How effective are your meetings?
Are they effective?
Often leaders think they are effective – when they really aren’t. They think they are running great meetings, but, unbeknownst to them (often because they don’t ask) their attendees think otherwise.
So, how are your meetings, truly?
At whatever level your meetings are at, there is a high chance for room for growth.
In this article, I will give you 15 tips on how to run effective meetings that not only produce more but may actually make meetings more enjoyable as well.
Table of Contents
Understand the importance of meetings – and treat them that way.
One major reason meetings are unproductive or feel like drudgery is because we treat them like drudgery. We see them as necessary evils, something just to get through.
This Is an issue, because, as a leader, if you have that mentality toward meetings, that mentality and attitude will pass to your team.
And if they run their own meetings, guess what? It will pass to them as well.
It’s important that you remember why meetings are important.
Why are meetings important, you ask?
(I’m glad you asked).
Meetings are important because they can help grow the team, and it’s where ideas are shared, important decisions are made, alternate opinions can be given light, important information can be shared (and questions asked), and where problems can be solved.
Patrick Lencioni said in his book The Motive, “Meetings are the setting, the arena, the moment when the most important discussions and decisions take place. What could be more important?”
Steven G. Rogelberg said in his book The Surprising Science of Meetings, “Meetings are not in and of themselves problematic. Meetings are essential to teams and organizations. Without meetings, organizational democracy, inclusion, participation, buy-in, communication, attachment, teamwork, coordination, and cohesion would all be compromised…. What we need to rid ourselves of are bad meetings, wasted time in meetings, and unnecessary meetings.“
Understand that meetings are important and treat them that way. If you treat them as important, others will, too.
Know the cost of the meeting
Every meeting has a cost. Think about if you have 6 people who make $60,000 a year. If those 6 people have a one-hour meeting, the cost is more or less $250, just for the salary.
We often line items and budget for pens and software and everything else, but the cost of meetings is often forgotten.
If those 6 people have 5 meetings in a week that all last one hour long, that is costing you $1,500 per week, or about $78,000 per year.
That doesn’t include the loss of productivity during those meetings – the work that could be done but isn’t.
It also doesn’t include the misery and pain caused by ineffectively run meetings.
Steven Rogelberg said that the annual cost of meetings in the United States is $1,400,000,000,000 (that’s 1.4 trillion).
This is not to say that we shouldn’t have meetings. Au contraire, my friend.
What it does mean is that we need to make sure we run meetings well and that the meetings we have are needed.
If it’s something that can be handled by an email, a quick phone call, or a 5-minute chat, do so.
Only have meetings when they are needed – and then make sure to run them well.
Know the purpose for the meeting (and what kind of meeting you are having)
What is the purpose of the meeting you are having?
Is it to give updates? Is it to discuss a decision? Is it to decide? Is it to strategize? Is it to lay out details on a plan?
WHY are you having the meeting?
What is the purpose and goal of the meeting? What is it meant to accomplish?
If you can’t answer that, you need to figure that out before calling the meeting.
If you are just having the meeting because it’s what you do every week, stop the meeting until you can figure out the actual purpose for it.
Also, and similarly, what kind of meeting is it? Is it a strategic meeting? Tactical? A daily check-in? A quarterly review? An information-sharing meeting?
Know what kind of meeting you are having, and why, and make sure your team knows as well.
Prepare and Plan for the Meeting
Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, said “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment with $2,000, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers.”
Rogelberg said, “A poorly conducted and unnecessary meeting is indeed a form of time theft, a theft that can be prevented.”
We would not waste hundreds or thousands of dollars being unprepared for a client presentation or let someone just blow it on random gear or software or allow someone to walk out with expensive equipment, but we sometimes waste that kind of money being unprepared for meetings.
Or we plan but plan poorly.
When you don’t plan and prepare, the meeting is run poorly. It wastes time, and it’s disrespectful to those who attend the meeting and their time.
