No company operates in a vacuum, and very few businesses are one-person operations. Even if you’re a solopreneur, you’ll likely need to coordinate with clients. In short, business means collaboration. Working with others translates to the necessity of meetings. And meetings can either be a drain for your schedule and productivity. Or, when you maximize meetings, a chance to ensure you’re on the same page with your collaborators, work out kinks and develop actionable plans for your projects.
Most of us have experienced those meetings that we know by the “could have been an email” trope. They’re the ones that seem to have no clear direction, in which the group collectively spins its wheels. This might be due to participants getting sidetracked or simply because the content of the meeting is redundant.
It’s not a great feeling to sit through an entire hour while silently stressing about the tasks we could be doing instead. Packed calendars are ubiquitous; no one wants or deserves a time-wasting meeting. If you’re in charge of periodic or regular check-ins with your team or clients, everyone involved will thank you for running smooth and effective meetings that support their tasks.
A great meeting should help participants resolve stuck points, get team members on the same page, clarify project next steps and generally save time and energy. Carefully planning your meetings and sticking to the plan will help the members of your team get the most out of face-to-face time.
Remember that time is money and budget meeting time accordingly.
It’s important to periodically evaluate the frequency and time demands of your team’s meeting schedule. Ask yourself:
Do you need a weekly or bi-weekly face-to-face to stay on track?
Can some meetings be skipped if no pressing concerns need to be addressed?
How will holding a meeting impact your team’s productivity: will it enhance it by alleviating stuck points, or will it hinder it by pulling people out of their zones?
Evaluate whether your team requires standing meetings.
Try not to get stuck in the mindset that meetings, especially standing meetings, are necessary to keep everyone moving forward together. Sometimes, it really can be an email. Being thoughtful about when and how you conduct your meetings could translate into significant cost savings for your business. Remember, you’re paying for everyone’s time during that meeting. You’re also potentially losing productive time on tasks if you’re meeting unnecessarily. It might be enlightening to get out a calculator and run the numbers for your company’s spend on weekly meeting time.
Have a clear meeting agenda and stay on task.
When you and your team have determined that a gathering is warranted, whether virtual or in-person, it’s vital to have a clear action plan. Before each meeting, clearly identify what you want to accomplish, who needs to be involved and how you will organize the time. Try not to require attendance from teammates if you don’t need to take up their time. It’s essential to create and share an agenda for each meeting – and stick to it.
“If I don’t have an agenda in front of me, I walk out,” Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network, told the New York Times. “Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there, because if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting.”
Tips for Maximizing Your Meetings
Developing a plan ahead of time will help everyone involved know what to expect, keep discussions corralled and save everyone time.
Here are five tips you can implement today to help you and your team ensure efficiency and that you all get the most out of your collaborative time.
1. Have a meeting agenda available for your team before you get together.
A well-thought-out meeting agenda is the heart and soul of effective team collaboration. Think of it as a playbill for success, a guide that sets the stage for smooth performance. Your agenda should include the essential who, why, what, and how information.
Your team should know who is attending. Communicate expectations to each attendee for their contribution to the conversation. You should also have a clear goal established, even for standing meetings. What are your team’s pain points and how will you address them during this time? If you can’t answer the big “W” questions, you may want to back up. Assess whether your team needs to meet at all.
The agenda does not need to be a fully fleshed-out document, with paragraphs of explanations or instructions. Instead, simply identify the items that need to be dealt with, in an order that makes sense, and note who is invited to contribute to each point. You may end up going off script at times, but having a clear outline will go a long way to keeping everyone on task.
2. Use your meeting agenda to stay on task and ensure efficiency.
To help maximize any meeting, it’s vital for every participant to receive a copy of the agenda beforehand. If possible, allow enough time for feedback and questions. You might find your team helps you improve on your plan beforehand.
If you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar operation, you could distribute hard copies of your agenda before you meet. But that isn’t a viable option for hybrid or remote gatherings. Emailing an agenda document to everyone is a possible solution. Or, you might consider tech tools that can help organize the process from start to finish.
One tech tool option to maximize your meetings is Fellow. Fellow’s software includes meeting templates, so you don’t have to start with a blank page when organizing your agenda. The agendas also allow you to keep your team accountable and informed about key decisions. Having a multi-feature tool for your team is one way to keep everyone on the same page and keep track of needs and progress at a glance.
3. Stay on task and cut down on distractions.
Depending on your culture, you may want to spice up your meetings a little to keep your team engaged. But if you do, it’s a good idea to keep everyone otherwise focused and on task. Make sure everyone has the space to contribute and you’re working to help with pain points or sticking points.
If you’re running the meeting, strive to serve as its moderator. Foster open communication. Be ready to step in when it’s time to redirect or move the meeting along to the next agenda item. As you tick down the list, stick to a rhythm of communication, brainstorming, and settling.
Talk about where you’re stuck or what needs to be addressed about a particular point. Allow the team a reasonable amount of time (given your schedule and the meeting length) to discuss approaches and then commit to a strategy to address it before moving on. If something doesn’t work, you can revisit it later.
4. Encourage note-taking and active listening.
Meetings can be rich opportunities for teams to work through roadblocks collaboratively. If you plan them out thoughtfully, stick to the plan and allow participants to bring their challenges and solutions to the table, you can accomplish workplace miracles.
Coaching your team on active listening (listening to understand vs. listening to respond), and good note-taking will help participants maximize the benefits they reap from each face-to-face meeting.
Some form of note-taking, whether by hand or with a digital device, will help team members remember next steps and other action items. If you meet online, you might consider creating a digital recording of important meetings. Attendees can review details asynchronously later.
5. Go forth and turn those bullet points into action.
You want your time to be used to maximum efficiency when you gather your team. As a result, make sure your meeting allows for planning and the next steps. You could have a recap at the end of each session, quickly summarizing each relevant topic, outlining how the team will address the issue, and clarifying who is responsible for what.
To maximize your meetings, you could also work this into each agenda item as you move through the meeting itself. Everyone should leave the table (whether it’s in your meeting room or virtual meeting space) with a clear understanding of actions they will take to move forward. If each attendee leaves the meeting empowered with the knowledge of what and how to do next, you can save significant time and energy as a project progresses.
Whether you and your team operate in person, remote or hybrid, meetings are likely a staple of your weekly or monthly scheduling. You need to collaborate, and sometimes face-to-face is the best way to do that. These steps can help you ensure a smooth and productive meeting online or in person, and help you avoid wasting your and your team members’ time.
In short, great meetings involve a lot of clear communication, from beginning to end. Start by evaluating whether you should have a meeting and who is essential to the process. Clearly outline points to be addressed in a succinct meeting agenda. Keep the meeting flowing on task. Ensure everyone walks out knowing what to do next. A little extra planning and preparation will save your team a healthy amount of time, cost and stress.