How to Get the Most Out of Your Meetings
We all have experienced a lousy meeting that lasts longer than expected and does not land on the topic we want to address. For those who are punctual, unlike other colleagues, waiting times mess up your daily schedule. I have often thought about this frustration and what could be a better way to run meetings and feel productive, resulting in a satisfactory outcome and a clear understanding of what needs to be done next and by who.
The first question that comes into mind is the agenda. Does the person in charge of the meeting have a planned agenda? Do they send the agenda with the meeting invitation so the participants can prepare their work and share their ideas, solutions, or questions? Does the organizer include leaders and employees whose voice needs to be heard for the project's success? That does not mean that all participants are required to speak. There are always some who like to talk through ideas and others who listen and process ideas first. With this consideration, the meeting should wrap up with to-dos and takeaways pertinent to the agenda and accountability of independent and collaborative work to move on to completion.
Here are tips for efficient and productive meetings.
Set a goal.
Every meeting should have a clear agenda and goal. The goal should be attainable. Try to set simple goals and outline them in the description of the invitation. Make sure to be mindful of your colleague's time dedicated to the meeting and the preparation it requires on their part. Sometimes, the goal may be simple such as follow-ups, next steps, etc. Other times, it may be to brainstorm solutions, navigate challenges or manage change. Set a S.M.A.R.T goal that will make a significant difference in the way you handle your meeting:
Include team members involved in the project.
Once you have a clear agenda and the expectations of the meetings, it is time to think of the participants involved. Make a list of key players on the team and what you will need from them. Could this meeting be addressed remotely? Could you do hybrid? Or does it need to be face-to-face requiring all attendees to go to the office? This decision will make a difference in the meeting set up and ensure that all individuals participate and are engaged. As an organizer, it will help you to be agreeable and excited. Remember that you set the tone and space where honest conversation can happen.
Recap and takeaway of the meeting.
As you address the goals of the meeting, try to take notes and highlight action items and next steps. These may include tasks assigned, changes to be made, and important to-do deadlines in mind. Please do not leave it up in the air or at the discretion of your team.
You may also share any recorded documents or status reports that list the strategy and plan. Other topics may come up too during the meeting; jot them down but do not focus on them yet. You may address them at another time. Sometimes you may not have had sufficient time to address a goal or that a colleague did not attend the meeting. It is OK to postpone that goal for later, and it is important to update the colleague who could not participate in the meeting.
This is an example of recap and takeaway:
- First goal discussion topic -> First actionable item + highlight the name(s) + deadline.
- Second goal discussion topic -> Second actionable item + highlight the name(s) + deadline.
- Third goal discussion topic -> Third actionable item + highlight the name(s) + deadline.
Set clear expectations.
Many times, the takeaways and the expectations may not be clear, even though they are set on paper. You may recall times when you assigned a task to a team member and the work done does not meet your expectations. Was it misunderstood or unclear, or did you end up needing to redo the work? I know that delegating is challenging for managers who are "control freaks"; however, it is a healthy balance to figure out and distribute the work to optimize talent. But how do you know if your employee understands the task, so you do not end up disappointed with the result?
High performing managers provide regular feedback to make sure that they are:
- Clear on what is and is not negotiable.
- Use simple language and frequently communicate about progress.
- Share the importance of the strategy to reach the goal, not just the goal itself.
- Listen and answer your employee's questions and suggestions.
- Set 1:1 follow-ups.
Run short meetings.
The duration of the meeting can be effective or disengaging. I suggest you schedule meetings to conclude five minutes before the end of the hour or half-hour, so attendees may have time to prepare for their next meeting or task. Presentations may sometimes run longer. Ensure that you monitor the time and remind the group that discussions may be cut down in the interest of each other's time.
Outlook has an option that changes the length of the meeting to avoid potential burnouts from interrupted back-to-backs.
Your meetings are now 25 and 50 minutes long by default. You do not need to set it manually each time.
It takes time to make changes. Once you manage your meetings with these tips, it will become a habit, and you will encourage your attendees to practice this habit as well. It is better to run shorter, productive, and engaging meetings than long and tedious. Start by simply communicating the "why" of the meeting, "how" the strategy will achieve your goals, "who" is involved (the right people and roles), and "what" are the expectations of the actionable item's outcome.
Recap and takeaway will ensure that you do not leave things up in the air. Be as clear as you can and communicate frequently. With practice, your meetings will become more efficient, productive, and have better results.