When I receive a meeting invitation in my email and read the details on my calendar tool, I either inwardly groan, or I get excited. That's the difference between a meeting I'm prepared for and a meeting that feels like it could be a waste of my valuable time.
Before you judge me for thinking unkind thoughts about my colleagues, you should know that data supports my argument: Meetings collectively take up around 15% of an organization's time, and it's projected that poorly-managed meetings will cost almost half a trillion dollars in productivity loss in the U.S. and the U.K. alone -- and that's just this year.
There's nothing worse than sitting through an hour-long meeting that could've been an email -- especially when your to-do list is never-ending, and you barely end up speaking during the entire discussion. But it doesn't have to be this way.
In this post, we offer tactical suggestions and tools for scheduling, running, and managing meetings that don't waste anyone's time and allow work to get done. We can't guarantee your coworkers won't write snarky blog posts or tweets about your meetings, but we can guarantee they'll help you get stuff done with your team.
Before booking time on anyone's calendars, spend some time thinking through the problem you're trying to solve -- and how you're hoping to collaborate with your colleagues. Answering some of the following questions will help you figure out what type of meeting you should schedule, as well as who should be invited to attend.
For example, if you're looking for ideas, you may need to schedule a brainstorm meeting to get fresh ideas and feedback from other members of your team. If you're looking to launch a campaign that will require cross-functional collaboration on multiple moving parts, you may need to schedule a project kickoff meeting.
At the very least, think through what you're looking to get out of the meeting to help you plan a successful and productive conversation. That will help you lead the meeting, set an agenda, and achieve your goals.
Once you've determined the meeting you need to run, you need to figure out who needs to be in attendance in order to have a productive meeting and get started on achieving your goal. If you're holding a kickoff meeting, or a status update meeting, you may only need one representative from each team or organization you're collaborating with. If you're leading a training or presenting a project, you may need all of your team members in attendance.
However, if your list of meeting attendees keeps growing, you might need to schedule multiple meetings to meet with such a large group of people most effectively. A general rule of thumb that I've borrowed from the philosophy of Jeff Bezos? Don't hold a meeting with a group that would be too big to feed with two pizzas.
In order words, a maximum of 10-15 attendees is the optimal meeting size before the group becomes so large that side conversations, interruptions, and distractions will derail productivity altogether. Keep meetings small -- it's better to have multiple smaller meetings where things get done than to hold one overcrowded meeting where nobody stays focused.
(Speaking of pizza, if you're scheduling a meeting during lunchtime, provide lunch if your team's budget allows. If not, let attendees know ahead of time if they should bring their own food for a working lunch session.)
In the meeting invitation, include an agenda for the topics you want to cover so attendees can prepare for a productive conversation. The agenda should go out no later than one business day prior to the meeting, but ideally, you give attendees a week to gather status updates, find answers to questions, and prepare slides or other materials.
Meeting agendas help ensure a more productive meeting in a variety of different ways. Agendas help everyone in attendance stay on track during a limited window of collaboration time. Without an agenda, side conversations or thinking through different questions might take up the entire time allotted, but agendas ensure that everyone comes to the table prepared and ready to work.
Additionally, sending meeting agendas in advance creates a more inclusive experience when the meeting finally takes place. If any attendees are joining the meeting remotely, agendas will ensure they have time during the meeting to speak up without interrupting. And if attendees are introverted or softer-spoken than others, giving them the chance to prepare feedback and comments in advance, instead of expecting them to speak to a group on a fly, will ensure you hear from everybody during your meeting.
And finally, meeting agendas help you, the organizer, keep track of what was covered in the meeting, what still needs to be discussed, and action items and next steps in order to move forward with a project.
(We've created these free meeting agenda templates you can download and customize to help you with this.)
Chances are, if you're scheduling a meeting in the year 2019 or later, at least one of your meeting attendees will be joining the conversation remotely via video conferencing software. Don't forget to add a meeting link within your calendar invite so remote participants can join in the conversation and don't have to wait around for you to send it to them on the fly.
Video conferencing software is also useful for recording meetings, which you should do whether you have remote participants tuning into the meeting or not. Meeting recordings can provide a reference if needed for colleagues unable to attend the meeting, and they may be helpful if there's ever confusion about topics that were discussed or agreed upon in the moment.
If you're holding a meeting with more than two people in attendance, you should name a note taker and facilitator to keep track of both the meeting agenda and the conversation that takes place during the meeting time.
The note taker and facilitator shouldn't be the same person because they play two different, important roles. The facilitator can be the meeting organizer (you) or somebody else, but they're responsible for reviewing the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, kicking off the conversation, and making sure the group is covering all of the agenda items in the meeting time allotted. Depending on the situation, the meeting facilitator may be doing a bit of refereeing if some attendees are taking over the conversation, and they should also be responsible for encouraging quieter attendees to speak if they appear to be holding back.
The note taker is responsible for noting the topics discussed under each agenda item, action items and next steps, and any deadlines for forthcoming deliverables the group agreed upon. Then, the note taker should share documentation with the entire group for their review.
When it comes to these roles, make sure you're being inclusive when it comes to naming attendees to take them on. The note taker shouldn't be the most junior person in the room, and the facilitator shouldn't necessarily be the most senior person, unless they're also the organizer. In fact, we recommend naming a remote participant as the facilitator so co-located participants don't leave them out of the discussion.
This responsibility is shared by the meeting organizer and the facilitator (if they're different people). Your time and your colleagues' time is extremely valuable, and between daily responsibilities, other meetings, and personal time constraints, it's inconsiderate and unreasonable for team meetings to run over the allotted time period.
Instead, make sure to wrap the discussion five to 10 minutes before the official cutoff time to share final thoughts, discuss next steps, and hopefully leave people with a couple of extra minutes to use the restroom or get a drink of water before they head to their next commitment.
Part of this comes from starting the meeting on time, which is made possible by a detailed agenda and a facilitator getting the conversation moving promptly. You can also use a timer to force the end of the discussion, if needed.
No matter what role or industry you're in, it might not be possible to tackle a big project or challenging problem in only a 30-60 minute meeting. Inevitably, there will be follow-up meetings, post-mortem meetings, and tasks and deliverables your team will need to work on in between.
As you wrap up the meeting and start losing attendees' attention, make sure to bring the conversation back to a plan of action for completing the next steps for moving your project forward. You can reiterate details like deadlines and timelines and feedback by sharing emails and documents, but make sure everyone leaving the room is united around the mission of why you've gathered the team in the first place. Whether you're working on a marketing campaign, a product launch, or are discussing sales performance, everyone should leave the meeting confident about their role.
To continue my previous point, if you're the meeting organizer, you're responsible for following up with the group with additional resources, deadlines, and for organizing follow-up meetings if they're needed (which they most likely will be). It's up to you if the project calls for a weekly or bi-weekly meeting, a Slack group, or a shared Google Doc, but however you choose to document progress, make sure you're consistently sharing and updating it so the group can keep up work on the project in between meetings together.