4 tips to running effective meetings

From stand-up scrums to sit-down sessions, meetings take up a large portion of time for any organisation. When managed effectively, a meeting is an opportunity to optimise business operations. But when managed poorly, meetings become disruptive and distracting.

It’s estimated that $37 billion a year is wasted on meetings that are unnecessary — and meetings themselves can offer a false sense of productivity that gets in the way of legitimate accomplishments.

What’s the difference between an effective, powerful meeting and a waste of time? It often comes down to leadership.

Leaders are what set the tone and course of a meeting; they are the ones who decide whether a meeting is necessary, what format the meeting should be in, and how long the meeting should take.

As a leader, you need to take steps to make sure your meetings are living up to their potential.

1. Create a highly structured agenda

Meetings tend to bounce from one topic to another as related concerns arise and an extemporaneous discussion begins. While this type of exploration can sometimes be useful, it’s more often distracting.

Creating a highly structured agenda will keep your meeting focused on the issue at hand. When creating an agenda, ask yourself:

  • What are the goals of the meeting?
  • Who is necessary for the meeting?
  • When is the best time for the meeting?

Expand on your agenda with a thorough outline of the meeting’s discussion topics. A narrow, specific agenda is the most useful agenda; the broader your meeting topics are, the less likely you are to be able to get anything substantive done.

2. Only invite those who belong to the entire agenda

A shorter, smaller meeting is almost universally desirable. Additional members will only expand the scope of a meeting, encouraging it to run longer and reducing its capacity to focus.

Meetings should be as short as possible and should be limited to attendees who are necessary. If team members feel that the meeting is not relevant to them, they will often become distracted. They may even derail the meeting entirely, in an attempt to bring it towards topics that are more relevant to them. Even if they remain silent, their time will still be wasted.

Irrelevant meetings burn out employees — and over time, they encourage employees to ‘zone out’ during meetings even when they are relevant to them. Improving the relevancy of your meetings is the first step towards ensuring that employees are attentive and alert.

3. Stick to the agenda

It’s easy for unexpected issues to arise during a meeting. After all, team members may find themselves suddenly in the room with a large number of people who could solve the problems that they’re currently encountering.

This encourages them to discuss issues that are relevant to their current tasks. But for a meeting to remain efficient, it’s important to avoid being side-tracked.

When an issue that’s not on the agenda does arise, acknowledge it and have it recorded. Make it a point to discuss it in subsequent meetings.

Ensuring that the issue is properly acknowledged is important; otherwise, team members may feel as though they have been brushed off.

Likewise, it’s important to schedule a meeting to discuss the issue if it is a valid one, as otherwise people could forget about the issue.

4. Debrief and follow up

Once the meeting is over, give an overview of the key points the team has discussed and the information that has been gained throughout the meeting.

If it is desirable to get undirected feedback, set aside a time at the end of the meeting for meeting members to address any of their additional concerns.

A report should be compiled to include the meeting’s minutes, and team members with newly assigned projects or tasks should be followed up to make sure they’re on track.

Ideally, every team member involved in the meeting should walk away understanding the issues raised, the solutions presented, and their role in implementation. Written documentation will further improve the process as team members will be able to refer back to the documentation later.

As a leader, you have the unique ability to direct the meeting — and an effective meeting is all about direction. Keep your agenda close, and you’ll be able to keep the meeting on track and moving swiftly.

But meetings aren’t just about structure and process; they’re also about practice and experience. Connecting with other leaders is an excellent opportunity to acquire tips from others. Contact TEC today to find out more about connecting with a peer group of thousands of leaders, entrepreneurs, and mentors.