How to: Run productive meetings

Most of us have experienced the frustration of attending a meeting that seems to drag on without any real purpose. If you’re the one responsible for organizing meetings, it’s important to make sure they are productive and efficient, so everyone involved feels like their time is being used effectively.

Team sitting around the table, two colleagues are shaking hands

Deciding if a meeting is needed

Based on your situation, you should consider what method of communication will work best. In some cases, a meeting is necessary. However, in other cases, a meeting may not be the most effective use of time.

There are some situations where a meeting is the best way to quickly accomplish something with your team.

  • All parties can offer their input on a problem or solution
  • It can be easier to come to a consensus when everyone is present
  • Meetings can help build relationships and team morale
  • The project involves multiple stakeholders

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks to scheduling a meeting:

  • Meetings can be time-consuming. Especially if some colleagues are not needed for the full meeting.
  • Meetings require everyone to stop what they're doing and pay attention. This can be disruptive to the workflow of the colleagues involved in the meeting.
  • Important voices can be left unheard if a small group of colleagues dominate the conversation.
  • Some colleagues might not speak up because they're introverted or feel like their ideas are not important or will be shot down.
  • Responsibility and follow-ups can be diffused when decisions are made as a group rather than by one colleague.

When a meeting is not the best fit for your situation, there are other ways to communicate, such as:

  • Posting updates on a shared project management tool.
  • Having a chat with the needed colleague(s).
  • Having a quick one-on-one conversation in person or via a (video) call.

Overall, you should decide if a meeting is truly necessary based on the situation. There are benefits and drawbacks to meetings, so it's important to weigh these factors when deciding if a meeting is the best use of time.

Preparing the meeting

If you do decide that a meeting is the best way to communicate, there are some best practices you can follow to make sure the meeting is productive.

1. Set a clear purpose for the meeting

The first step is to determine the purpose of the meeting. What do you hope to accomplish? Once you know the purpose, you can invite colleagues who need to be there to achieve that goal.

2. Create an agenda and send it out ahead of time

After you've determined the purpose of the meeting, create an agenda and send it out to all attendees ahead of time. This will help keep the meeting on track and focused.

3. Set a time limit

Another way to keep meetings productive is to set a time limit. This will help ensure that only important topics are discussed and that the meeting doesn't drag on longer than necessary. The average person has an attention span of only 20 minutes, so try to limit meetings to this amount of time.

4. Choose the right format

One of the most important aspects of a productive meeting is the format. There are a few different ways to format a meeting, and the best option will depend on the purpose of the meeting and the size of the group.

Some common meeting formats include:

  • Brainstorm session
    A brainstorming session is a great way to generate ideas as a group. To do this, you'll need a whiteboard, projector or (sticky) notes, so everyone can see the ideas as they're being generated.
  • Roundtable meeting
    A roundtable discussion is a more intimate meeting format where each attendee has a chance to share their thoughts on the topic at hand. This is a good format for smaller groups where you want everyone to have a chance to speak.
  • Status update meeting
    A status update meeting is a quick way to get everyone up to speed on what's going on with a project. This type of meeting is typically shorter, as each person only needs to share a brief update.
  • Problem-solving meeting
    A problem-solving meeting is a chance for a group to address an issue that's been causing difficulty. To do this effectively, you'll need to define the problem and then brainstorm possible solutions as a group.
  • Project planning meeting
    A project planning meeting is a chance to map out the steps needed to complete a project. This type of meeting is typically led by a project manager and includes a detailed discussion of each task that needs to be completed.

Each of these formats has a different purpose, and it's important to choose the right one for your needs. For example, a brainstorming session is not going to be very productive if you're trying to solve a specific problem.

5. Make sure there's a clear facilitator

Another important aspect of a productive meeting is having a clear facilitator. This person will be responsible for keeping the meeting on track and ensuring that all attendees are participating.

During the meeting

Now that you've prepared for the meeting, it's time to focus on making sure the actual meeting is productive.

1. Start on time and end on time

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to start and end meetings when you say you will. This shows respect for your colleagues' time and helps to keep the meeting focused.

2. Keep the discussion on track

It can be easy to get off track during a meeting, especially if there are a lot of people involved. That's why it's important to have a clear facilitator who can keep the discussion on track.

3. Make sure everyone is involved in the discussion

As we mentioned before, it's important to make sure that everyone feels like their voice is being heard. One way to do this is to go around the room and have each person share their thoughts on the topic at hand.

4. Take breaks as needed

If a meeting is starting to drag on, it might be a good idea to take a break. This will give everyone a chance to refresh their minds and come back to the discussion with fresh ideas.

5. End with a clear plan of action

The last step is to make sure that there is a clear plan of action when the meeting comes to an end. This means that everyone knows what needs to be done and who is responsible for doing it.

After the meeting

1. Thank everyone for their time

Be sure to thank everyone for their time, even if the meeting didn't go as planned. This shows that you appreciate their effort and that you're looking forward to working together in the future.

2. Follow up with a written recap

It's always a good idea to follow up with a written recap of the meeting. This can be a simple email that outlines the main points that were discussed.

3. Schedule the next meeting (if needed)

Last but not least, be sure to schedule the next meeting before you leave. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there isn't a long gap between meetings.

Things to take-away

  • Unproductive meetings are a common issue in the workplace, but there are a few things you can do to avoid them.
  • Make sure you have a clear purpose for the meeting.
  • Choose the right format for your needs.
  • Make sure there's a clear facilitator who can keep the discussion on track.
  • Follow up with a written recap of the meeting and schedule the next meeting before you leave, when needed.

About me

Hi, I’m Lilian. I’m currently the head of a design team in a digital agency in Amsterdam and love to write about leadership and share tips based on my experience over the past couple of years.

Lead by design

I decided to start this blog as a way to share my thoughts on leadership. I’m passionate about helping others learn more about leadership and how to be a good leader, so I hope this blog will be helpful to those who are looking for tips and advice on leadership.

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