The Ultimate Guide to Setting, Prepping, Running and Cutting Meetings

Meetings are the least popular work-related activity. And meetings cost huge sums in lost productivity. That’s because meetings are the dread of any organization. Sure, some people argue that one-on-one meetings are awesome. While one-on-ones are mentoring, and loved, regular meetings are often considered torture. Most often, torture by boredom.
Boring meetings happen for a reason. Meetings often lack organization, purpose and structure. Your team would rather do some work instead. Or would rather finish early on Friday.
meetings guide
You can think of this guide as a 6-stage preparation plan for keeping your meetings on track. Prepare to go pro. This article takes you from the very level of how to set up a meeting all the way to the finish line. By the end of it, you will know all you need on how to run an effective meeting. And you will also learn how to cut down on meetings altogether. And even if you have experience with meetings, there is something for you here.

Stage 1 – Set the meeting tracks

These are four key issues about any meeting, and most of the time they are overlooked. Why? Because they sound mundane. And they seem obvious, even derivative. Of course you should set a time and a place for a meeting. But go one level deeper. And use the best solution possible. We are now privy to all sorts of information. Even research on where and when it is best to have a meeting and why.

#1 Set an adequate meeting time

Some like to run meetings on a Friday. But people are shifty on Fridays. Others love the Monday-meetings. You know, to start off the week. But that’s why “I hates Mondays” became such a hit.
No, the best time to run your meetings is on Tuesday. It’s early enough in the week, but it’s not Monday. People are back on track with life. No more hangovers to recover from. In fact, Monday’s always the warm-up. Tuesday’s always great because it’s not too late. There are 3.5 days left in the week. Why 3.5 and not 3 or 4?
Because the best time for a meeting is right after lunch. What happens after lunch is that people start to share more. Lunch somehow opens people up. They engage easily. And around 3 p.m. even their Facebook sharing peaks. Imagine all that openness and social interaction in your meeting.
And the reverse holds true. Right before lunch, people are in a hurry. They focus on the fastest solution, not the best. They’re tired and could use a break. And likely they’re experiencing decision fatigue.
But it’s not just that we reasoned that Tuesday is the best day. In fact, Tuesday as the ideal day for meetings has been confirmed by this survey.

#2 Set an adequate meeting space

Sure, you likely have a meeting space at the office. You know, one with a long table and lots of chairs. Or maybe something cooler, with whiteboard on all walls.
While that might work for a lot of people, never forget that you have options. And offsite meetings can really energize a team.
So consider going outdoors. How about that? You don’t need chairs and whiteboards every time you meet. You can sit on the grass and really talk some things through. Relaxing people helps them get stuff quicker. And that’s what you should aim for.
Another option is to use a space in a separate location. Co-working spaces offer temporary rentals. Or you can use a room at the library. Anything that causes a bit of commotion, really. It stimulates creativity and fosters bonding. After all, humans are hunters.
Meetings offsite don’t have to be a regular thing. In fact, reserve them for special occasions. Mid-term goals or strategy meetings work best in special spaces. Special places are even better for covering micro-goals. Think of something that helps you inspire or motivate. Also, consider that changing context breaks routines and boosts creativity. In fact, imagine taking the whole team to some open-air event. Just get them around some Oktoberfest tables. Can you inspire them enough that they still talk work? Take it as a challenge.

#3 Set the right number of participants

The perfect number of people in any meeting is 3. Anything more than that will turn your meeting into a presentation, however cautious you might be.
So, here’s the way to keep yourself close to perfection: always cut down on people in a meeting.
First, think of departments. Are there any you actually need in that meeting? If no, don’t ask to attend. If yes, pick one person. And make sure it’s the right person. Plus, you don’t always need the departmental head in your meeting. Those people are busy. Instead, ask for the qualified to attend.

This way you can get who you need on your meeting. And you don’t get any more than you actually need. In effect, this maximizes overall participation.
So, stop prepping your meeting like it’s a play or an audience. And start prepping it like it’s a collaborative effort.
Meetings cost billions in lost productivity every year. Try and save everyone’s time by not bringing in people that shouldn’t even be there in the first place. And the easiest way to go about it is to simply think again. A good way to figure out which people you need in a meeting is checking out who you’d want to have input from for your meeting agenda.

