Attending meetings is an everyday occurrence for many of us at work. Gathering people together to discuss a topic or decide a course of action can help to maintain and improve workflow. However, not all meetings make good use of employees’ time. A team of researchers surveyed senior managers across a range of industries, and 71 percent of them said meetings were unproductive and inefficient. One key reason meetings can be unproductive is because only an estimated 20 percent of leaders receive training on how to run them effectively, according to research by Steven Rogelberg, author of “The Surprising Science of Meetings.”
Meetings don’t have to waste anyone’s time. With targeted training, leaders can learn to take the following eight steps to ensure each team meeting is run effectively.
Know the Meeting Objective
Meetings can have all sorts of objectives, from informing to providing an update to getting input from others to solve problems. Unfortunately, many meetings don’t have a stated objective. They may simply be called based on an assumption that participants understand and agree on the purpose of the meeting. To ensure that everyone involved understands the objective of the meeting and the intended outcome, it’s necessary to establish what the meeting will accomplish before or at the beginning of every meeting. Before the meeting, send out an agenda that outlines the goal of the meeting, along with any items you want people to prepare or provide updates on. Once everyone understands the meeting objective, you can start the meeting off on the right foot.
Get Input from Everyone
A meeting is not effective if only a handful of participants are actively involved in the discussion. All participants in a meeting should be contributing, whether by offering new ideas, asking questions of others, or volunteering to take responsibility for follow-up action. Some ways to get input from meeting participants include:
- Regularly asking for input during the meeting, including from those who have not yet spoken up
- Having the team engage in brainstorming or brainwriting exercises that encourage idea generation
- Asking a select number of individuals to perform follow-up work and present their findings at the next meeting
Ensure Clarity Between Fact and Opinion
Although an effective meeting benefits from participant viewpoints and opinions, it must also include facts and data that help the team make progress. After all, a team project is not likely to find success if activities are guided by individual guesses or conjecture. Instead, reports, trend analyses, and other data will be more effective guides for team discussion and action. One good way to ensure clarity between fact and opinion in a meeting is to include a presentation of key data, and then offer each person the chance to weigh in on their interpretation of the data.
It’s not uncommon for a meeting discussion to stray from the agenda. Team leaders can ensure agenda items aren’t overlooked by adding periodic recaps of what’s been discussed and agreed upon. Periodic recaps ensure that each agenda item gets its necessary attention and discussion. Recaps also help to focus the team and keep off-topic discussion to a minimum.
An effective meeting doesn’t dance around issues but brings them to closure through definitive decision-making. A decision outcome can be as small as an agreement to revisit a specific topic once more information has been gathered. It can also be as large as a decision to change some part of the team strategy. Making a decision ensures the team doesn’t stagnate and keeps the agenda moving forward to action.
Assign Tasks to Individuals
An effective meeting specifies deliverables and who will be accountable for achieving them. As one Inc. article describes, “Great meetings result in decisions, but a decision isn't really a decision if it's never carried out.” When you carefully assign follow-up tasks along with deadlines, there’s a greater likelihood of ensuring that nothing is forgotten and that team members aren’t duplicating efforts. Producing meeting minutes and using project management software are examples of ways you can ensure efficient task assignment and keep track of deliverables.
Keep the Meeting Engaging
Meetings shouldn’t be tedious or boring. Instead, they should be designed to hold participants’ attention and use everyone’s time efficiently. Some ideas for keeping meetings engaging include:
- Limiting the duration of the meeting
- Adding an experiential activity that encourages participants to interact and communicate on a deeper level
- Using video conference tools to involve remote employees
Commit to Follow Up
An effective meeting requires follow-up so that each member of the team knows what to expect and what they need to do after each meeting. Following up after a meeting also ensures that important information isn’t lost and helps to memorialize what was discussed and agreed upon. Whether the meeting follow-up is in the form of an email to the team or a discussion in a subsequent meeting, it keeps the meeting agenda and deliverables top of mind for meeting participants.
Running an effective team meeting is a critical skill for leaders to master because it helps to move projects forward in an efficient manner. Because leading meetings effectively doesn’t come naturally for many individuals, it makes sense to include opportunities to learn and master that skill as part of a robust leadership development program. From there, individuals will be equipped to get broad participation, regular follow-up, and clear decision-making in each of the meetings they lead.