How many meetings did you have last week? How many of them felt like the best possible use of your time? Meetings are always going to be part of our workday. They’re powerful tools for making decisions, setting priorities, and keeping teams aligned. But they fall short of those goals too often.
There is a ton of content online about running effective meetings. But scrolling through endless blog posts to pick out the gems among all that advice sounds about as productive as a two-hour meeting. So we did it for you. We read and analyzed 100 articles about running better meetings. We’ve picked out six of the most common tips which are sure to improve your meetings, as well as three out-of-the-box ideas that are definitely worth a shot.
The most common tips for running effective meetings
Ask whether you really need the meeting at all (37/100 articles)
How many meetings don’t actually need to be meetings? How many of them could be replaced with a simple Slack message or collaborative Google doc? This would probably appear in more than 37 articles if the writers didn’t assume that this was already part of your process. But far too many people default to meetings whenever a discussion involves more than two people.
This is not a good enough reason to host a meeting. As Atlassian puts it, “At the very least, a meeting should center on a discussion that will be more effective in real-time than asynchronously via emails or comment threads.”
Take that extra second before you book a meeting to consider whether it’s the most efficient way to achieve your goal.. How many people are you booking? How many work hours do they represent collectively? Could they be better spent elsewhere? You can then use this internal debate to justify the meeting if it’s challenged by any invitees. And on that note…
Invite the smallest number of people required (57/100 articles)
A two-person meeting is still a meeting. A three-person meeting is — you guessed it — still a meeting. Don’t throw that invite to Gary in accounting just because you want him to feel included. Everyone is busy enough as it is.
Every person you invite to a meeting should be essential. If they’re not, only invite them if their skillset or opinions are extremely relevant to the discussion. Even then, you should still mark their attendance as optional (a tip mentioned in less than a handful of the articles we read).
- People with relevant expertise
- Someone crucial to the implementation
- Coworkers most affected by the problem being addressed or their representative
- People with direct responsibility and authority over the topic of discussion
- People with the required knowledge to contribute meaningfully that is unavailable elsewhere
Are you still left with a lengthy invite list? Try assigning a role to every attendee before the meeting (recommended by 17 of 100 articles). If you aren’t sure of someone’s role, they’re likely non-essential. Another option? Follow Jeff Bezos’ two-pizza rule. In the early days of Amazon he decided to limit team sizes to keep them efficient and scalable. Essentially, if you couldn’t feed a team with two pizzas, it was too large. A similar principle can be applied to meetings. Consider capping invites at seven or eight people (as recommended by 9 of 100 articles).
Build, share, and stick to an agenda (82/100 articles)
Be honest: You attended dozens of meetings in the past year in which you had no clue what was going to be discussed. Because of the sheer volume of meetings most of us have each week, meeting owners have come to neglect providing an agenda for each one. But agendas make meetings efficient. They’re so important that a whopping 82 out of 100 articles we read mentioned them (that’s 23 more articles than the second most common piece of advice).
So how do agendas help? According to the New York Times, “The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course.” The agenda is your greatest weapon against side discussions and distractions. When things start veering off the road, you can wield the agenda to get people back on task.
But for your agenda to work, the attendees have to buy into it. With that in mind, a number of articles suggested circulating it in advance and getting feedback on it from attendees. If you get that early buy-in from meeting participants, you’ll have a much easier time sticking to your agenda and achieving what you set out to do.
This lines up with advice recommended by 20 out of 100 articles: sending out pre-work. If you are able to get agenda input and approval from attendees before a meeting, you can then assign any work that might be required to drive that agenda forward. This could be anything from “bring a few ideas to the meeting” to “please circulate your research report to all attendees in advance.”
Everyone should know the end goal of the meeting (52/100 articles)
While an agenda is great for keeping a meeting on track, you still need an end goal. While equally important, these are two very different things. An agenda only describes the process you’ll be following in order to achieve that end goal. You shouldn’t have one without the other.
McKinsey notes that we often associate meetings with the “topic” rather than the goal. So when people are invited to the “Holiday Campaign Meeting,” they attend knowing what the meeting is about, but not what it’s for.
“How often do we go further and clarify whether the meeting is meant to share information, discuss it, or decide something? It may seem rudimentary, but we can all recall meetings (and large-group meetings in particular) where the lines between sharing, discussing, and deciding were blurred or absent — or where the very purpose of the meeting is unclear.”
