A Quick Guide to Effective Meetings

Just about every client I have ever had complains about the amount of time their organization devotes to meetings. Everyone wishes effective meetings were part of their daily work culture. It seems a universal gripe that organizations spend too much time in meetings. I even have a client who began a series of meetings about meetings!  And while it is easy to eye-roll this, I actually applaud this organization for the proactive step they took to ensure that time spent in meetings was productive time.

Why Don’t We Have Effective Meetings?

People don’t run effective meetings because they simply don’t know how.  We know enough to suspect when a meeting might be necessary but it is more challenging to know how to structure a meeting for a specific need, know who needs to be around the table and keep discussion moving in a productive direction.

How To Have Effective Meetings

The first step toward having effective meetings is be mindful about them.  Simply scheduling a meeting doesn’t ensure you will accomplish what you need to accomplish.  What is the objective.  Is a meeting the best way to accomplish this?

  • If a meeting is the best way to accomplish this, determine who needs to be there to ensure that this objective is met.
  • Ask participants for agenda items about a week before the meeting
  • Finally, draw up a draft agenda and circulate it.  Be sure to share the objective and any additional reading material to participants in advance of the meeting.

Effective Meetings Come in Many Forms

Choose the most effective format for your meeting.  Maybe you need a brief check in so remaining standing is the best format.  Perhaps you need a traditional hour-long sit-down at a conference table. Maybe you need to schedule a half-day or full-day retreat to accomplish what you need to do.  Or perhaps it makes sense to take a 45 minute or hour long walk to run the most effective meeting.

Inc. recently published an article advocating for more variety in the length of time we schedule meetings for. Just because your calendar software defaults at an hour doesn’t mean every meeting has to be that length.  Consider the following guidelines:

  • 10-15 minutes for brief check-ins and updates.
  • 15-30 minutes for one-on-one meetings with colleagues and reports.
  • 50 minutes for standard meetings addressing multiple issues or topics.
  • 90 minutes for problem solving sessions like brainstorming.

Running Effective Meetings

Meetings are most effective when you stick to the agenda.  It’s advisable to include a rough time estimate for each agenda item to stay on track. If someone brings up something off topic, use a “parking lot” to record the idea.  A parking lot is simply a place to record ideas that are important but not up for discussion at that particular meeting.  People who run effective meetings don’t take meeting time to discuss items off topic.

Effective meetings also have someone taking notes. Usually note-taker is not the facilitator.  The notes should be distributed to participants after the meeting with a list of follow up activities, due dates and people who are responsible for follow up. This keeps the work moving forward.

How To Enable Effective Meetings

There is a great Ted talk on creating a culture of effective meetings, in which the speaker talks about MAS or Meeting Acceptance Syndrome–this is the condition that makes us mindlessly accept a meeting without knowing what will be discussed and if we are an appropriate addition to the discussion.  If someone invites you to a meeting but has not shared an objective or agenda, question them about the purpose of the meeting. We can all take back our time from ineffective meetings by modeling and encourage effective meeting behavior for our colleagues.

Effective meetings are within our power! What will you do today to ensure meetings are more effective?