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The Right Ways to Lead a Productive Meeting

May 28, 2021
By: Arootah
6 min read
Working to meet or meeting to work? Read how to structure and execute productive meetings that are essential to team success.
The Right Ways to Lead a Productive Meeting

Are you working to meet or meeting to work?

Well-conducted meetings create a sense of achievement among the team. Understand the goal of the meeting. Welcome brainstorming to unpack important issues to ultimately achieve substantial decision-making. For a meeting to be successful, it requires extensive planning and strong leadership. In some cases, the planning for the meeting may require more time than the meeting itself. Deliberate preparation invites productive flow and makes the best use of everyone’s time. Establishing a consistent structure ensures all participants know what to expect at each meeting.

As issues are successfully addressed, time moves swiftly, leaving all participants with a positive outlook. If nothing is attained, a meeting can feel frustrating and cause attendees to disengage from the conversation. No one likes to have their time wasted. Being prepared is the most critical factor in leading an effective meeting. Although the work that goes into creating a productive meeting can seem daunting, the resulting efficiencies are worth the effort of preparation.

Never utter “this could have been an email” ever again.

When to schedule a meeting and for how long?

Be judicious with scheduling meetings because they can be a huge time suck. If the meeting is simply to inform staff on company news, consider emailing the announcement. Meetings are about decision-making, unblocking, and empowering the team. If there are no updates or blockages, cancel the meeting and continue your workflow.

People also tend to use the allotted time for meetings or go overtime due to niceties. Be stingy with meeting durations. Fight that psychological urge to fill the duration. If the meeting was scheduled for an hour and you accomplished your goal in 45 minutes, conclude the meeting early. Your team will relish getting that time back to catch up on work or recharge.

Here are the different components of a productive meeting:

Purpose & Objective

Have a goal for your meeting. Answer this: Why are we meeting? What is the problem we are looking to solve? If you determine a well-defined purpose, it keeps the team on track to accomplish the objective. Once the purpose is known, identify the optimal outcome. What would you like to achieve or accomplish during the discussion? Knowing this will allow you to guide the conversation to reach these outcomes and eliminate idle chatter. If you do not know why you are hosting the meeting or what you plan on getting out of it, there is no point in calling the discussion in the first place. 

Prepare a thorough agenda before the meeting to serve as your meeting roadmap.

Agenda

The quality of your agenda serves the foundation for a meeting. Include the following elements in your meeting agendas:

  • List the questions to ask the team.
  • Point out the decisions to make together. Include the criteria of needs, and a pro/con list for your options. At Arootah, we like to review our decision matrices in our meetings.
  • Remind the team of where you left off in the last meeting and new developments that have since occurred.
  • List other topics to discuss for consideration to support the decision.

Provide your team with these reading materials as soon as possible, even days before the meeting. Offer ample opportunity for teammates to amend the schedule as necessary. Each topic of discussion should have an allotted time limit and mention the key contributors. It is helpful to have a meeting manager to keep track of the time and ‘blow a whistle’ when people go off-topic or out of bounds. A schedule is only as good as the discipline you have to keep it.

Sometimes we veer off course to minor details related to the more significant issue. Before speaking, decide whether the subject needs to be addressed right away. If not, make a note of your topic of concern and propose it for the next meeting agenda. 

Agenda template: 

Questions:

Decisions:

Last meetings follow ups:

Topics:

  1. Discussion Point: Person  
  2. Discussion Point: Person  

Prioritize

Make time for what matters most. It is not just about talking more; we want to talk about the most important issues. This is the essence of being effective. Always address the most important and time sensitive points first. Then sequence the other agenda items in order of least significance. If your meeting goes overtime, the team has already covered the most pertinent information. Discuss high leverage points early. If multiple actions depend on one key issue to hash out, bring that to the forefront. Don’t spin your wheels making sense of issues that are reliant on a larger problem. Have the discipline to tackle the tough issues first and you might find that the other problems disappear.

