Meetings are an essential part of any business. Face-time allows for clear communication and effective decision making that helps teams accomplish goals faster. But all too often, meetings run long and fail to keep people engaged. With so many teams choosing to continue working from home amidst the global pandemic, it is now more important than ever to understand how to run effective meetings that keep attendees engaged and provide clear follow-up steps to keep the business moving.

What is an Effective Meeting?

Six women holding a meeting with one writing on a white board
Six women holding a meeting with one writing on a white board

Effective meetings are thoughtfully planned and executed meetings that bring a selected group of people together to solve a specific outcome. Often, people use meetings to share information. While that can be essential, effective meeting strategies are designed to help a team come to a decision, brainstorm new ideas, or workshop a solution to a problem.

Learning how to run effective meetings is not only great for productivity, but good meetings also inspire greater team collaboration, which can have a direct effect on employee morale.

Here are a few tips for running effective meetings with your team:

Decide if a meeting is appropriate.

With today’s technology, there is a myriad of ways to get information out, which is why when you take the time to schedule a meeting, it should have an agenda and intended outcomes. If the outcome can be resolved with a quick email or phone call, a meeting is often not necessary.

Beyond wasting everyone’s time, you also have to consider the cost of the meeting. If everyone earns $25/hour and you have ten people attend the meeting, that’s $250 per hour.

Outline the agenda.
Entrepreneurs having coffee and taking notes in a meeting
Entrepreneurs having coffee and taking notes in a meeting

We’ve all been stuck in a bad meeting. The kind that starts late, and drones on (and on) with no clear agenda and no resolution.

These meetings zap energy, and they cost you time and money. Without a clear purpose and outcome, meetings can be seen as a waste of time, especially when you’re feeling stretched thin, as many of us are right now.

Effective meeting management and planning are crucial to enabling a company to move forward and make progress. So, when planning a meeting, start by identifying the intended outcome. Why are you holding this meeting?

Setting an outcome sets the foundation on which you will build your agenda and decides what materials need to be prepped. It lets you know how much time you will need, and whether or not a presentation is necessary. Furthermore, it helps you begin to identify the roles each attendee holds in the meeting. By sharpening your focus, you’ll increase the chances of achieving your desired outcome.

Decide who to invite.

Meetings can help obtain buy-in and consensus from the attendees. If you need a collaborative decision to move forward, a productive meeting can help layout options, pros/cons, and alternate thought patterns to help arrive at a consensus. If your team is part of this decision-making process, they are more likely to have buy-in to the outcome and next steps.

However, deciding on the guestlist can be a challenge. Often, leaders will extend an invitation to the whole staff, or an entire department, without giving any thought to the role each individual will play. Depending on the agenda, you will want to filter your guest list. Historically, the more people in a meeting, the less responsibility each person has; if people feel expendable, they won’t be as diligent in following up on the items discussed. Limiting the number of ‘spectators’ will help you keep the meetings shorter, more engaging, and easier, so you’ll end with clear action steps for everyone involved.

Schedule the meeting and assign any prep ahead of time.
A woman wearing a gray shirt leads a meeting
A woman wearing a gray shirt leads a meeting

Time is valuable and, with the amount of time we all spend in meetings, you owe it to both yourself and your team to streamline the meeting as much as possible.

The first step in streamlining your meeting is to decide how much time you should allocate to the meeting. Meetings should go only as long as needed to accomplish your desired outcome. Ask yourself how long that should take and plan accordingly.

Secondly, meetings are not the place to introduce a new concept. If you have information to share with the team before the meeting itself, send it ahead of time so that they have time to prepare and can come to the meeting with their thoughts and ideas. Another way to share ideas and encourage prep before the meeting is to assign prep before the meeting or have the attendees bring in items on a shared document. This way, everyone has a chance to prepare ahead of the meeting to ensure it’s productive.

Take ownership.

The person who called the meeting needs to be responsible for driving the agenda and keep the meeting focused. While this doesn’t mean that other people can’t participate, they can, and should; only one person should be responsible for the overall flow of the meeting.

As the “owner,” it’s your job to keep the meeting on task. Begin by setting the stage with the Purpose, Outcome, and Agenda, and take responsibility for keeping the meeting moving forward. An easy way to avoid having the meeting dragged off in a different direction is to establish a Parking Lot at the top of the meeting. A Parking Lot is a list of off-topic questions/discussions that can be built into the end of the meeting (if there is time). Often, we can cover these questions later in a meeting, or they resolve themselves; otherwise, these items can be addressed after the meeting or in a follow-up email. This is key to keeping a meeting on track. When meetings start to become talking sessions that go nowhere, people will disengage.

Identify and schedule the next steps.
Two women and one man looking and point at a laptop
Two women and one man looking and point at a laptop

At the end of the meeting, having clear next steps is vital. If you spend all of that time in the meeting, there better be a result or something to follow up on based on decisions made or the brainstorming completed. It is important to finish meetings with clear “to do’s” and select the driver for each task so that things move forward post-meeting.

Meetings can be the most powerful tool in the success of your business. However, like any tool, you can only fully reap the benefits when you use it properly. Don’t waste another second in a poorly executed meeting. Use these guidelines to run effective meetings that leave you feeling energized and excited to get back to work.

If you’re feeling uncertain about what the future may hold for your business, you don’t have to go at it alone. Schedule a free two-hour session to dig into your business to uncover bottlenecks and opportunities and develop a plan to weather this storm.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.