Make sure you are prepared for every meeting you hold.
Make sure you have a plan for the meeting. This is often done through an agenda.
An agenda itself doesn’t mean you’ve prepared, but having a well-planned agenda does help.
An agenda can list out every topic discussed (and you could get people’s input before the meeting). It also simply be, “Each person discusses for 3 minutes the issues they are facing, then we decide from there what is most important for us to talk about”.
If you have a presentation or slides or handouts or whatever it may be, make sure it’s ready to go (and tested) before the meeting starts.
Make sure you are prepared and don’t steal time from your team.
Prioritize the most important topics first
Make sure the most important topics are discussed first.
This is important for a couple of reasons.
First, if you run out of time without finishing what you planned to discuss, you’ve still discussed the most important topics.
Also, the first items are often given a disproportionate amount of time (be careful of that, too), so make sure you put the most important items first so that they are given the time they need.
Limit the number of people in the meeting
This can sometimes be hard for different reasons. First, you want to be inclusive and get other people’s viewpoints. People also sometimes feel shafted or less important if they aren’t invited to the meeting (and feel more important when they are).
However, it’s important to limit the number for a variety of reasons. First, remember that every meeting has a cost – each person is another salary you are paying for that meeting (and if they don’t really need to be there, that’s a wasted cost). It also means those people aren’t doing their regular productive work either.
Second, the more people you add, the harder it can be to make decisions. (It’s been said that after 7 people, each additional person reduces decision effectiveness by 10 percent).
It also leads to social loafing. When there is a large number of people, it’s easier to check out and not participate and let others do the talking.
Make sure to invite only the people who need to be at the meeting – who have some form of stake in it – depending on the goal and purpose of the meeting.
Rogelberg says that you can always have people come in for part of a meeting and leave or gather input from others beforehand or keep them in the loop with email updates so that they are still involved and don’t feel as left out.
Start the meeting on time (and end on time – if you have an end time)
Start on time. Every time.
There’s no reason to delay. When you delay because people aren’t there, you are being disrespectful to those who are on time. That can affect their mood and make the meeting less productive.
It also sets a precedent – if you wait this time, they know you will wait next time. Your meetings will then NEVER start on time.
Instead, be respectful, set expectations, and start on time. If they are late, they will likely not be again. If they continue to be so, then that’s a separate conversation to have with that individual.
Also, if you have an end time, make sure to end on time. Going over is a great way to irritate your team, and it can also be frustrating and harmful as others may have meetings set that they will be late for if you run late.
Set expectations for the meeting
Set clear expectations for the meeting and how it will be run.
It could be a good idea to have the team help come up with the expectations and guide it as you need to.
For example, expectations could include:
- Staying on task and focused
- Everyone gives input
- Disagree with ideas, not people (separate person from an idea)
- If you disagree or have an alternative viewpoint, you will speak up
- Respect everyone
- Arrive on time
- We are about the best idea, not our idea
Then, in future meetings, remind people of the expectations. You could ask at times if everyone still agrees or if the expectations need to be updated.
And make sure everyone lives and sticks to it. If they aren’t, remind them of the expectation they agreed to.
Quickly stop negative behaviors
Make sure to stop negative behaviors immediately. If people start attacking others or putting down others or cutting others off, make sure you act and don’t wait.
If negative behaviors are allowed, they destroy psychological safety, your meetings will be a lot less productive, and worse decisions will be made.
Build psychological safety
If you really want to have an effective meeting, your people need to feel safe speaking up, disagreeing, and sharing problems and mistakes without fear of being reprimanded, made fun of, or punished.
That’s part of why it’s important to set clear expectations and stop negative behaviors, but it’s also important that you model those behaviors as a leader and be vulnerable.
Share your own mistakes and areas where you are growing. Ask for feedback and input.
When people make mistakes, don’t be about “getting them” for it, focus on helping them learn from it and supporting them.
When someone brings up a problem or asks for help, thank them and praise them for bringing it up.
