How to Manage Effective Meetings

Every company holds meetings periodically to discuss long-term goals, challenges and wins, projects, ideas, company-wide initiatives and other topics related to business operations.

When meetings are run properly, they can be a great opportunity to keep your team in sync and build teamwork, trust and motivation. However, when done incorrectly (e.g., too frequently, unclear agenda, too short/long), meetings can be unproductive time-wasters. In fact, unproductive meetings cost companies more than $37 billion each year.

Below, you’ll find tips and strategies for managing meetings that accomplish your goals, whether it’s brainstorming your next big idea, updating the team on important accomplishments, resolving conflicts, conducting one-on-ones with team members or anything in between.

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What is an effective meeting?

An effective meeting is one that brings together a select group of people for a specifically defined purpose to discuss and share information in order to reach a result. The result may include the creation of a plan, a list of brainstormed ideas or a decision about a pressing issue.

While facilitating regular meetings is important, their effectiveness and what they accomplish require more attention. Managing effective meetings can lead to greater productivity in the workplace and more engaged employees — whether the meeting involves a few people or the entire company.

Related: Too Many Work Meetings? How to Help Your Employees


Why running effective meetings is important

Effective meetings help guide the efforts of employees and ensure strong communication throughout a company. A well-managed meeting can increase employee productivity and engagement, and improve communication and teamwork. Thoroughly planned meetings also reduce time wasted, allowing employees to spend more time on their work and less time in a conference room or Zoom chat (helping avoid “Zoom fatigue,” a term used to describe the burnout people experience from too many video calls).

Effective meetings address roadblocks, lead teams to better decision-making, give all team members a chance to be heard and feel included and strengthen relationships between employees and managers.

An intro to managing meetings

Meetings require preparation along with strong time management skills. In order for a meeting to be productive and efficient, the person managing the meeting should have a clear idea of how the meeting should go and what needs to be accomplished.

Effective meetings focus on topics that need to be communicated in person (or over video chat) in order to respect the time of each employee. Consider saving other information for a simple memo, email or Slack message. Ultimately, the most effective meetings occur when everyone focuses on a list of clear goals in a way that supports their work outside of the meeting.

How to plan and run effective meetings

Whether you’re developing best practices for a new business or refining the way you currently run meetings, there are a few key guidelines for keeping your meetings both effective and productive. Although the exact format of a successful meeting may look different for each business (depending on things like company culture and industry), you can use the following methods as a guide when planning and managing meetings with your team.

1. Determine if the meeting is necessary

Meetings take time and should only be used when you need to get everyone together to talk. Think about what you need to accomplish, how many people are involved and the time investment you’ll need. Before spending the time and effort scheduling and holding a meeting, check to see if the same effect can be achieved by circulating a memo, sending a quick email or Slack message or including the information in a future meeting that’s already planned.

2. Invite only the people that need to be there

If the meeting requires the group to make an important decision, only invite the people that absolutely need to attend (or consider inviting everyone you think would be interested, but marking attendance as optional in the meeting invite). This includes anyone with a major stake in the company or veto power regarding the decision. If a colleague or supervisor just needs meeting details, send them a summary or recording of the meeting (if it’s a video call) afterward. If you need questions answered by a specific department, invite just one person best suited to attend, instead of inviting the entire team.

3. Set a clear agenda

One of the first steps you should do to prepare is to have a clearly defined goal for what you want to accomplish with the meeting, so ensure you plan out an agenda to keep the meeting focused. An agenda is a list that outlines the main topics that need to be discussed at a meeting and who will be handling each portion of the meeting.

Some agendas itemize how much time should be spent on each topic in order to encourage employees to remain focused. For those leading the meeting, an accurate agenda helps them plan how they’ll share information and ask for feedback. If you want people to show up with ideas beforehand, sending out your agenda before the meeting can serve as a good reminder.

Consider including the following elements in your meeting agenda:

  • A short description of the primary objective
  • Topics that will be covered
  • The meeting’s participants
  • Individuals addressing specific topics
  • Meeting time and location
  • Meeting length
  • Relevant background information about the topic

When everyone understands the general flow of the meeting, they’ll be more likely to stay on track and you can get back on topic faster if the discussion strays from the main goal.