#4 Set a meeting agenda

Ah, leaving the best for last. You should never have meetings without an agenda. And no, an agenda is not something evil.
A meeting agenda is an outlay, a structure for your meeting. With bigger points and smaller points. Those are “the stations” your meetings “runs through”. An agenda is the “tracks” for your meeting.
There’s two things good on any meeting agenda. Your priorities and the allotted time. Sure, you can add the expected results. But that’s stretching it out a bit. Instead, keep the results to yourself. Write down what you want achieved with the meeting. And write down how you can grade the results. Now keep that for the feedback.
If you’re using a team communication platform like Hubgets, make the meeting agenda the subject of a group Topic. All teammates invited will instantly know what the meeting is about. Plus, you can provide them with support materials for your meeting.
And one very important item: You should ALWAYS let people know how long the meeting lasts.

Stage 2 – Get people onboard for your meeting

The main idea here is simple. You need to use a few tricks and measures to get people involved with your meetings. Don’t worry, these are all practical tricks. And yes, you do want them involved. That’s because increasing engagement often results in positive participation. It’s something that transforms meetings. And takes them from boring to cool.
Sounds complicated? Don’t worry. We will break it down right away. And simplify it to the point where anyone can put something into practice. Getting people onboard for your meeting is a lot like stand-up comedy. You need to develop curiosity, engagement and focus. That’s what any stand-up comedian expects from an audience. And here’s how to do it.

#1 Ask team members to contribute to your meeting agenda

A meeting agenda is not a cheat-sheet. It’s not there to help you remember everything you have to say. Instead, it’s a great tool to get everyone engaged. And this can happen before the meeting starts. This is a very old trick, but it still works wonders.
When sending out your invitation + agenda, ask each participant to contribute with 1 point to the agenda. This point can be substantive, such as a new item on the agenda. Or it can be a clarification point. For example a question, or an issue.
You can address all these points at various times in your meetings. Clear them out from the beginning. Or schedule them at the end. The best way is to structure them in between priority-points. Just like a fill-in exercise.
This engages your audience. And it allows for small functional breaks in your meeting. Oftentimes, you might get points you overlooked. Other times you might want to leave some points out. Just so that your team can address those. Take this example:
Alex is a former programmer, turned manager. He coordinates between 20 teams, clients and upper management. Meetings is what he does. All day, ever day. Surprisingly, Alex spends very little time building the agenda. However, he makes sure that the teams build up the agenda around some key items. Alex has long mastered the art of listening. And getting teams to participate is just applied listening.

#2 Hand out homework

Homework for meetings? Clearly that must be wrong. We’re at work, not in school. Besides, most education experts say homework is bad. While this might be true for schools, this holds no water at work. In fact, asking people to prep for meetings is useful.
People that prepare things before the meeting are more likely to engage. They can share points and offer valuable contributions. They can offer in-depth specifics within the range of their expertise.
And you can get more. It’s becoming common that experts in one area also have a secondary line of expertise. Sometimes, these can be very different things. Steve in accounting can also be an ace with copywriting. And Marge in creative might well be your only ASP.NET asset. By assigning homework, you can have people lean on a certain area of their expertise, but you can also ask for insight.
Oftentimes, homework is a must. Particularly when doing those project meetings where you bind together all the separate chunks of work. And turn it into a pretty movie. You know, the one that brings a team closer together. All while syncing different pieces of work together.
Homework is finally here to save the day. Ah, and you should remember what the best homework is. Group projects. Try as best as possible to assign projects to micro-teams of maximum 3 people.

#3 Define team roles

This is a double-edged sword. The good kind. You need to define team roles for a project, in the first meeting. But you also need to define meeting roles, every time.
Firstly, be clear as to why people are on your team. They need to know. And you need to explain it in front of the whole team. It’s easy to understand: it builds cohesion. Secondly, be very clear about who is in charge about what. Unless you favor flattened hierarchies, you need to be clear about hierarchies.
Lastly, with every meeting, clarify meeting roles. You will naturally have a few presenters. Preferably, micro-group leaders will have something to present on.
Then, you will have reactors. You will ask for opinions from each of your team members that cares to offer on. Everybody’s a reactor. That should be well-clear at the start of the meeting.
Finally, you should have individual homework presenters explain what they worked on. And present the results.
Great, what have you done so far? Overall, you’ve harmonized progress. And that’s what you should be doing. Meetings are all about what a team has to say.

