How can I plan productive meetings in my business?

October 2021
 

Productive meetings are at the heart of company communication and innovation.

Get your company’s approach to meetings right and they can power the business forward. Run them badly and staff will look at their packed calendars with a sense of dread.

This article shares guidelines for effective meetings, including a meeting agenda template, ideas for effective decision making and how to follow best practice.

Guidelines for effective meetings

It helps to create a simple set of guidelines that shape how your team book and run meetings. Here are some ideas on how to make them more productive.

1. Book the amount of time needed

Calendars default to booking time in 30 or 60-minute blocks. Encouraging staff to think about exactly how long meetings should be saves time and creates an expectation of efficiency.

Remember that meetings are expensive. You could use a meeting-cost timer app, which multiplies the number of attendees by the average cost per attendee, to encourage productive meetings.

2. Encourage employees to be present

Laptops and mobile phones make it harder for people to follow what’s going on, reducing their productivity. Using them in meetings can create an air of disrespect too, as speakers see people are more interested in an email notification than the discussion.

Consider banning mobile phones and laptops from meetings altogether. Having short meetings and leading by example will help embed the discipline.

3. Invite the right amount of people

Company announcements or updates often require large meetings. However, when you’re trying to make decisions or debate ideas, a large number of attendees usually makes you less productive. Keep meetings as small as possible.

One approach is to establish a precedent that people can walk out of meetings if they feel it’s not valuable.

Consider having representatives from teams rather than inviting every member. Pick an advocate that’s particularly interested in the subject matter, don’t default to the team leader.

4. Limit note taking to one person

It can be productive to write up notes and action items during the meeting. However, if every attendee has their laptop open, people can get distracted and you’re duplicating the effort. Instead, have a dedicated note taker.

They can share follow-up actions, highlights from the discussion and add any additional resources that are useful, such as links to project folders.

5. Book meetings at an appropriate time of day

Take any flexible working arrangements into consideration. If staff arrive between 8:30 and 9:30 am, for example, make sure nothing’s booked before that. Don’t book anything during lunchtime or at the end of the day.

Consider whether meetings should be limited to specific days of the week or time periods; imagine the productivity boost if you had no meetings from Wednesday to Friday.

Preparing for a productive meeting

There are lots of elements that can be included to make meetings more productive, but the process needs to be straightforward. Consider the size and type of meetings your company has and what elements are appropriate.

The purpose of meetings needs to be defined effectively. Just like a headline conveys the purpose of an article, the meeting name should make employees immediately aware of the purpose.

Calendar invites provide the most effective way to share information about the meeting and keep everyone on track.
  • Meeting title: The title should define what the meeting will cover

  • Related resources: Add links to the relevant documents, planning tools etc. This helps embed procedure, such as Objective Key Result goal setting

  • Goal setting: Add which company goal or objective the meeting relates to

  • Meeting leader and note taker: Who’s responsible for keeping everyone on track and who’s taking notes?

  • Decision-making process: Make people aware if there will be a vote or similar exercise

Including resources and the aim of the meeting gets people thinking about the challenge you’re trying to solve. Some employees will benefit from considering the options outside of a meeting, rather than being put on the spot to come up with an idea.
 
If necessary, choose the speakers for each topic and make it clear how much time they have.

Consider lunch and coffee meetings carefully

Going for lunch with someone’s a treat and can be a good way to share ideas and build relationships, but it takes up a lot of time. Instead, you might opt for a remote meeting or a quick call. 

Exercises for prioritising as a group

Coming to a consensus takes time and can cause meetings to drag out. Creating a framework to agree on priorities helps make sure you come to a conclusion, making for a more productive meeting.

If it’s a team meeting and the manager is present, they’ll often take the lead. Be aware of the opportunity to follow a view you don’t agree with if there’s a consensus, particularly if it’s proposed by someone from the specialist area; it can improve decision making and is highly motivational.

Whether or not the meeting includes someone that has clear seniority, a structured approach to reaching consensus helps create productive meetings.

Define how decisions will be made at the start of the meeting or set a company-wide standard. For example, there are 10 minutes to provide an update, 30 minutes for discussion and then there'll be a vote.

Create a voting system

Write each option on a whiteboard and give team members three stickers to vote on their preference. This gives the team agency and is likely to provide a more accurate sense of people’s priorities than a verbal debate, which may be biased by the positions of extroverts.

Having multiple voting stickers provides more context. For example, if you’re deciding how to prioritise software development resources, team members can choose to put all their votes on one feature or select several.

Defer decisions that require more time

Don’t be afraid to hold off on making decisions if more time, research, or thought is required. The key to keeping the meeting productive is to do this consciously. The leader of the meeting should say that the decision’s being deferred, why and when it’ll be revisited.

The power of creating an open atmosphere

Productivity is driven by your team. Every business will have a mix of personalities, including extroverts and introverts. Fail to create an open atmosphere and you risk losing valuable ideas and insight.

Creating an open environment starts with the leadership team. If you’re aware someone wants to talk but can’t find an opening, give them a platform. Actively discourage people from cutting each other off.

Use one-to-one sessions to sense check whether team members feel like their voices are being heard and if your meeting systems are working more generally.

Creating a productive meeting culture

A productive meeting culture will eventually become second nature but think about how you can apply processes and templates until then.

  1. Lead from the top: Make sure the meetings you book, run, and take part in follow the guidelines. Likewise, for other managers and team leaders

  2. Have a calendar template: Asking employees to include specific information in calendar invites helps ensure meetings have been planned effectively

  3. Meeting rules: Share meeting rules when they’re established, during employee onboarding and on meeting room doors. Be succinct and make sure they’re memorable

Establishing cultural norms requires repetition, simplicity, and staff buy-in. Distil the key elements to your approach, share them often and live them every day.

How can I plan productive meetings?

Guidelines for effective meetings

Which of the following rules are you going to embed in your business?

1. Book the amount of time needed

2. Ban mobile phones and laptops

3. Invite the right amount of people

4. Limit note taking to one person

5. Book meetings at an appropriate time of day

Creating a calendar invite

Ask staff to book diary invites that contain the information that needs to be covered. Here are some suggestions that you can start doing today:

  • Meeting title: The title should define what the meeting will cover

  • Related resources: Add links to the relevant documents, planning tools etc. This helps embed procedure, such as Objective Key Result goal setting

  • Goal setting: Add which company goal the meeting relates to

  • Meeting leader and note taker: Who’s responsible for keeping everyone on track and who’s taking notes

  • Decision-making process: Make people aware if there will be a vote or similar exercise

How to create a productive meeting culture

There are several steps that can help embed your approach to having more productive meetings:

  1. Lead from the top: Make sure the meetings you book, run, and take part in follow the guidelines. Likewise, for other managers and team leaders.

  2. Have a calendar template: Asking employees to include specific information in invites helps ensure meetings have been planned effectively.

  3. Meeting rules: Share meeting rules when they’re established, during employee onboarding and on meeting room doors. Be succinct and make sure they’re memorable.

Establishing cultural norms requires repetition, simplicity, and staff buy-in. Distil the key elements to your approach, share them often and live them every day.

 
 

 

This article was written and originally published by The Productivity Group (trading as Be the Business). Be the Business is an independent, not for profit organisation set up to help business owners and leaders improve the performance of their business. © Copyright 2021 The Productivity Group.  All rights reserved.

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