4. Come up with a schedule

Setting a schedule for how long the meeting will take and communicating this schedule with employees is an important part of encouraging everyone involved to be efficient with their time. Not only that, but regularly starting and ending meetings on time sets an expectation for everyone to be punctual and shows that you respect your employees’ time.

If someone brings up a topic that doesn’t fit the agenda but you’ll need to discuss it eventually, acknowledge that it’s a good idea and that you’ll schedule another meeting to elaborate on it. Try saying “Great idea! I’m happy to talk more about this offline, but let’s get back to [topic, project, idea, etc.]” to steer the meeting in the right direction and ensure it ends on time.

5. Share plans for big ideas beforehand

Let key individuals know about big ideas you plan to introduce during the meeting. Gather their feedback and make a note of concerns, then address them in your presentation. For example, if the finance director is concerned about project costs, put together your budget estimate and compare it to other company projects. Proactivity will help you avoid surprising anyone who you need to support your ideas.

6. Set a positive and productive tone

Setting a tone of productivity and positivity from the very start of a meeting can help others feel comfortable contributing and encourage active listening. Start by reviewing the goals for your meeting and going over the agenda. Then, consider giving kudos or providing positive feedback on work employees have accomplished recently.

7. Consider employee strengths

As a manager, take into consideration your employee’s strengths when managing meetings to promote collaboration, skill development and confidence in a role. Consider finding ways each employee can get involved in the meeting in a way that fits their strengths. For example, you may have some employees who like to make presentations and others who prefer to listen and take notes. As you get to know your employees, you can become better at understanding who you should involve and when, as well as who shows signs of leadership potential or other possible growth.

Related: 7 Effective Skills to Help You Become a Better Leader

8. Take notes and share minutes

Taking accurate notes about what was discussed and decided will avoid misunderstandings and keep everyone up-to-date. Agendas, objectives and meeting minutes will ensure everyone is clear about responsibilities, deadlines and details regarding other important projects or company matters.

To take accurate meeting minutes it’s best to use a template for structured notes. Make sure to include the date, meeting time, attendees and absentees. When describing each item on the agenda write a short statement of the actions taken, an explanation for the decision and any arguments made against it. All records should remain objective with clear language so anyone reading the minutes understands what was accomplished during the meeting.

If you’re running remote meetings, you can also try recording your meetings and sending out the link so others can watch it later. This can be a good option when time zones and scheduling conflicts make it impossible for certain people to attend the live meeting.

9. End with a set of action items

At the end of your meeting, sum up what the action items are and who will be responsible for completing them. Decide on deadlines and how often you’ll check in on the progress of action items to keep the momentum of the meeting going.

10. Measure the effectiveness of your meetings

To measure the effectiveness of your meetings, consider the following variables:

  • Timeliness of each meeting: Track what time meetings start and end compared to the scheduled time frame.
  • Attendance of those invited: Track how many attendees actually show up and pay attention to who is consistently late or absent.
  • Time allotted vs. actual length: Plan the amount of time you will spend on each agenda item and keep a record of how much time you actually spend on each.
  • How many action items were created and closed: Record the number of action items created within the meeting and how many were closed since the last meeting.
  • How many decisions the group makes: Keep a count of how many decisions the group makes during the meeting and scale them based on importance. For example, a crucial decision counts as four points, while a moderately important decision counts as one.
  • Track participation and engagement: Pick and choose which metrics to track, which could include how many people share ideas, how respectful discussion remains and other factors important to your company’s success. You can also try sending out an anonymous survey after each meeting to gather feedback (e.g., What is going right? What can be improved upon?)

4 things to always consider when planning a meeting

When planning your meeting, consider the needs of your employees, customers or clients and the productivity of the business as a whole. Here are four things you should consider:

  • Scheduling conflicts: A big part of planning your meeting is coordinating schedules with everyone involved and ensuring that they’re able to make it at the same time. Check with the meeting members beforehand and find a time when they don’t have anything else scheduled. For larger teams, consider looking into scheduling software that can make this task easier.
  • Time of day: When picking a time of day to hold a meeting, consider the purpose of your meeting, its importance and how long it’s likely to last. For example, meetings about the goals for the day are more effective in the morning, and meetings that may take longer should be scheduled well before the end of the workday. If you’re working with remote employees or clients in different time zones, try to choose a time that works for them, too.
  • Setting it too soon: Give yourself and your team plenty of time before the meeting to prepare. For instance, you probably don’t want to schedule an important meeting with only a few hours notice. Give each team member plenty of notice so that they have sufficient time to gather materials, create presentations, plan pitches and complete other important tasks. Depending on the topics you’re going to discuss, this could mean a few days or a few weeks.
  • Have a follow-up plan: When planning your meeting, think about how you can follow up on the goals you set during the meeting. Having a follow-up plan helps you focus on the intention of the meeting and give you actionable steps that you can take once it’s over.

