Today we are going to talk about how to run productive meetings, whether remote or in person. You, as a leader, will want to make the most of them and not bore your members with boring meetings. Let’s get to know the models, how to run effective meetings and how not to run them!
Knowing how to run effective meetings, or productive meetings, helps companies to grow: these are the moments in which the operation is designed, the tactic is created and the strategy is thought out. Right? Well, in theory, at least. I have already lost count of how many times I said “great, another meeting that could have easily just been done in an email”.
And it is difficult even to tell the difference on a daily basis, because sometimes we think that we need to discuss a matter that seems urgent and, when we call the meeting, we might get lost. And in the end, in the process of explaining why the meeting is taking place, we may find the answer we were looking for.
Some of the most common complaints are: people arriving late, unclear meeting objectives and poor time management. Still, there is a great need to talk face to face. A meeting is successful when all participants know what to bring to the table and that it’s vital for their work. It is not an impossible task. That’s what we’ll see in today’s lesson.
How to prepare for a meeting:
In my My First Leadership Role course, I created a table that I have built with the most common types of meetings that a leader will host, in an attempt to cover as many departments and situations as possible. Then I comment on how to run effective meetings specifically for some types of meetings for leaders.
I divided it into six types of meetings and with five different audiences. The audiences are: individuals, the team as a whole, the company as a whole, customer and supplier.
The six types of meetings are: updates, idea generation, feedback, sales, problem solving and team building. When you cross types of meetings with the types of audiences, you have specific meeting formats. There, we have 16 meeting formats. I will not go into each one, as they are already described in my leadership course. Here, I will give tips that end up permeating all formats.
Do you really need a meeting?
Obviously, the first question to ask is whether your situation really needs a meeting. Does it have to be a recurring meeting? Once a month, a week? Yearly? Is it just a status update or project launch meeting?
No matter the subject, every type of meeting has some chance to be held asynchronously, even feedback sessions. There are even situations of feedback that you can do via text.
To better learn how to run effective meetings recurringly, such as weekly updates with your team, you might consider sending a part of the content to others prior to the meeting or hosting it with parts of the team at a time. So the necessary people are only at the meeting when they really need the information.
When I had a larger team, I split the meeting because I was taking up the time of certain people with matters that they didn’t need to hear. The funny thing is that, in a first analysis, I reasoned that, yes, they needed to be there – after all, it is information about the company’s performance, right?
Except that they often just listened without participating at all. What did I do? I created a better presentation format and I used it for them to read later. Result: nobody read it and it didn’t make a difference.
The only meeting that I have not found how to replace by other means is the one-on-one, individual meetings with people to follow up on specific projects and tasks. Everyone on my team has a 1:1 with me.
Set a clear schedule.
The golden rule for an efficient meeting is: don’t waste people’s time. It applies to you and others. To begin with, it is vital that the meeting has an objective. Set one before you start. Ideally, you should have up to three goals and at most a maximum of 5. More than that, you won’t be able to focus an adequate time slot for each.
This way, you will be able to lead the meeting to a close and also help your team better understand how they can participate and contribute.
- Define which platform to use for customer relationship management, respecting the criterion A, B and C.
- Define the responsibilities for the preparation of the proposal for the possible client X.
- Create some solutions for the issue our customer Y had and who posted on Facebook complaining.
Always make it very clear. Based on the goal, we were able to define the agenda. Will we have an introduction to the problem or issue that the meeting revolves around? Is there any kind of reading the person needs to do first? Will there be a brainstorm or should people arrive with ideas already thought out? Will there be a prioritization part or collective sense making?
When it is a more important meeting, you can send this agenda to your team, explaining what the agenda will consist of. For recurring meetings, always have a basic structure, because I know that you will not create a new agenda from scratch every time. Then you can add or work on this template according to what’s happening in the week.
During the meeting, it can be practical to keep the agenda on display, so you can follow the schedule yourself (or not) and your participants have a better idea of what’s happening. At these weekly meetings, I always had a presentation with the agenda.
Seriously, it looks a lot like it’s just bureaucracy or for people who are control-freaks, but it really helps. Your meeting will be much, much more productive. And it doesn’t even take that much time to create a schedule.
Make it organized.
Just to give a quick example: there is nothing more amateurish than being late for a meeting. And I speak of this from the position of someone who suffers a lot with being on time, because I am disorganized in this respect myself.
Also, respect everyone’s schedule in the meeting by ending it on time. If you do not have time to reach a conclusion of the meeting, you can schedule a next one to do so, as long as they are all on board. By not finishing the meeting at the agreed time, you end up interfering with other people’s commitments.