If no one knows the purpose of your meeting, how can they help you achieve it? Defining the goal will help keep the discussion focused and keep you on time (“There are 10 minutes left and we haven’t achieved what we set out to yet. Let’s focus.”)
Strictly manage meeting time (44/100 articles)
What do we often say when a meeting doesn’t go as planned? “That meeting was a waste of time.” So many meeting issues are related to time:
- The meeting starts late
- The meeting ends late
- A single part of the agenda dominates the meeting
- The meeting is so long that everyone starts falling asleep halfway through
Time management is essential to running effective meetings. Always start and end your meetings on time, and carefully manage the time in the middle (recommended by 44 of 100 articles). If you’re about to start and someone essential is missing, either get them or start without them. Otherwise you’re jeopardizing your agenda and your meeting will suffer for it.
Then throughout the meeting, stick to your agenda. If there are three items on the agenda, don’t let one discussion dominate 90% of the time you have. And when there are 10 minutes left before the end of the meeting, make sure you’re on track to hit your goal. Finally, end the meeting on time. Often people have back-to-back meetings, and not sticking to the timeline of one potentially puts an entire day of meetings behind schedule for everyone involved. These incremental delays stack up, and they can seriously impact your business.
In addition to carefully managing time during your meetings, consider the duration you choose for meetings in the first place (recommended by 31 of 100 articles). Meetings that should only be 30 minutes are often scheduled for an hour or more. When you choose a longer meeting time than necessary, not only are you blocking off calendar slots and rooms you don’t need, you’re more likely to needlessly stretch out your meeting simply because you have the time set aside. Keep your meetings short and — if at all possible — schedule them for 20 or 50 minutes, giving attendees that extra 10 minutes to make it to their next commitment on time.
End with an action plan and follow up on it (59/100 articles)
So now that you’ve held a successful meeting and come to a conclusion, everyone shakes hands and moves on to the next one, right? Right… if your goal is to exist in limbo. Every meeting should end with an action plan. This should be composed of concrete actions assigned to members of the team as a result of your meeting hitting its goal. Action items are often included in your meeting minutes.
And, as much as you trust your coworkers, don’t expect them to actually follow through without a bit of encouragement. Here’s how Slack puts it: “Assign action items or things to follow up on to specific individuals whenever possible. It’s also helpful to schedule a deadline or a time when someone will check in on progress.” Following up lets people know that you’re serious about the action plan and reminds them of their commitments. It also shows them that their contributions and the time they spent in the meeting were valued.
People should leave a meeting with a sense of accomplishment.
Uncommon ideas for improving meetings
Now that we’ve gone over the most common tips to improve your meetings, let’s look at some uncommon gems.
Establish conflict norms
Have you ever found yourself in a heated meeting? Or a meeting where a misunderstanding derailed the conversation? Many articles discussed the importance of making meetings a safe space for the open exchange of ideas (23 of 100) but only one put forward this great idea for how. Routific recommended establishing conflict norms, essentially a set of meeting rules you create with input from your team. When everyone has a rule book to follow — one they helped create — you can hold them to that standard.
What you include in your conflict norms is up to you. Routific’s own internal conflict norms are:
- Assume positive intent
- Be mindful of differences
- Ensure clarity & closure
- See something, say something
- Silence = dissent (More on what this means below)
Allow people to leave during a meeting
All employees should feel empowered to decline meetings that they don’t feel are necessary. But people should also be allowed to leave in the middle of a meeting. This is a principle used by Elon Musk at Tesla. His view is that you should get up and leave the second you realize you’re not adding value. We’ve all been in meetings where we didn’t contribute but stayed because that’s just the standard behavior. Considering how often people are brought into meetings just to contribute to one item on a 10-item agenda, removing this “standard” could save your business countless man hours.
Ask for meeting feedback
Here’s a completely underrated way to improve meetings: ask your team how they would do it. It seems obvious, but how often do you actually ask for feedback on your meetings? Approach attendees one-on-one, send out a survey, or build it into your action plan follow-up. Find out whether the meeting as a whole was useful for everyone and ask for suggestions on improving it. That way, you’ll know for sure which of the above tips you need to apply to your own meetings.
There you have it! A big list of ideas for running effective meetings, compiled from 100 other posts. Now you can spend less team reading, and more time tackling that next project.
Want to cut down on the number of meetings at your business? Unito lets people collaborate without resorting to meetings, by syncing popular work management tools.
Try Unito for 14 days, absolutely free.