How to Make Meetings Work

Meetings. They’re a huge part of everyone’s workday. We all know how painful it is to be stuck in a discussion that feels like it’s going nowhere. But we also do great things when working together face-to-face. Meetings are often where we create enormous value by solving problems, making decisions, brainstorming and sharing ideas. Each time we get together with our colleagues, it’s an opportunity to be inspired and motivated by our collective decisions and progress.

Ultimately though, each meeting in your office is an expense (and there are apps that calculate exactly how much each one costs). Making sure that your team does meaningful work when they get together can be one of the most impactful goals you can make for the new year. Here are some tips on how to make meetings work:

Invite the right people, and not too many

As we all know, a good meeting begins with the invite list. You don’t want to put someone at a disadvantage by pulling them in at the last minute, or leave out someone whose input is crucial. And if a key attendee can’t make it, maybe it’s better to not waste everyone’s time.

In addition to monitoring your invite list, also try to keep it small. Everyone should have a reason to attend, and an action item by the end of the meeting. As this New York Times article explains, smaller is often better. Limit your group to 5-8 people instead of 15-20 and everyone will have a better chance to be heard and make decisions.

Prepare, don’t wing it

If you don’t have a specific purpose (recurring meetings are especially susceptible to this) you probably shouldn’t have the meeting at all. One check to make sure this doesn’t happen is to send a simple agenda with specific objectives to all invitees a few days in advance, and ask that they come prepared and with questions. Everyone will appreciate having a few days to mull over what they have to contribute.

A quick agenda is also great because it helps ensure efficient use of the time. We can all benefit from a gentle reminder that some things might not need to be discussed in person. As the host, you can use the agenda to determine what needs to be discussed face-to-face, and what can be solved over email or other asynchronous forms of communication.

While you’re booking the meeting, remember to avoid unfavorable times like Monday morning and Friday afternoon. You might also consider scheduling half the time that you think you’ll actually need. This little bit of time crunch can help everyone to stay focused on making decisions and keep moving forward.

Switch it up!

Who doesn’t appreciate a new twist on an old routine? If your group is small, pop out for coffee or snacks. If it’s a nice day, sit outside. If you’re meeting by video conference, find a colorful new background.

We all know that nothing is as mind-numbing as seeing the same slides over and over, so periodically vary how you deliver content. Think Youtube, photography, audio recordings, and other forms of media. It’s also refreshing to kick off recurring meetings in fun, new ways. Give away a little prize, play some music, or show a funny video. Things will start on a good note, and people will be motivated to be on time.

Be present and aware

It’s helpful to remember that it’s up to everyone involved to ensure that a meeting is effective. We all know that the middle of the meeting is not the best time to be checking email, and yet we do it anyway. If you’re easily distracted (and who isn’t?), consider using a pencil and paper instead of a laptop or tablet.

If it’s appropriate for the meeting, ask your colleagues to help out by taking notes. Choosing someone other than the host to lead the meeting can potentially be a good way to help attendees get involved and think differently about the discussion (this role could rotate in recurring team meetings). In fact, Highfive’s customer success team takes this approach.

End on a good note and follow up

We’ve all experienced leaving a meeting feeling confused, not understanding what was accomplished and thinking “what was the point of all that?” Make sure everyone is clear on next steps before they leave. Action items help people depart with the impression that it was a meaningful use of time.

If possible, share the results and progress from the meeting with everyone involved. Not only is it rewarding to see efforts pay off, but it’s also a helpful reminder to come prepared to the next meeting and stay focused on goals that have been discussed. For recurring meetings, maintaining notes and progress in a shared Google doc can be helpful, especially for people who missed the meeting. Keep a link to the Google doc in the meeting’s calendar event.

Don’t hesitate to also ask for feedback after the meeting in order to help everyone stay involved. If you’re a manager or leader of a cross-functional team, hosting weekly office hours where colleagues can drop by for a quick, 10-minute chat can also facilitate ongoing discussions.

If all else fails, be spontaneous!

Don’t be afraid to jump on a subject. We’ve all been on that long email or chat string where people are trying to hash out an issue and end up making it more confusing due to conflicting opinions and misinterpretation. Meeting face-to-face is so much more efficient in moments when everyone isn’t on the same page. Sometimes a quick, last-minute huddle or video conference accomplishes more than the most carefully planned meeting.

What makes your meetings more meaningful? Tweet us @highfivehq.