Additionally, if you decide to end the meeting without reaching a conclusion, it can have the unwanted effect of people thinking the meeting was for nothing – when in fact it may have been useful, even if it has not actually met its goal. It may be important to stress this.
The secret is not to stray too far from the point. I know it happens in reality. It’s normal. However, your role will be to constantly get back to the focus. It is good practice to take a look at the meeting’s points from time to time, so you know how the meeting is going.
How to run effective meetings remotely?
With all the remote meetings that took place because of the pandemic last year, many companies have seen in practice how remote meetings can be more efficient by not requiring their participants to go to specific places. However, despite the numerous benefits, they are slightly different in the way they are run.
Probably the biggest challenge faced in learning how to run effective meetings remotely is the lack of that in-person social interaction and proximity. In meetings that are held in the middle of the day, it may be a good idea to set aside some time for informal interactions.
In the period of 10 months that I was 100% remote (since I moved to another city before the pandemic), we started planning biweekly meetings on Fridays, optional, just to see each other and interact in a more informal setting, so we don’t lose social connection, if that makes sense.
When I was working remotely and the rest of the team wasn’t, I realized that I missed that exchange of conversations that happened at lunch, on the way to get me a coffee and when I greeted my colleagues in the early morning. That was really necessary.
Let’s get to the tips.
Make clear the purpose of the meeting and the context.
It has been very common for two people to be talking and thinking “we need person X’s opinion” and, with that in mind, they send the meeting link to the person and say “hey, can you get over here quickly?”. If the person is free, he or she will go to the virtual meeting room. It has happened to me several times, because I thought it was urgent, given the short message I received.
It turns out that the newly invited person does not know what you are talking about. So make it very clear and assess whether you really need to invite them now, taking them away from what they were doing, just to get some brief information. You may be able to send a message asking for the bit you need, and continue your meeting, while you wait for a response.
I already got into meetings that even people kept talking to each other as if I knew everything that was going on. I had to interrupt and ask for a small briefing. You have to do this: explain to the person you just invited what you are talking about, what you are considering and what they need to provide.
That being said, it is important to reflect on people’s needs. As it is a remote meeting, it is very common to invite people because of how easy it’s for them to participate. However, in virtual meetings, it is also much easier for them to get distracted.
If it is not absolutely essential, you can think about simply writing down the output of the meeting and sending it to them. This is a good practice anyway – if in the RACI matrix you have people who absolutely must be informed, think about writing in a document of what was discussed and decided.
Not only for those who want to learn how to run productive meetings, but to handle tasks, the RACI matrix is essential.
As a rule, a meeting with more than 6 people starts to become more difficult for everyone to participate actively. Over 10 people, it is very difficult for everyone to contribute and be 100% present in it.
Make the meeting agenda very clear.
From what I have observed, and there is no science behind that I have seen, remote meetings are more tiring. Learning how to run productive meetings online is different. A 1-hour meeting over the computer seems to take more energy than if it was in-person. And imagine that I already had a meeting that lasted for 5 hours. Seriously.
So take regular breaks every 45 minutes to get up, get some fresh air, replenish water / coffee, see what’s new on Slack, things like that.
As soon as you resume your meeting, do some energizer, some playful activity or an icebreaker.
Also, keep in mind what each person will contribute to the meeting. A super nice practice is to assign roles to people, like the time keeper, one person to write down and another person to be the critic of ideas. You can be inspired by the 6 thinking hats. How about that?
As a leader, you must invite people to participate. Do not expect everyone to be an extrovert and interrupt to give their contributions. If you have a good idea of how that person behaves, you can prompt them to give their opinion, ask if that operation fits the process, if they notice any holes, what they think the supplier will think, these things. Show more overt evidence of what you expect from them than simply asking “What do you think?”. Ask more specific questions.
All other suggestions still apply to your virtual meetings.
The worst mistakes we make when talking about how to run productive meetings.
Now that we’ve talked about how to run productive meetings, it’s worth taking a look at the most common mistakes, especially for leaders, and what to do. For this, it was important to see what makes a meeting efficient in order to recognize what makes a meeting unproductive.
When run effectively, meetings promote collaboration and communication and keep members motivated. When poorly conducted, all of this is lost, even having a negative effect.
So with the idea of improving productivity, ask yourself if any of your scheduled meetings have the potential to be a waste of time. Take a look at your own calendar.
Now let’s see what are the reasons that cause the greatest loss of time influenced by meetings.
Your calendar is full of meetings.