#4 Have it clear that everyone should communicate

Make sure your team is a speaking-team. You expect them to communicate. Make sure that all meetings require them to speak. But also go deeper than speaking. Encourage any kind of communication. There’s no point in hiring people with a wealth of experience if they seldom talk.
Modern teams use all sorts of technologies to communicate. Various social platforms for messaging. All sorts of services and plans. And often, they all get mixed up and become confusing. What’s worse is that you have absolutely no control over team communication. And you simply can’t cover for all of it without some help.
There are modern solutions to modern teams. Ways to keep everything nice and neat. Hubgets, a team collaboration solution can boost your teamwork and team productivity. And you can try it out here.
You might think that team communication can become redundant. That all talk and no work means no work. But do consider that for knowledge workers, talk is work. And even asking for a clarification for a teammate is valuable.
How does this affect your meetings? You’ll be getting no overlapping topics. In part, individual concerns will be answered pre-meetings. A lot of requests and issues will be processed at the superficial level. Hence, you will start dealing with second-level requests. And deal with secondary and tertiary issues. The advantage is that your meetings get shorter. And everybody’s onboard with what’s being discussed.

Stage 3 – Rock the meeting day

If you think prepping for a meeting only happens the day before, you’re wrong. In fact, your meeting day should cover a lot that could go wrong with your meeting. And a lot that could go right. Think about it this way. If you know that people hate meetings, shouldn’t you focus really hard on improving their experience? The answer is obvious. Of course you should rehearse your meeting day.

#1 Make sure everything is ready

Some argue that to-do lists are horrible. They are also one of the most amazing instruments you can use. And they work with pencil and paper. Point is, checklists aren’t exactly to-do lists, but they’re similar. They’re the end-game of your to-do lists: you check what you’ve done so far so that you know how to fix stuff. Here’s a checklist to consider.

  • Space available at scheduled time
  • Special arrangements are in order for offsite meetings
  • Teammates responded, they are all coming
  • Overall team mood seems OK
  • Teammates sent in their input, will present it during the meeting
  • Stand-ins for non-attending teammates are available, you can move forth
  • Micro-teams worked some things out, will present
  • Your agenda is clear and orderly, with input points from everybody
  • The space you use is nicely aired, all the equipment in place.

Can you think of anything else to add to your checklist? Here, add some points of personal value. Are you nervous? Write down the answer. Are you prepared? Write down the answer. Notice where you are before the meeting, it will help you run it well.
That’s precisely it. Part of “everything” is you, and your role in your meeting. Your role is a special one. In the great exchange of ideas that will ensue, you are the facilitator.

#2 Visualize the process of your meeting

Start with your role in the meeting. Think about it carefully. A lot of people get this wrong. And it’s easy to understand why. Often, we stress over public speaking so much that we overdo it. Other times, we do too little and simply lose control over the meeting. Consider this an opportunity for introspection. Just that not for you as a person. Rather, for you as a function.
Who are you in a meeting? You are the facilitator. And if you don’t think you are the facilitator, then be the facilitator. That is what’s needed. That’s what’s required.
The same way the internet is a medium for incredible online cooperation, a facilitator is a medium for team synergy. And that’s the very reason you have a team, synergy.
To be a facilitator, make sure you keep your every word in check. You need not talk too much; instead, encourage others to come forward and explain. Open a discussion, and have arguments flying back and forth. Have sides explain themselves and offer conclusions. Get the team to choose and pick the best option.
As a facilitator, you are the great conductor of an amazing feat and accomplishment. What you do is put together the stuff ideas are made of to form new ideas. You organize the flow of all these individual processes into something greater than the sum of its parts. To do that, take a step back. And observe.

