There are a few reasons teams meet. The first one is out of habit. We put together a schedule for meeting on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. And we meet even when there’s nothing to really meet about.
The second reason we meet is due to a false sense of accomplishment. We feel like if we’re meeting, we’re getting things done. This is far from true.
We’ve all had them: managers who love having meetings. Any time these managers have a new idea, they want the whole team to meet. There are also those colleagues who want to meet with no agenda, no set end time, and rarely ever any takeaways. I had two years of experience in a setting like this, which led me to the conclusion:
Only have a meeting when there’s something worth sharing.
The third reason we meet is because we have something worth sharing. This is the only time we should schedule a staff meeting. Knowing this is the first step to having an effective meeting agenda. The second step is preparation and effective meeting management. That’s what I’ll cover in this post.
From previous managers, I’ve learned how to do meetings the wrong way. From my current manager, Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff, I learned how to do meetings right. Dave and I only meet when there’s something worth sharing, and there’s always a takeaway. We also bring ideas to the meeting instead of pulling ideas from thin air and brainstorming in circles.
Even if you think you’re already good at running effective team meetings, I’m sure you’ll find something here to make them more worthwhile. Here’s how to do that.
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1. Have a meeting agenda with clear objectives
Meetings often stray from their initial purpose. Getting off topic is easy when there are multiple people trying to communicate with one another — especially with a remote team and video conferencing software.
In Soapbox’s guide to effective meetings, it’s recommended to set goals, write an agenda, collaborate ahead of time, and assign roles before the meeting even starts. It’s one of the 25 ways to avoid inefficient meetings.
Before every meeting, create an agenda outlining the points to be discussed. Taking a few minutes to do this for each meeting makes a big difference in the outcome of your meetings. It helps you stay on track and constantly reminds you throughout the meeting about what the objective is.
There’s a cool startup called Pinstriped that promises to create software that makes creating, and sticking to, meeting objectives easy. They also have a great tagline that we should all burn into our memory…
If you know of any software similar to this, definitely let everyone know about it in the comments. I have yet to find a good solution that is affordable and available.
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2. Set an end time and stick to it
Creating a meeting agenda beforehand will help you determine the amount of time to allot for it. When you set a staff meeting with no end time, it’s easy to get off topic even when you have an agenda and objective.
The meeting leader (see below) should solicit the help of meeting participants to keep an eye on the time. One of my colleagues at the previous company I worked for would always remind our manager about the time. If it wasn’t for her, we would have been in meetings all day. That said, if you’re a participant, don’t be afraid to speak up and remind everyone of the time.
If you think you’re constantly running over end times, you’re probably spending too much time in meetings. To gain insight into how much time you’re spending in meetings, you can use a time and task tracking tool like Hubstaff. Set up a task for “Meetings” and, at the end of the month, see how much you’ve spent in them.
Is all that time spent in meetings wasteful or worthy?
Take this guy for example. At the company he works for he’s spending 20% of his time in meetings. I told him it was wasteful, and he doesn’t disagree. After tracking his time to discover how much time he spent in meetings, he’s asking his managers if there are any meetings he doesn’t absolutely need to be in. Really good move.
3. Designate a meeting leader
Without a meeting leader, chaos will ensue every time. Your meetings must have a point person — typically the person who called the meeting — to lead a meeting and to keep things on track throughout the session.
The primary roles of the meeting leader include:
- Scheduling the meeting and sending a calendar invite
- Creating and disseminating the agenda
- Assigning talking points or time slots to each attendee
- Assigning tasks upon the conclusion of the meeting
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4. Cut down on meetings
Many people call meetings without a true purpose.
Before calling a meeting, ask yourself if the information can be shared just as effectively in a different way. Some communication channels include Slack groups, email, internal memos, and project management tools.
The guy I mentioned above who is spending 20% of his time in meetings has a meeting schedule that looks like this…
Based on the post he wrote, he’s having too many meetings. And as I previously mentioned, he’s making the right move by asking his manager if there are meetings he can remove from his calendar.
Another way to cut down on meetings is to merge similar meetings together. This is a good move if you’re a manager and talking about similar topics with different team members. For instance, could you have a group meeting rather than three individual meetings?
5. Cut down on attendees
While merging meetings can be a good idea, having too many people in a meeting can dilute the quality of information exchanged. When meetings have too many participants, you can end up with endless discussions, unclear direction, and too many opinions guiding the decision-making process.
Think of people best suited to attend the meeting, then send out meeting notes or highlights to the entire team if it’s relevant.
6. Create action items and accountability
Use the ideas and decisions developed during the meeting to create action items. And when these action items are created, assign them to members of your team. Log them in your project management system and link to the meeting notes so people can refresh their memory about the meeting’s details. (Typically, a project manager will follow up by assigning tasks and deadlines after the meeting, but it’s on everyone in attendance to take their own notes).
7. Bring solutions to the meeting
Vasily Malishev, the founder of the app development company Messapps, said in a post about remote development that team meetings are more effective when attendees come up with solutions ahead of time.
“The way I see brainstorming,” Vasily said, “is it should not be a team meeting where you come up with solutions. Instead it should be a meeting where you choose a solution. I think people should come up with solutions on their own and then discuss them. This way you get more options to choose from and generally save time.
“If we have a problem, I ask team members to come up with 5-10 solutions. At the time of the meeting people will present their solutions on Slack with a brief description of the solution and its main advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the number of solutions, we can either discuss it or maybe use a poll on Slack for everyone to vote.”
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8. Use online collaboration tools as an alternative to meetings
If you find you’re scheduling meetings just to keep certain team members in the loop, you can almost certainly replace these events with the right team collaboration tool. Let your team review tasks and the relevant details in their own time, at which point they can also provide input in the form of a comment directly onto the task card.
The digital approach is also great if your meetings consist of general discussions on how to approach a problem. Using something along the lines of a project management tool or a workplace portal will not only make the process more efficient, but will also document the learnings for any new team members joining the team.
A great solution for replacing these catch-up meetings is Hubstaff Tasks. On top of its project management functionality, the web application has other powerful features designed to replace meetings. Use the sprint function to see what’s on your plate or what the whole team is up to this week. Comments, assignees, due dates, and descriptions can clear up any questions and keep teams notified on an ongoing basis.
Such online tools won’t replace all of your meetings, but it certainly has the potential to replace the redundant ones. Hubstaff Tasks is free for teams of up to 5, and it’s easy to create your organization.
Stop wasting time on too many meetings
Before putting the measures mentioned above in place, track your time for how you’re currently running and attending staff meetings. Then, after following the advice here, track your time again and compare the numbers – just like Matt Ragland did at his company.
How much time did you save? I’d love to see the numbers in the comments below.