How to Make Meetings More Productive

Too many meetings shouldn’t happen and too many meetings only result in more meetings. Here’s how to make meetings more productive.

Set a Clear Purpose

Here’s an example of a meeting with no clear purpose: “On Friday at 1:30, Team Gamma will have their weekly catch-up.”

Here’s an example of a meeting with a clear purpose: “On Friday at 1:30, Team Gamma will meet to discuss the recent cost overruns. Every participant will show up with an explanation of their contribution to the overruns and suggestions on how to solve the problem.”

The meeting with a clear purpose is much better because it’s about something specific and gives people expectations. They know what will be discussed, what they need to prepare, and will have some idea of what will happen after the meeting.

Sure, the first example might touch on the issue in the second example, but it will probably become some amorphous, winding discussion that goes everywhere and somehow achieves nothing.

Have Participants Set Personal Agendas

When you organize a meeting, have the participants send you their personal agendas regarding the meeting. They should be able to tell you what they want to bring to the table and what they want to get out of it. This will help you set the master agenda and understand everyone’s expectations.

Let People Opt-Out

Sometimes not everyone needs to show up to a meeting. Reusing our earlier example, maybe a member of Team Gamma didn’t contribute to the cost overruns the team wants to discuss. Well, maybe this person doesn’t need to be at the meeting. If you ask everyone for a personal agenda and someone gets back to you with, “I don’t really have anything I want to accomplish on this particular meeting,” let them opt out. It’s not always that a meeting is pointless. Sometimes it’s just that the meeting is pointless for some of the people expected to show up.

Try Solving Problems Before Meeting About It

“Let’s schedule a meeting about it,” is a common response when a team member raises an issue. However, that shouldn’t always be the first response. Maybe you and the person raising the problem can solve it yourselves before bringing everyone else in, or maybe you can redirect to one person who can solve the problem. Instead of always asking, “When can we schedule a meeting about this,” ask, “Should this be a meeting at all?”

Close Laptops

Laptops and other screens are distracting. Unless someone has a specific need for a screen, ban them and have everyone focus on the meeting at hand.

Nominate a Note-Taker

If one person takes notes, other people don’t have to.

Summarize Action Items at the End

At the end of the meeting, quickly summarize what actions will be undertaken, who is responsible for undertaking said actions, and what kind of timeframe people can expect. Make sure to email this briefing to everyone post-meeting.

And if your meeting didn’t produce anything like this, ask yourself: was that a pointless meeting?