#3 Go through your meeting props

Most meetings today use props. Presentations are one such thing. But you can be a presentation wizard and still mess up because you didn’t check things thorough before your meeting.
First, it’s generally a good idea to gain mastery in one type of prop. PowerPoint wizards, great – if you must 🙂 There’s also Keynote, the software designed specifically so that Steve Jobs could deliver a powerful presentation. Do read specifically as “custom-made for Steve Jobs.”
There are hundreds of other alternatives. Mind-mapping tools. Presentations that zoom in and out, easy to use animations. Infographics and infographic builders etc.
Your skill level should cover at least 3 props:

  • Firstly, how to use a presentation software tool. Pick any and master it.
  • Secondly, it’s offering decent handouts. Now don’t go ahead and print a bunch of text, you can always offer handouts by chat or email. Just make sure you’re offering useful handouts. You might think that handouts are a thing of the past. Well, they’re not. Use them and reap the benefits of reiterating a concept.
  • Lastly, get comfortable with using a flipchart. Simply think of the flipchart as an amazing tool for illustrating your ideas.

With these 3 props, you should do well. They’re the deathly hallows of any presentation. And any meeting without presentations is not a meeting. So, checking them out beforehand is a great idea.

#4 Make sure you use the right signals

Your team will follow your cues. If you’re bored, they’re bored. When you’re interested, they’re interested. Part of leadership is realizing that you’re inspiring people. And inspiring is a nice way of saying you’re saving them time. Your team follows your cues because it saves them processing time.
So make sure you use the right signals. And use this tendency your team has. Make it work to your advantage. Signal what’s important. Express interest in everything you consider relevant or important. Signal what’s less important. When a micro-break takes place, express amusement as such.
This is a mix between cues you offer about your own speech, and cues you offer about what others have to say. But you already know what contributions you’ll have to your meeting. And you know their value, you’ve asked for this input.
Essentially, all you have to do is make sure that each member of the team gets the relevant picture. You need to make sure that all of them have what it takes to succeed.
Firstly, understand what it is that they need to understand. Secondly, strategize your reactions so that you cover all necessary aspects. Thirdly, make sure you complete the missing bits with your own communication. Lastly, don’t feel wrong about feigning interest. Your purpose is to guide the attention of others. And to reach an end result in which the team will synergize.

Stage 4 – Run the meeting like a pro

Meetings will quickly run off tracks. And off the rails. Right in the funny zones of “bla-bla”. And you don’t want for that to happen. Ever wondered why it happens? Other than boredom, of course. There are several very common reasons. And you need to be ready. Particularly because every meeting has its derailers. You know who they are. Those people that soon turn your meeting into something else. Or about something else. So here are the elements of a successful meeting. Here’s how to do it. Meet each and every challenge the way a pro does it.

#1 Keep time during meetings

Keep time on everything you do or say. Keep time on everything everyone says. In fact, running your meetings as if they were a timed debate is not such a bad idea.
Firstly, introverts tend to shy away from sharing their point of view. Explain that every member of your team should spend 30 seconds sharing their opinion. You’re going to get points you didn’t even know you had access to.
Secondly, extroverts can take too much time sharing a point. Even when they’re not derailing the conversation, that’s poor time management. By having a time-limit for any shared point, you get your meeting back in order.
Finally, it’s you. If you’re running the meeting, you need to make sure you never speak too much, nor too little. After all, that’s why you gave people homework.
Also, be particularly careful with summarizing. Oftentimes, you might miss the very essence of someone’s point. Instead, ask others to summarize it for you. But be careful. After all, harmonizing introverts and extroverts can be challenging.
We often don’t realize how much or how little we talk. Sometimes talking makes us uncomfortable. And that makes us talk even more. Time is the one resource we can never regenerate. So try and respect everyone’s time. Yours included.

#2 Speak up

Make your communication effective. Consider what you want to say, and how you say it. Make sure you speak with confidence, yet exercise caution. Be assertive.
All of these tips are hard to pack together in one congruent way of speaking. Truth is, being a good speaker has a lot to do with finding yourself. And finding your true public speaking voice requires practice and exposure.
In meetings, however, you don’t need a lot of public speaking. What you need, instead, is to use your true voice. And to encourage others to use their true voices.
Authenticity. That’s what you’re aiming for. Being genuine is what makes a world of difference in team interactions. Without authenticity, synergy is hard to maintain.
There are 3 levels to workplace authenticity:

  • Firstly, keep your emotions in check. Makes sense: dealing with emotions at work directly affects your relations and how others perceive you.
  • Secondly, be a better team player by putting yourself out there for the team. This makes your team tune in to who you are in an appreciative way.
  • Thirdly, learn to listen. Listening is what puts you on the map in human interactions. And the need to be listened is incredibly pervasive.