It is difficult to find time to get on a new project when meeting reminders keep popping up all the time. You want to spend your time on work that really matters, but your Google Calendar is ruling your day. Which is kind of cool that you have your meetings organized in one place, but that is bound to become a bottleneck soon.
My rule of thumb is not having more than 3 hours of my day dedicated to meetings. There were instances where I actually had all day, really, dedicated to meetings when I had bigger teams. And this went on for days.
So, cancel unnecessary meetings. Complex topics and brainstorming sessions are certainly great when run in person, but you may wonder if there is another way to get to the same point. It can be an email with your ideas, a 15-minute stand-up meeting (to force brevity) or a 10-minute meeting where the person interested in the ideas simply collects it from the participants. Afterwards, the person can decide whether he or she will need additional information.
You can also mark blocks on your day that you do not want to have meetings. I think that all calendar softwares that I’ve used has this function of blocking a part of your day. I, for example, know that I work best with meetings early in the day. At the end of the day, my participation and attention span drop a lot.
So, I block my daily schedule for meetings at specific times. I even had to block my lunch time because they were scheduling meetings at 11:30, 12:30 and 13:00. Don’t be that person.
Not questioning the meetings.
Here is what happens: there will come a time when your opinion is so important and your contribution is so valid that everyone wants to have your participation. With that, you let others dictate your contribution to the company.
Learning to question the reason for the meeting, your participation, what is expected and these things is an art and it will help you greatly to increase your productivity and leverage in the company. Do not hesitate to press “Reject” on the invitations. Or to question why is the meeting even taking place. The chances are very high that everything will be alright if you do so.
Likewise, ask yourself if the meeting is not longer than necessary. Imagine a simple meeting to set the decoration of the reception hall to take 2 hours. Okay, it’s an important subject, because it’s your business’ first image to your customers – but should that override all other issues? Is the opportunity cost so high to postpone that decision a little or leave it at that?
As the popular saying goes: time is money. In your case, it is also performance and your performance in the company. I mentioned this a few times in this lesson. It is common for our calendar software to schedule meetings in 30 minutes slots, but you do not necessarily need to use this chunk of time. Question the length of the meetings. As Parkinson’s law says: the amount of work required for an activity will fill in the time made available for its completion.
Meetings that lose focus.
As I have already mentioned briefly before, it is very common for the meeting to be dispersed by some joke, side talk or by entering into a topic slightly related to what is being discussed, but that goes in another direction.
Some suggestions to prevent this from happening are having a timekeeper for the meeting and leaving the purpose of that meeting on display, so that anyone else can question it.
Just to give a quick example: when we were on a project that involved a lot of rush for an LMS setup, an online course management software, in early 2020, I was the person who all the time asked whether a meeting was really necessary. Of course, we were also learning about remote meetings. But that made me very uncomfortable.
Of course, share the agenda with others, so they know more or less what to expect from the meeting. There are several meeting agenda templates on the internet and even complete toolkits on how to run meetings in specific formats, such as brainstorm, feedback and weekly update meetings.
If you are interested in this content, comment here that I can search for the ones that I find most useful and most functional.
Finally, I strongly recommend a person’s secretary-like role. That way, in addition to ensuring that people are paying attention, you generate a report of what has to be done post-meeting and, of course, the decisions made. This is especially important for meetings where you expect tasks to be created and their delegation to take place.
This can also be useful for you to follow up later.
Running meetings more efficiently.
If you open any leader’s agenda, you will see that that person probably has many meetings in the same week. Maybe not all of them are actually scheduled, but they end up meeting many people during the course of the week.
Most of those calendars are full of invitations to meetings and, even more common than that, it’s team members wishing that they didn’t waste so much time on unproductive meetings. Worse in fact is when we only feel useful when we are in a meeting, when it is actually just a smoke screen.
Useless meetings are common, but don’t worry. If it’s any consolation, you will continue to experience this evil for a while. So don’t panic. Only now that you know this, take a little control of your life as a manager and leader to improve your time management. Follow the steps mentioned in this lesson to improve your mental and calendar health, if I can use that term. As we say in my hometown: better than that, just twice that.
To recap what we saw in this lesson:
We saw how you can prepare for a meeting as a leader: review if it is needed, set an agenda and have schedules for each block.
Then we went into the topic of how to run productive meetings, with two very brief tips: make it clear the purpose and agenda of the meeting.
Finally, we visited the main mistakes of those who have a calendar full of meetings and whose participation is essential. This is especially the case for leaders.
In the next lesson, we will learn about the Drama Triangles, a very, very common form of conflict that happens in teams, how to realize that you are getting into one and how to escape the drama triangle that is being created in your team
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Always look both ways. See you in the future.