track

In order to maximize the limited time you have for the meeting, it is important to keep the conversation on track by focusing on the goal of the meeting.

Avoid distractions and off-topic discussions, and do not entertain unnecessary deviations from the talking points in the agenda.

In the event that a team member raises an important issue that wasn’t included in the agenda, you could make a decision on whether to address it during or after the meeting based on what the team’s priorities are. Otherwise, you can address it after exhausting all the talking points for the meeting if there is still time.

9. Stick to the agenda and time

Every meeting agenda should have a meeting duration and timeframe for each agenda item.

It is the responsibility of both the meeting convener and participants to ensure that they complete the discussion within the timeframe provided. And here are several tips:

  • Keep the discussion focused on the relevant issue

  • Encourage participants to go straight to the point when they speak

  • Make sure enough time is allocated for each item when creating the agenda

Where spill-overs inevitably occur, try to make up for the lost time by keeping discussions on the next item as focused and concise as possible.

10. Take meeting notes   

Meeting notes are an account of what transpired in a meeting. Good meeting notes should contain records of issues discussed, deliberations, resolutions, and action items (should specify the team members responsible for each item).

However, manual note taking is often daunting and distracting f