#3 Deal with meeting “derailers”

When people listen to you, they offer attention. Forcing them to keep their focus for too long is cruelty. Instead, consider offering them minor focus-breaks. Moments in which nobody pays attention. Otherwise, they might take those breaks all by themselves. Without any restraint or control. And your meeting gets derailed.
That’s precisely what happens when “derailers” take control. They are simply the first to act when your meeting gets boring. Think about it this way. Not all of us can focus for the same lengths of time. In fact, most adults can focus for about 20-25 minutes before they need a break. So make sure you grant that break.
When people go into taking breaks by themselves, they simply need some time to default. Defaulting is what we do when we don’t really think about anything in particular. What we do in fact is flex our connections. We light up the “default mode network” and start figuring things out. It’s how we digest something with our minds.
But be mindful of your purpose. And take control of those breaks. So instead of letting someone else rule those tiny breaks, try and do it yourself. Crack a joke. Or invite one in the conversation. Try and observe when it is that people take an involuntary break. Study that carefully. There’s a pattern, a rhythm even. And you are tributary to that pattern. Use it before it uses you.

#4 Wrap things up nicely

Some of us are in such great denial about criticism that we can never accept feedback. We nod and pretend we got it. Perhaps we even change a bit, for a while. And then forget all about the change. But we forget because we protect ourselves. Who wants low self-esteem? Nobody.
Truth be told, a lot about feedback can be solved with one simple trick. This is so basic you won’t believe it. It’s called “the sandwich feedback”.

3 rules to give feedback on meetings

To give feedback, use these 3 simple rules:

  • Use “the sandwich.” Say something nice, offer some criticism, say something else that’s nice. For example: “Steve, it was great how you tackled the complexity of your reports. It would be great if you could send them on time so that Bob can have a look. We loved your color coding of expenses.” This isn’t particularly good feedback. But it follows the “sandwich” structure. We use two slices of something nice to soften something that resembles criticism. And it works.
  • Offer helpful and constructive points. Don’t say “that’s bad.” Say “try and improve X”. Better yet, offer solutions.
  • Feedback is not something you should need to have a discussion over right away. Give it, receive it, and leave the door open for later discussion. This is to ensure that feedback has been absorbed.

Overall, you create an opportunity for growth by offering feedback the right way.

Stage 5 – Contemplate on your meetings

This is simple. You’re done with the planning. And you’re done with the work. Also, the meeting is over. You think your work is done. But don’t stop now.
There’s plenty to be done. You have self-improvement to deal with. And you need to consider your team and their needs as well. True, everybody hates meetings. But maybe that’s because nobody tries to improve them.
So take some time and think about how it all went down. This might sound silly, but it’s valuable. It will be valuable to you. And it will be valuable to your team. Moreover, others will benefit from this activity. Such as the people you will mentor. Or coach. Or even train.
Yet contemplating sounds… abstract. This is not the case. In reality, you can be very pragmatic. Focus on what went down and what you’ve learned, and strive for clarity. So here are here are some pointers that set you on a path to clarity.

 #1 Keep a meetings journal

We often overestimate our performance. We also regularly underestimate our performance. On average, we tend to exaggerate about how well or poorly we did. And we do this on the same occasion. Only that with different compartments. We might feel happy about overcoming a public speaking issue. Yet, at the same time we might feel gloomy about how we fostered a conversation. Or we might be exaggeratedly bothered by something no one else noticed.
For all these things, there’s a surprisingly effective solution. And all you have to do is take some notes. On what went well or what went poorly. Those three things you would like to improve for next time. And those things you don’t know how to improve on.
Take the notes as soon as possible. In fact, do it right after the meeting. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what it is. And it will be exponentially harder to remember the issues later on. Why? Because we tend to avoid what’s unpleasant. And that includes unpleasant memories. It will help you clear your head while teaching you a lot about your team.
The most important section of what you’re writing down is the unknown. Because the unknown is what you will work on tomorrow. That’s what helps you progress. And if you’re not sure, you can always know where to ask for help.