If you can build an environment where people feel safe speaking up, where they feel supported vs. threatened, then you will have much more productive meetings.
Make sure everyone gives input
The most productive meetings are where everyone speaks up and gives input. The more equal the voices, the more effective, in general, the meetings are.
Don’t let others dominate meetings. Make sure to give voice to each person and their viewpoints.
Sometimes others stay silent because they don’t want to rock the boat (or because others talk so much). Make sure to draw out their viewpoints from them (and limit those who speak too much).
Also, don’t dominate the meeting yourself with your viewpoints and your opinions.
Flee from consensus and groupthink
Sometimes consensus is seen as the gold standard of an effective meeting. No one argues and everyone agrees with the decisions.
Sometimes even leaders tell their team not to argue.
That’s wrong. You don’t want that. In fact, it’s dangerous.
If you don’t have anyone speaking up against your idea (or someone else’s idea), then it’s likely people don’t feel safe speaking up.
And when people don’t speak up, you don’t hear possible pitfalls about the idea or alternatives that could be better or that you could draw from.
You end up making terrible mistakes because no one disagrees.
You don’t want consensus.
In fact, when deciding, it’s okay if not everyone agrees with it. Not everyone has to agree with their mind, but once the decision is made, they need to agree with their actions.
And the thing is, if everyone is “agreeing” in the meeting, it’s likely some are talking negatively about it outside the meeting.
Encourage dissent and disagreement
This really reinforces the above.
You want to encourage disagreement and dissent. You want people to argue different viewpoints.
It’s how the best decisions are made.
If people don’t feel comfortable doing so, you will have to work on creating the environment where they do.
You can have someone play the role of the person who disagrees. Or you may ask people to list out potential pitfalls and then everyone shares them.
You may ask them “If this option isn’t possible, what would we do then?” or “Six months from now, this decision bombed, what happened?”
You may call on people to say something wrong about the idea.
Whatever it is, encourage people to disagree so that you can get the best-vetted ideas possible and make the best possible decisions.
Also, make sure it’s clear that you separate ideas from people and that you are about the best ideas. If people are attaching themselves to their own ideas, they are focused on defending the idea versus finding the best one.
Give your opinion last
As the leader, you often set the tone of the conversation. If you give your opinion first, other people’s opinions generally align somewhere with yours.
People often fear disagreeing with the leader or veering too far off.
It’s wise to let others speak first THEN give your viewpoint, if needed.
Also, in general, the first opinion can easily set the tone, and then opinions far from it may not be spoken, especially if others agree with the first opinion.
One way to combat this is to have everyone write their opinions or ideas down first before discussing them so that people’s opinions aren’t swayed by others before presenting them.
End the meeting well
If you don’t end the meeting well, it could make the rest of the meeting almost pointless.
For example, if people leave not knowing who is doing what or who is responsible for what, was that meeting really productive?
Is anything going to be done before the next meeting?
Before you end a meeting, it can often be a good idea to review what was decided in the meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page.
If those people are then going to have meetings with their teams to discuss it, make sure you are all on the same page about what is going to be said and discussed.
You also want to make sure everyone knows who owns what – who is responsible for what task by when.
You can have more effective meetings
Meetings don’t have to be a drudgery or a waste of time.
Use these tips and implement them, and you (and your team) will find meetings to be much more effective.
- Understand the importance of meetings
- Know the cost of the meeting
- Know the purpose of the meeting
- Prepare and plan for the meeting
- Prioritize the most important topics first
- Limit the number of attendees
- Start the meeting on time (and end on time)
- Set expectations for the meeting
- Quickly stop negative behaviors
- Build psychological safety
- Make sure everyone gives input
- Flee from consensus and groupthink
- Encourage dissent and disagreement
- Give your opinion last
- End the meeting well
Here’s to a world of better meetings!
Also, do you have any other tips for more productive meetings? Let us know in the comments below.
You can find more related articles here.