Guestlist

Keep a strict guestlist. While you might want to include teammates to be polite, including fewer people creates a more effective meeting. Only invite people who are directly contributing to decisions. They should have insights on problems and options. Discern whether the individual will be a valid contributor to the topic. If a team member is only relevant to a particular matter, invite them in for a specific time and then let them go. Do not take an hour of someone’s time if fifteen minutes will do. We all know how draining it is to sit through a meeting that has nothing to do with us. It zaps our energy and makes it more challenging to be productive on our tasks. 

Proper Delegation

When assigning tasks, always designate a single person to assume all responsibility for the specific task. Establishing this clarity encourages communication and holds people accountable. You want your team prepared, not embarrassed. Have someone take notes and assign actions to teammates. The follow-up points should be clear and concise. Indicate who is doing what and when in bullet points.

For example:

Follow ups:

  • John – research XYZ by tomorrow EOD
  • Kelsey – identify vendors who can XYZ by the end of the week

Minute Taker

Assign a team member to take notes during the meeting. If a subject is continually discussed without any resolution or completion, it indicates that the meeting is not being properly planned. Reference the previous meeting notes instead of discussing it again.

At the end of each topic, have the mediator summarize what was discussed and state the follow-ups to make sure everyone is on the same page. The minute taker will record this information and email it to each participant at the end of the meeting.

Be on Time

Enforce the importance of being punctual. Everyone’s time should be appreciated and valued. Arriving late inconveniences everyone and sets a bad example. Never recap what has been covered in the meeting to those who show up late. This is essentially starting the discussion over again and rewards bad behavior.

Eliminate Distractions

Distractions are hard to resist, especially the constant ding of a cell phone. Close email, Slack, Twitter, etc. Prohibit the use of phones to keep the forum running smoothly. To be productive, all members should give their full attention to the discussion. This prevents people from having to repeat themselves and allows the meeting to run more efficiently.

Encourage Discussion

Effective meetings invite participation and freedom of opinion. The best decisions come from diversity of thoughts. Disagreements broaden ideas and spark creativity. All communication should be done with kindness and respect. Make sure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute. The mediator should be aware when one person is hijacking the subject matter and invite others to speak. 

Zoom Meetings

For virtual meetings, decide the “venue” just like in-person meetings. Before remote work, we decided if a meeting would be a call or which conference room to use. With remote work, decide if it will be audio or video. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Zoom etiquette exists to create an inviting environment to nurture your team’s relationships.

  • Respect the host’s wish to have either audio or video. It is uncomfortable if a guest is asked to be on camera and you’re only doing audio. You want to create a positive experience, not give guests the creeps.
  • Give your team a break and go audio-only occasionally. Zoom fatigue exists.
  • During video meetings, try looking at the camera rather than the screen. So often, we are distracted by the appearance of ourselves. We look at our image rather than the camera. This makes it hard for listeners to feel connected to the speaker. People may feel more engaged if they think you are looking at them the same way you would in a board room. It is easy to become distracted by people’s faces, expressions, and fidgeting. If you focus on the camera, you won’t become discouraged by your implications of their thoughts and opinions. 
  • Use the mute button if you’re not speaking to limit background noise.
  • If you are sharing your screen, don’t share your desktop! Avoid accidentally broadcasting your embarrassing slacks or personal emails. Share individual documents as needed.

Conclusion

Although the work that goes into creating a productive meeting can seem daunting, the resulting efficiencies are worth the effort of preparation. For any endeavor to be successful, it requires extensive thought. The better planned an event, the more smoothly it goes. Weddings have dress rehearsals, concerts have sound checks, and meetings should have prior deliberation before hosting. By taking time before calling a meeting to organize and define objectives, you map a clear path to productivity. A little planning goes a long way and demonstrates respect for other people’s time. Try starting the meeting with a bit of pep talk stating the purpose and desired outcomes to ensure everyone moves in unison to the same destination. Make sure all action items are accounted for, assigning a person as well as a deadline. Once you establish the consistency of structure, meetings will be both effective and efficient. 

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