#2 Hire an outside moderator for your meetings

A qualified coach or trainer will do. Let yourself work alongside your team. And have someone else fill the moderator role. Why do it:

  • It gives you a chance to have some perspective because now you see meetings as a participant
  • It helps you understand the meeting dynamics and see when things heat up or cool down
  • You can better spot various team roles, such as derailers – yes, they have a role too
  • You can keep a tab of team contributions and know whom to encourage next time – think introverts
  • There will be a surge in attention and creativity due to the novelty of a new presence
  • You will benefit from the subtle team building effect of being in the same boat with the team
  • It’s a wonderful opportunity to try something new and see where it takes your team – you might get ideas or solutions that you’ve previously skipped
  • You have an expert in teamwork with whom you can compare notes
  • You can figure out solutions to what you feel doesn’t really work with your meetings.

How often should you try this? Twice a year is optimal, or as often as you think it’s necessary. However, there’s a clear way in which you can overdo it. Most of all, an outside presence will offer you a chance to a fresh perspective. And you will learn a great deal more about your team. And about yourself as a team leader, team member and moderator.

#3 Share your meetings knowledge, be a trainer

Hurray! You finally know what works best for your meetings. Because your meetings are a well-oiled rig. All set and ready to rumble.
You just managed to transform meetings. From something everyone hates to something people love to contribute to. And now it’s time to share your secrets. After all, any member of your team may soon run a meeting. And you might have to attend.
Consider sharing your notes with the team on a quarterly basis. Having great meetings is not an individual job. In fact, it’s teamwork. You all contribute to the perfect meeting. So try and share your issues with the team. Simply take 5 minutes every 3 months and tell them how it is. Do something like this:
“We’re doing better with introverts, hurray! We could do better with prepping team points for the meting. We’ve reduced meeting times to half and we’re being interviewed about it on Monday. Congrats, everyone!”
Please notice that this is a feedback sandwich. Why? Because knowledge is transferable. And you have a responsibility to share your reflections. After all, the only reason you have this knowledge is the team.
In fact, go ahead and try a “Training of Trainers.” This is an event in which you learn how to teach adults. And it is eye-opening. You will significantly improve your meetings. It’s also a great opportunity to share your knowledge. Consider it an extension to the 5 essential team training types.

#4  Consider follow-ups and the next meetings

You had your time to contemplate on the meeting. Starting with your performance, to overall improvement. Perhaps you can see the benefit to that. What about your team? What did they get out of it?
Consider this. There is no value to a meeting if your team did not process the information they got there. And making everything clear once again is your job. So make sure you prepare a list of things that need to be done. And share it with your team at the end of the meeting.
In fact, your meeting should process four types of labels.

  • Firstly, the things that the team worked on and their results.
  • Secondly, the things the team needs to work on after the meeting.
  • Thirdly, the issues the team is foreseeing when following up.
  • Lastly, the lessons and solutions team members can share.

On a typical meeting, however, much of this does not happen. However, if you want people to be responsible for various tasks, you need to clarify what those tasks are. This is how you improve accountability.
To be clear, this is not about take-aways. Although you can add a slide with “take-aways” at the end of the meeting. You can also do a round of requiring take-aways from everyone, but that takes time. This is about making sure every participant gets a final thought on what to do next. Simply do a quick recap at the end of the meeting. And ask every participant what their puzzle piece will be.

Stage 6 – Cut down on future meetings

Everybody hates being in meetings. And that’s because meetings make people unhappy, unproductive even. Sure, there are many reasons why this happens. And yes, there are many ways to improve on meetings. But there is one key way to change things. And it is often overlooked and misunderstood. Cutting down on future meetings is the logical step to improving meetings.

