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Within an organization, it’s getting harder and harder to find someone who’s excited about meetings. It’s not uncommon to hear colleagues quipping that a random meeting could’ve been an email or a Slack message. However, work meetings can still be crucial to eliciting brilliant ideas, inspiring collaboration, and building camaraderie.  

This article discusses different ways to make your work meetings more productive and offers tips on making the most of everyone’s precious time.   

Set a clear agenda 

Setting a clear agenda ahead of a meeting makes it clear to everyone what the purpose of the meeting is. This allows participants to come prepared, setting the table for a productive discussion. Make sure to include the agenda in the meeting brief sent out.  

In addition, meeting agendas should be specific. For example, “Project 500” only gives a vague idea of what the meeting will tackle. On the other hand, “Discussing Project 500 challenges and solutions” makes it abundantly clear what the meeting hopes to achieve. 

When you have a clear agenda, it’s easier to swing back to the objective when the discussion inevitably wanders off-kilter.   

Use meeting tools 

There are plenty of meeting tools designed to boost productivity. These tools can have simple features like email and calendar integration, so no one misses a meeting. Some have more collaborative ones, such as sharing an agenda while allowing attendees to add notes and action items. Meanwhile, other tools have advanced call transcription, automatically feeding data into CRMs.  

Meeting tools can be especially powerful for meetings with people outside your organization.     

Only invite people with roles in the meeting 

While there’s something to be said for wanting to keep everyone involved, meetings are most productive when only essential team members are present. It’s best to clearly define the expectations of the participants and what roles they’re expected to play in the discussion. Team members are more likely to contribute when they have clearly defined roles. Again, it’s best if these details are in the meeting brief.  

Have a strict start and end time 

It should be standard company policy to be on time for meetings. Team members could work on something much more productive than waiting for others to show up.  

Similarly, a strict end time is also vital for productive meetings. This ensures that everyone’s focused on accomplishing the agenda. When everyone knows when the meeting will end, there’s more urgency to run through the action items accordingly.    

Hear participants out first 

When leaders speak first, you tend to see a lot of nodding heads and less participation. Encouraging team members to chime in at the start of the meeting airs out different perspectives to work with and allows leaders to make more informed decisions at the end.  

For meeting leads, a big part of the job is facilitating the flushing of ideas and opinions. As such, it’s crucial to have a good feel for when to encourage discussion and when to urge listening.   

Stay focused 

Setting time limits for each action item ensures participants stay focused on the agenda. A good tip is to start with topics that generate the least discussions. This allows you to move through meeting objectives, saving more contentious items for the end. Again, it’s inevitable for meetings to go off-topic once in a while, keeping enough focus to lasso it back to the agenda is an essential meeting skill.   

Define takeaways and assign action items 

An excellent way to make sure discussions continue after the meeting is to define takeaways and assign action plan items. Following meetings, send these details to all attendees. Details should also include all follow-up tasks, individual responsibilities, and respective timeframes.   

Perform regular meeting audits 

The best way to make meetings more productive is to hold only essential ones. You can do this by performing regular meeting audits. Often, recurring meetings start as necessary and fruitful. But as recurring things tend to do, they become more of a routine than a practical exercise.  

Every few months, ask team members if a recurring meeting is still worth everybody’s time. If a meeting can defend itself, it’s worth keeping. If the defenses for its existence feel like a reach, it’s time to drop it off the calendar. In fact, canceling regular meetings is a great way to see which ones are missed.   

Final words 

It’s not the meetings that keep people from accomplishing their work goals. It’s the number of ineffective meetings that are hampering staff’s productivity. If you’re in a decision-making role, take a long, honest look at the kind of meetings your organization is having and take stock of what you’re achieving and how team members feel about them.  

Having honest conversations about these things is often all it takes to bring meetings back to their productive state.