How to Optimize Your Work Meetings for Maximum Results and Efficiency
Are your meetings effective and efficient?
When you have a jam-packed schedule, you need to make the most of everything you do. And guess what? So does your team.
Showing respect for your staff means eliminating unnecessary time drains and focusing on results. It goes a long way when you’re building a positive team culture.
Remember, time is at a premium these days, and making the most of it is at the top of people’s minds. At work and at home, everything seems to chip away at our time, whether it’s standing in a long line at the grocery store, answering emails, or tackling a never-ending to-do list.
That’s why there’s nothing quite as irritating as feeling like you’ve wasted your time. You know what we mean — that feeling when you walk away from a meeting that took up your entire morning but got you zero results. It can really sting, and be demoralizing for your team.
In this article, you’ll learn how to have shorter meetings that are effective and efficient, and optimize your time to get the best results.
Figure Out if You Really Need to Hold a Meeting
Like most things in life, knowing your intention is key. If you want to build a thriving business, you need to be focused and intentional in everything you do.
That starts with deciding whether to have a meeting or not — focus on quality versus quantity. Contrary to what a lot of people think, not every situation calls for an all-hands-on-deck, live meeting.
If you need to broadcast information, can you do it via email? Do your status updates really need a meeting? And if you have an important decision to make, is everyone on the team equipped with the context needed to help make that decision?
Think carefully before you schedule.
When to call a meeting:
- To make a collaborative decision
- To create something as a team, such as in project planning, problem-solving, brainstorming, and goal-setting
- To build team relationships
- To do a retrospective assessment and refine or tweak processes
- To communicate high-level information to the entire team or department
Even if you have good reason to hold a meeting, you should make sure everyone is fully prepared.
If there are people on the team who don’t have the necessary information or background to join in on the discussion, you should hold off. Either rethink who you invite or give people the information they need to come informed.
Set Expectations and Invite the Right People
Now that you’ve decided to hold a meeting, it’s time to distill your objectives into one or two main points. Without having tangible, actionable goals, you run the risk of meandering off-topic and leaving the meeting without having really accomplished anything.
Maybe you want to map out a customer journey, decide on an action plan, or come up with five ways to tackle an issue. Boil it down to a few sentences and include them on the meeting invite. You’ll also want to put these objectives on a clear agenda that includes any pertinent information your team will need.
Carefully consider who will attend the meeting. Remember, you want to value everyone’s time, so you should only invite people who need to be there. Let’s look at some examples of who you should invite.
- The decision-makers for the topic of discussion
- People who are responsible for the topic of discussion
- People who will be directly affected by decisions made at the meeting
- Team members who are essential to implementing action items
Consider that you wouldn’t hold a client meeting without having a clear reason to do so. The same goes for meetings with the team — make sure there’s a point to them attending!
Keep it Short and Sweet
To make the most of your time, you need to structure your meeting inside of the right framework. Give yourself a time limit (like an hour) and always start on time. This will keep you focused when people start to veer off track or dominate conversations.
Start off the meeting by acknowledging your intention to stay on track and emphasize why it’s important — to respect everyone’s time.
You might say something like, “I know how important and valuable your time is, so let’s stay focused on our goal and keep this meeting under an hour. I’m keeping a list of any topics we don’t get to that we can revisit later. We can also continue our discussion via Slack or email afterwards. How does that sound?”
You can manage time even more effectively if you’ve broken down your agenda into small, actionable chunks. For example, the first 15 minutes are to review the issue, the next 30 minutes are for brainstorming, and the last 15 minutes are to solidify a plan.
Having this clearly marked on your meeting agenda will also help people prepare more effectively, which will lead to a more efficient meeting.
You’ll also want to eliminate distractions. If you’re holding an in-person meeting, ask people to leave their phones at their desks. Despite the fact that multi-tasking reduces how effective we are, the temptation to work during a meeting is typically challenging to resist.
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Drive Engagement and Create Safety
One of the most common ways meetings fail is by having low engagement. Not everyone likes to speak up or feels confident doing so, but you can minimize low engagement with a detailed agenda and plenty of resources for people to help them prepare.
Additionally, creating a safe space is essential. You can build trust by taking the initiative and speaking up first about challenging or controversial topics. To make introverted people more comfortable, avoid putting them on the spot at the beginning of a discussion and leave it to the end. A simple “What’s stood out for you so far?” will do.
Every team has a “movie star” personality, so you’ll need to guide the discussion so that person doesn’t take over. If you notice someone’s dominating conversations, gently steer the discussion away from them by asking, “Who else has something to say about this.”
If discussion stalls, you need to ask thoughtful questions that get people thinking. In general, yes or no questions aren’t going to drive discussion. So instead of asking, “Do we have anything else to say about this,” you might try, “What are we not thinking of here?”
Consider that people have different learning styles. Some people respond better to visual information than audio information, so include plenty of visuals such as videos and charts when possible to help stimulate discussion.
Focus on Results and Utilize Follow Up Tools
Your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, but you still need to have one. At the end of an effective meeting, you should have some sort of tangible result — don’t settle for a “maybe.” Decision-making can be as simple as looking at all available solutions and taking a vote.
Of course, you’ll only do this if all the decision-makers are present. Hold your team accountable for identifying an action plan. Remember that you can always refine things if needed, provided the stakes are relatively manageable.
Once the decisions are finalized, make follow-up action items crystal clear. Provide a meeting recap and assign deliverables with project management software like Trello. This tool is incredibly easy to use and offers visibility into projects from all angles, making it one of the most effective project management tools out there.
You’ll also want to use an instant messaging system like Slack for quick, easy communication. You can organize and streamline it by creating a separate Slack channel or group chat for the project, including links to all pertinent information there. If you have follow-up points to bring up that you couldn’t get to in the meeting, include them there.
Finally, use an online meeting tool like Zapier to automate meeting workflows. You can offload the burden of administrative tasks so that you can focus on the important stuff. Zapier is a life-saver, trust us on that one.
On a final note, it’s a good idea to regularly collect feedback from your team about your meetings. Ask them questions like what worked, what didn’t, how well they understood the purpose of the meeting, and how clear the instructions after the meeting were.
Always be open to suggestions and be willing to tweak your processes moving forward.
Why Optimize Your Meetings
Life isn’t slowing down any time soon. We’ve all got more on our plates than ever before, and meetings can oftentimes be an unnecessary burden. So when the idea to get everyone together in a room pops into your head, first ask yourself, “Does this really need to be a meeting?”
There is nothing worse than having a mountain full of tasks in front of you only to be called into a poorly planned, unnecessary, and lengthy meeting. In a worst-case scenario, staff assumes that management is engaging in power plays, has an unclear vision, or is simply incompetent. Either way, this lowers their trust in you.
On the other hand, when you demonstrate respect for your team’s time, include a thoughtful and detailed schedule, and achieve clear outcomes in every meeting, you build trust. You also build good communication and rapport, leading to a powerful and united team.
Now get out there and achieve greatness in your next meeting!