#1 Why people hate meetings

Let’s make it a quick list. Please bear in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. People hate meetings because:

  • Meetings waste people’s time. All that time is better used as breaks; only that meetings are not breaks. People work before, during, and after meetings. And oftentimes, it’s all for no good reason.
  • Meetings waste money. All that time spent in meetings means that people are not working on something useful or creative. Hence, meetings burn away hours of productivity. And productivity means money making.
  • Meetings kill productivity. People have varying energy levels. Going to meetings can really drag their motivation down. Unmotivated people lacking energy are underproductive. Meetings also bulk up on overhead. And people allocate a lot of time to processing unnecessary items.
  • Meetings smother creativity. Most people complain that meetings are boring. Whereas boredom could boost creativity, meetings are the wrong type of boring. You don’t have the freedom to procrastinate or be creative since you can’t escape the meeting. You are stranded in a setting you dislike. And in which you slack off and are unhappy.
  • Meetings fail to engage people. Most people don’t participate in meetings at all. Sure, they are present. But they seldom engage. In fact, most of them engage only when required. Meanwhile, some outspoken teammates create a monopoly over the entire meeting.
  • Meetings often lack structure. Hence, they are confusing and burn away the energy of participants. Very often, the lack of structure makes meetings drift to nowhere.

#2 Avoid meetings by preparing for them

Preparing for a meeting might help you not to have one. Here is why.
A lot of meetings happen out of inertia. This is particularly true for middle-management meetings.
Middle-management are like coal shovelers. They take coal from a pile, and throw it in the furnace. They’re the middle between the main operator and the fiery beast. A lot of the time, middle-management is stuck in meetings. So they naturally assume that having meetings is their job. In fact, some of them would be lost without having so many meetings.
Meetings happen by virtue of habit. And the main path to changing our habits is observing your action and inaction. Here are three signs that your meeting is not really necessary:

  • You have just started planning the meeting and are already considering potential “fillers.” Why? Because you might feel no meeting is complete without segments.
  • You use a pre-ordained structure that demands certain segments you do not really need. You might have a “feedback” section for no reason whatsoever. All-together, it means you gave very little thought to why you’re having the meeting in the first place.
  • You are having the meeting because it is on your calendar. And it has been on your calendar for months. Hence, you might think the meeting is long overdue. Reality check here: meetings should happen when they are needed. And not as a regular time waster.

Overall, active work on your meetings will help you cut them down.

#3 Avoid meetings by trusting the team

It’s trendy to make good use of flattened hierarchies. Why? Because trusting people enables them to perform better. And flattened hierarchies allow people to have more freedom. You offer trust in exchange for better performance.
What you need to do is simply tell the team that you will halve the number of meetings next year. And that they will be a lot less supervised.
This might seem like a paradox. You flatten down hierarchies and opt for cooperative leadership. How will this work without A LOT of meetings? It’s pretty simple.
Firstly, it allows people to have more control over their work and time. It makes employees more reliable. This is achieved by turning accountability inwards. Delegation becomes self-delegation. And teams become self-driven.
Secondly, every individual win or loss is a team win or loss. Hence, people celebrate when they communicate. This boosts morale and improves communication. And it also develops intrinsic motivation. What you get is people working together, trusting and improving each other.
Sure, you need to know how to develop leadership for flattened hierarchies. And there are no more opportunities to micro-manage.
Thirdly, it’s all about goal contagion. Inspiring people inspire. And depressed, bored, people demotivate. It’s all because of empathy. Fewer meetings means that your overall synergy increases.
Bottom line: less is more. Step up and turn around. Instead of facing the team, face where you’re leading them.

Final thoughts on meetings

Overall, you have all you need to know on how to run a meeting. If you want to know more about meetings, read this article on smart meetings. Alternatively, there is a whole series on productivity that might also help you with meetings.
Also, be aware that meetings are how companies move things between people. In many ways, they are the opposite of water-cooler chit-chat. Yet, they should not be so. Staying focused on the main purpose of the meeting should always be a priority. And the main purpose of any meeting is to make sure everybody knows what needs to be done. And why. Make the “why” very clear. Every action should be one that moves the whole team one step further. That is what meetings are for. Not self-aggrandizing managers. And not a virtue of habit. And certainly not time-wasters that everyone hates.
Your job is to make meetings as good as they can be. So write back and share what you’ve learned.

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