7 Ingredients for Effective Team Meetings, Distilled from Two Years of Torture

Header image for blog post with tips for effective team meetings

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 shit done. This is far from true.

At the previous job I had for two years, I had a manager who loved having meetings. She felt like, in and of themselves, meetings meant something. Any time she had a new idea, she wanted the whole marketing team to meet. There was no agenda, no set end time, and rarely ever any takeaways.

Also, every week I met with her for half an hour and we would talk about nothing of any importance. It was like having small talk at a bar with someone you don’t even want to talk to. It was torture. It was a waste of my time and hers, but only I was aware of it.

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 meeting. Knowing this is the first step to having productive meetings. The second step is preparing for, and managing, the meeting in an effective way. That’s what I’ll cover in this post.

From my previous manager, I 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.

Ingredients for more effective team meetings

1. Have an 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.

Before every meeting, create an agenda outlining the topics of discussion. 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…

Screenshot of the meeting software Pinstriped

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.

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 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/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 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

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…

An example of someone who spends too much time in meetings

Based on the post he wrote, he’s meeting too much. 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. (Yes, you should have someone taking notes during the meeting.)

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.”

Stop wasting time in meetings

Before putting the measures mentioned above in place, track your time for how you’re currently running and attending 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.