You’re in a boardroom for an all-hands meeting. One attendee is scrolling through their email, two others are typing rapidly. Another has been pulled out because her supervisor needed a word with her. Your inbox is growing, nothing has been accomplished, and you’ve already lost 20 minutes you won’t get back. After the meeting, there are no clear next steps or assigned tasks. You wonder what the point was. Sound familiar?
The problem isn’t meetings themselves — it’s poorly-run meetings that are dragging employees (and companies) down. Meetings need to serve a purpose — whether it’s generating new ideas, coming to a specific decision, or delegating subsequent actions, there should be clear goals and actionable next steps for every blockitem in your calendar.
The time you invest communicating before and after the meeting will improve your team’s productivity and engagement, and help keep everyone invested in common goals. That’s why we’re sharing our meeting manifesto. Read on for some meeting musts.
Before the meeting, set (and share) your intentions
Who you’re meeting with
Think twice about who’s on your invite list and their role. Following the RACI matrix can help you map this out in an easy-to-follow format (RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed; a system designed to help define each person’s tasks and roles for a given meeting or project). All too often, entire departments get invited to a meeting, when only a select few are responsible or accountable, and those who are consulted or informed could be kept in the loop with a quick email or Slack message. Instead of worrying about whose feelings you’ll hurt by excluding them from a meeting, think about who will appreciate the time back in their calendar.
When and where you’re meeting
Don’t underestimate how much a punctual start can set the tone for the entire meeting. Make sure attendees know exactly when and where the meeting is taking place well in advance (especially if you’re taking them offsite).
Help your team feel extra prepared by letting them know which amenities to expect — whether that’s whiteboards, Apple TV, and elevator access, or an ensuite kitchenette, mini-fridge, and HDMI cables. This way, no one will be left suddenly unprepared if the space doesn’t have the technology or space they were counting on.
And what your meeting is about
Preparing a formal agenda is an underrated starting point to any truly productive meeting. For instance, outlining the topic, attendees’ responsibilities, required documents, and intended goals can ensure everyone arrives ready to dive right in. You can even include a section for topics that won’t be covered, and information about what attendees should bring. A thorough meeting agenda will show that the meeting was scheduled with intention, and will motivate attendees to arrive prepared. There’s nothing worse than scrambling to get up to speed once a meeting has already started.
An added benefit of clear agendas? Introverts are more likely to speak up in meetings if they’re given a clear agenda in advance, meaning your entire team will feel equipped to contribute.
During the meeting, keep the team on track and on task
Put that agenda to good use
When it comes to the meeting itself, a lot of the work has already been done. You’ve put the time into the planning, so the key is to simply follow the agenda to stay on task and on schedule. Be sure to assign someone to take minutes during the meeting — too often, this step is overlooked. The facilitator will be busy running the show, but you’ll want to keep a clear record of the topics discussed and the actionable next steps you landed on as a team. This way, if not every agenda item is covered in the time booked, you can pick up right where you left off next time.
Leave room for participation
As the facilitator, be sure not to monopolize the conversation and encourage attendees to speak up. Ask your team if they have questions or thoughts on each topic before moving to the next agenda item — this will prevent the conversation from jumping backwards later on.
Find that your team struggles to focus in meetings? Encouraging — and even expecting — participation from your team can keep everyone engaged, and help spur brainstorming and ideation between teammates.
A change of scenery can also help inspire participation, and mitigate distractions if factors like noisy, open concept offices make it hard to accomplish everything on your agenda. Taking your team offsite makes the meeting an event, not just a habit. By booking a room away from the office, you benefit from a tidy, neutral space that’s ready to go with the technology and tools you need. That means increased opportunity for creatively tackling the challenges at hand and decreased opportunity for interruptions of meeting room scheduling conflicts. Win-win.
Save unrelated ideas in a “parking lot”
Collaboration and conversation can lead to the best and most innovative suggestions — after all, the best ideas are never created in silos or from a single perspective. Creating space for employees to build upon each other’s suggestions and iterate on past successes is key to innovation. But if there’s too much creative juice, use a “parking lot” to record ideas that are out of scope — it’ll allow your team members to feel heard without slowing things down.
After the meeting, promptly follow up with next steps
Share minutes with the attendees
Always circle back within 24 hours to ensure the takeaways, decisions, and tasks are clear and documented.
If you use a task management system, be sure to assign specific tasks to attendees with the discussed deadlines attached. If you use a messaging app like Slack, post the meeting notes within the proper channel. It’s also critical to record the parking lot somewhere so that the team knows it hasn’t been forgotten.
Then schedule any follow-ups promptly
If follow-up meetings are needed, schedule them ASAP to keep the project top of mind. The whole point of a meeting is to gain alignment on goals and move projects forward, so make sure everyone is on track to deliver on deadlines and clear on next steps.
Our meeting manifesto is simple: plan for the meeting, stick to the plan, and follow up with your team. Check “improve meeting efficiency” off your to-do list — you’re all set.