Meetings are central to running a successful business—but only if they are effective meetings. Research indicates that a staggering one-third of meetings are unproductive which costs companies approximately $37 billion a year.
As a company leader, it is important to ensure every meeting you hold drives business objectives. By incorporating the following ideas, you and your team members will up-level productivity and ultimately contribute to your company’s bottom line.
1) Go In with Purpose
Having a meeting for a meeting’s sake immediately sets you up for failure. Every meeting should have a clear purpose. What do you hope to accomplish by the end of it? Perhaps it is uncovering challenges among the team. Or setting goals for the week/month/quarter. It’s perfectly fine to gather to actively work on a project in real-time, but don’t let meetings with objectives devolve into working sessions if that’s not what you’re there for.
2) Decide Who Needs to Attend
Once you’ve identified the purpose of the meeting, you might determine that not everyone needs to be present. The most important people to include are those who will contribute to the end goal. In many cases, employees can be more productive by not attending. Meetings really shouldn’t be approached as fulfilling a roll call.
It’s also important to relay to team members who aren’t invited why that is the case. Even though the number of meetings can feel overwhelming at times, no one wants to be left out of the decision-making process. You might say something like, “Your time is much more valuable working independently today. I’ll personally follow up with you should anything pertinent come out of the meeting.”
3) Set Clear Expectations
You may have a crystal clear idea of what you expect to accomplish by the meeting’s end, but your team members can’t read your mind. Communicate to your team specifically why you’re meeting today. Is it an urgent matter? Even if you’ve sent out an agenda beforehand, it’s helpful to make sure everyone understands how and why the meeting will proceed.
For example, will everyone be expected to contribute? In-person meetings are often easier in that regard, so make sure you’re upfront about expectations in a virtual gathering. Saying something like “cameras on” is an important part of leading an effective video meeting.
4) Assign “Pre-Work” If Applicable
The most effective meetings hit the ground running. You might need more than an agenda to ensure everyone comes to the table ready to work. While some individuals are really adept at producing brilliant ideas in the moment, others need time to think.
If you expect the meeting to be an idea-generation session, set team members up for success by informing them at least a couple of days in advance. Whole-team preparation is key for ensuring effective meetings.
5) Be Open to Participation
If you’ve set the expectation that team members should participate, make sure to let them! As a meeting leader, you won’t always dominate the conversation. Though your guidance is crucial, it’s important that everyone is heard. If it’s a brainstorming session, you can help prevent people being “shut down” by others in attendance. As they say, “There are no bad ideas. Only bad executions.”
Sometimes, team members aren’t cognizant of dominating conversations. You may consider using a tactic known as amplification, which received attention during the Obama administration. Women in leadership positions began to support and echo each other’s points and give their female counterparts public credit. As a leader, you can help team members become more aware of their tendency to drown others out during meetings. Harvard Law School describes this as sharing “airtime with those whose voices have been disregarded.”
Approaching meetings this way also sets the foundation for more productive meetings in the future. When team members feel valued and advocated for, they’re more likely to perform.
6) Be Conscious and Respectful of Time
Take one look at your own calendar and you can understand why efficient and effective meetings are so crucial. Everyone is overbooked; not just you. If you schedule a meeting for 30 minutes, it’s important to adhere to that timeline. Actually, it might be best for everyone if you schedule 25-minute or 50-minute meetings to allow for a quick break between meetings, to stretch, use the restroom, grab some coffee. Everyone has things to do and places to be. You never want to be disrespectful of someone’s time—especially if they’re obligated to another meeting right after.
Should the meeting’s objectives not be fulfilled, assess why. Was half an hour just not enough time? Were there inefficiencies that need to be addressed in future meetings? Did the meeting start on time? Uncover the root problem so you can mitigate going forward.
7) Use Technology Appropriately
Being without your phone or smart watch sometimes feels like losing a limb. But, devices can also be a distraction. There are appropriate ways to use technology during meetings, such as taking notes on a laptop or even on a phone. In today’s virtual world, technology is foundational to the meeting.
But answering personal texts, checking emails, or seeing how many people liked an Instagram post from the night before should be reserved for non-meeting time. Rather than approaching this from a “boss” stance, you can foster good habits by verbalizing that you understand how tied everyone is to their devices—and ask with respect that team members put them aside during the meeting.
8) Understand Your Team Members’ Learning Styles
Not everyone “operates” in the same way during a meeting—or in their daily responsibilities, for that matter. Some individuals are visual learners, others auditory ones. Being aware of and managing for different styles will demonstrate your leadership in every meeting.
For example, a slide deck isn’t always necessary, but it might be a great help to team members who are more visual. Other team members may need time to absorb the conversation, so recording meetings is a great way to help them out. Relistening/rewatching may spark an idea they could not put their finger on in the meeting room.
9) Follow Up in a Timely Manner
Whether it’s meeting notes, a recording, or identified deliverables, there should always be a protocol for following up with team members post-meeting. Same day, if possible—but no later than two days’ time.
Delaying follow-up might end up in your team members losing that “spark” they found in the meeting of minds. As a leader, you can give your team essential tools simply by being timely with post-meeting communications.
10) Know that Not ALL Meetings Will Solve Problems
It is understandable for you as a leader to come away from a meeting feeling disappointed if you weren’t able to accomplish the goals you had set out for the meeting. Not every meeting will solve the world’s problems. In fact, some meetings actually generate more! We hope that to be rare, but it does happen.
Accepting that some meetings will be for naught is a practice in self-care. There’s always another day, another meeting, that will negate the few underperforming ones. Focus on the good and grow from that.
So, Let’s Meet!
A future without meetings is probably impossible. Optimizing your meeting leadership skills helps you and your team to do everything you can to bring success to your organization. While you are the leader, you can bring a collaborative effort to each and every gathering.