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May 16, 2024

Ideas for Productive and Effective Meetings


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Unproductive meetings are a drain on time, energy and resources not just for the individual but the organisation as well. Our article will present tips on how to get the most out of your meetings (and if you should have them in the first place). We will also look at how to manage people in a meeting and create a conducive atmosphere so that everyone contributes.

Any human activity or project that involves more than two people will usually require a meeting. Whether you are rolling out a new product across four continents or planning the neighbourhood bake sale, at some point, there will be meetings involved. Meetings are a necessary (some would add “evil”) part of getting people together to reach a common goal. 

Unfortunately, most of us have sat through time-wasting, mind-numbing meetings that got nowhere and achieved nothing. Numerous surveys have found that meetings in the corporate world are a major time sink (Do a cursory search or go here for a collection of statistics).

Your teammates may not make it this obvious, but if meetings are poorly organised and conducted, their sentiments are the same
Your teammates may not make it this obvious, but if meetings are poorly organised and conducted, their sentiments are the same

Surely we can do better. Let’s look at some ways to improve how we conduct meetings and make them the effective, productive gatherings they ought to be.

Is a meeting even needed?

Before you give in to the urge to call a meeting, consider if it is truly necessary. There may be more efficient ways to achieve your objectives. If the goal is to share information, check in on team members, acquire regular status updates or assign tasks, it can often be done using an email, a memo or just a conversation. If you’ve been invited to attend a meeting in which you believe your presence is unnecessary, offer to provide your information through an email, or ask to be kept in the loop for the meeting’s outcome.

Set clear meeting objectives

Before scheduling a meeting, define its purpose and objectives. What specific outcomes do you hope to achieve? What is the takeaway from the meeting? There must be concrete deliverables or something that has improved as a result of the meeting. Without well-defined goals, meetings can easily veer off track, leading to wasted time and effort. As such, you may wish to outline the topics to be discussed, identify the decisions to be made or set targets for problem-solving. Once the meeting objectives have been established, ensure all participants are made aware of them beforehand.

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Not having clear objectives or not following the agenda will result in a meandering, unproductive meeting that leaves attendees wondering "What just happened?"
Not having clear objectives or not following the agenda will result in a meandering, unproductive meeting that leaves attendees wondering “What just happened?”

Prepare a structured meeting agenda

An agenda should have three columns: the items that need to be covered, the person who is supposed to address the issue, and the amount of time allotted. Just like the meeting objectives, the agenda should be shared with participants in advance to give them an opportunity to prepare and contribute effectively. 

Invite attendees who are necessary

A meeting is not a spectator sport. Everyone who attends must have a role or contribution to the matter at hand. Each person must be able to answer the question, “Why am I here?”. It can be tempting to invite everyone and their uncle just to ensure all bases are covered. However unnecessary attendees can actually hinder the effectiveness of a meeting. The larger the crowd, the more difficult it becomes to manage. The ideal number of attendees in a meeting is five to seven.

Have an effective leader or chairperson

An effective chairperson, leader or facilitator is able to motivate and draw out participation from meeting attendees. She also sets the tone and provides a safe, collaborative atmosphere for creative suggestions and ideas to flow.
An effective chairperson, leader or facilitator is able to motivate and draw out participation from meeting attendees. She also sets the tone and provides a safe, collaborative atmosphere for creative suggestions and ideas to flow.

Whether it’s a video or in-person meeting, you must have a chairperson. You can call it a leader, facilitator or chairman; this person has the important job of getting the meeting started, keeping it on track according to the agenda, guiding the discussions, managing the dynamics among the attendees (more on this later) and closing the meeting effectively. However, the chairperson should not dominate the discussion or impose his or her views on others.

Start and end meetings on time

Respect attendees’ schedules by starting and ending meetings on time. Resist the urge to “wait five more minutes until everyone arrives”. When this becomes a norm, it sends the message that it’s ok to come in late because the meeting isn’t going to start on time anyway. Starting late is also disrespectful to the attendees who arrived on time. Don’t you think it’s unfair to punish the people who arrived on time by making them wait? 

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Experts have different opinions on what the ideal meeting duration is. Considering that the average person can maintain focus for around 25 minutes. Effective meetings should probably be kept to 30 minutes max. When planning the agenda, you may want to build in some buffer time to accommodate intense discussions, technical hiccups and the like.

Steer discussions and manage participants

If you are chairing the meeting, there are a number of tactics to draw out the attendees, make the most of everyone’s time and have a more productive meeting.

Set ground rules

Make the ground rules clear at the start of the meeting, and enforce them. These can include basic rules such as setting devices on silent mode. But there should also be rules for behaviours, for example, no interrupting, no hogging air time or no side discussions.

Ground rules can include being fully engaged in the meeting, no multitasking and not using devices for non-meeting purposes.
Ground rules can include being fully engaged in the meeting, no multitasking and not using devices for non-meeting purposes.

Ensure everyone speaks

If all the attendees are necessary to the meeting, then all attendees must have something to contribute. If an attendee is not providing any input, why is he even there? You can go around the table asking for each person’s feedback. Another way is to ask the most junior attendees to speak first. Less experienced or junior team members may hold back or feel hesitant about saying what’s on their minds in a group setting. You may also want to ask the quieter, more reticent attendees to speak first. A wise facilitator or chairperson will let these groups speak first. This is to prevent senior or louder people from dominating meetings and ideas.

Create psychological safety

An atmosphere of psychological safety will encourage people to speak. Ensure all attendees are confident that new and different ideas are welcome and that there will not be public shaming or censure. Do not smother creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Discuss and tackle questions and doubts. Avoid blaming or reprimanding as this will make everyone uncomfortable and shut down engagement or fruitful discussion for the rest of the meeting. You might encounter that one person who is fond of shooting down suggestions and ideas; an easy way of countering this is by immediately asking them if they have a better idea instead.

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Recap, set action items and close

Before ending the meeting, recap the discussions, summarise key points and set action steps with deadlines for each participant. Each attendee should be clear about what they need to do when they leave the meeting room. Schedule the next meeting (if necessary) and reiterate that there must be progress on the actions to be taken. End on a positive note and thank everyone for their time, input and collaboration. Meeting minutes or notes should be sent to all attendees within 24 hours. The chairperson may wish to follow up on action items after a few days or a week, depending on urgency.

From pointless to productive

When meetings are productive and effective, it drives meaningful outcomes for the organisation. It also builds camaraderie among team members and allows them to exchange insights and voice feedback.
When meetings are productive and effective, it drives meaningful outcomes for the organisation. It also builds camaraderie among team members and allows them to exchange insights and voice feedback.

These ideas should help you and your organisation to turn meetings from tedious and ineffectual to effective, collaborative, idea-generating and with tangible outcomes. It requires a combination of careful planning, clear communication and creativity in managing people. When you maximise the impact of your meetings, it contributes to productivity (less time wasted in pointless meetings!), innovation and ultimately to business goals.

Understanding and managing people, in meetings and beyond, is a key part of navigating the workplace and society. Emotional intelligence is an increasingly important ability in our hyper-connected world. If you wish to improve your EQ and understand yourself better so that you can understand others better, get in touch with us. As psychologists and personal coaches, we can help you discern your competencies and maximise your potential. Reach out to us.

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