What to do during a meeting

Here are a few best practices to keep in mind during meetings to make sure they are as effective, productive and inclusive as possible:

  • Reign in the talkative: It’s important to communicate a sense of urgency during the meeting in order to keep otherwise long-winded contributions more brief. If you’re struggling with an individual that is monopolizing the meeting, you could choose a phrase that they said and offer it to someone else. For example, “Negative customer feedback—that’s interesting. John, have you experienced any negative customer feedback?”
  • Encourage the silent: There are many reasons for people to remain silent in a meeting, most of which are inconsequential. However, if someone is silent because they’re nervous or they are an introvert, you should make an effort to hear their contribution and then express interest and appreciation in order to encourage future contributions.
  • Foster discussion and debate: An effective meeting sometimes requires the group to brainstorm solutions and ideas. In these cases, you should summarize, stimulate, mediate and guide the discussion between the members of the meeting.
  • Welcome suggestions: Suggestions stimulate progress and, therefore, should be welcomed in meetings. It’s important that you encourage employees to offer suggestions and try to pick out an aspect that can be built into an effective solution.
  • Address senior staff last: Junior employees are often less likely to share their opinions if someone with authority has already spoken on a topic. You can avoid this by asking your junior staff members to offer contributions first.
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FAQs about managing effective meetings

Even the most experienced managers can benefit from researching new ways to engage their employees at company meetings, from how frequently they should hold meetings to which team building activities to include. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about how to manage a meeting:

How often should I hold meetings at work?

The frequency of work meetings often depends on the type of meeting and who needs to attend. Meetings that keep employees updated on company developments might only occur every few months, while meetings within a single department or team might occur weekly. Schedule meetings based on the needs of the company, and consider how often each team needs to check in with one another in order to be successful. Some businesses might thrive by holding regular meetings while others might be more productive by giving employees that time to work independently.

How long should a meeting last?

The ideal length of a meeting depends on the meeting’s goal. A weekly team update might last just 10-15 minutes, while a less routine company meeting might last 30-60 minutes. If a meeting involves extensive brainstorming, team-building or other situations requiring more time, it’s a good idea to hold it in a different location to break up the monotony of the office, and include one to two breaks lasting 5-10 minutes.

Why do work meetings fail?

Work meetings can fail for a number of reasons including poor planning, lack of employee engagement or frequent distractions. If each person attending is not prepared for the meeting, they may not be able to accomplish any of the goals set on the agenda. In order to make each meeting a success, consider what needs to be accomplished and how you will keep employees on task. Communicating regularly about when and where a meeting will take place is also key to avoiding confusion among attendees.

How can I make work meetings fun?

While not all work meetings can be fun and exciting, you can increase engagement by asking your employees what makes meetings more enjoyable for them. Their feedback can help build a meeting structure that everyone benefits from. Consider scheduling a few minutes to discuss employee successes or give kudos to team members.Changing your meeting space by going off-site or having a hands-on project can also make work meetings more enjoyable for employees.

Should all meetings be in-person?

Not necessarily. While meeting in-person is an effective way to conduct business, sometimes there are better alternatives. For example, if some of your employees work from home, holding the meeting over the phone or through video chat might be better than having everyone come into the office (especially during COVID-19). Think about whether being in the same location adds any benefits to your meeting, and if not, consider exploring more efficient options.

What are some tips for keeping meetings focused?

Here are some tips you can use to keep your next meeting on track:

  • Avoid scheduling unneeded or unnecessarily long meetings
  • Only invite people that will benefit from the meeting
  • Create a plan in advance and share it with every participant
  • Make it everyone’s responsibility to keep the meeting focused
  • Schedule breaks for longer meetings
  • Pay special attention to how you begin, transition and end the meeting

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