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9 ways to have an effective team meeting

I recently wrote a post about people’s attention spans in meetings and how 73% of people work on other things in meetings, this is exacerbated with hybrid work and working virtually. The feedback from the comments was that we are in too many meetings. We are in a phase of meeting madness.

I wanted to explore how we can bring value back into our team meetings and avoid mediocrity.

Meetings are part of the way we work. They are a symbol of the culture within an organisation or team. Meeting mediocrity is a common challenge in organisations, characterised by unproductive, repetitive, and demotivating meetings. Signs of meeting mediocrity include lack of engagement, passive participation, unclear objectives, and ineffective follow-up.

A Microsoft study recently found that since February 2020 we are spending 252% more time in meetings and the average time, we meet has increased from 35 to 45 minutes. So, it is now more important than ever that we review ineffective meetings.

9 ways to have an effective team meeting.

Why are meetings so boring?

People don't find value in what is being discussed in the meeting. I'm sure we have all been in a meeting where we have actually been doing other work. We can tell when people aren't engaged in what is happening in meetings, and they often get caught out. We also know that multi-tasking means we are doing two things at once poorly.

When people don't find value in a meeting, they wish they were doing something else. 9/10 people daydream in meetings. Their mind is wandering to their to-do list, which is probably when they end up sneaking in that cheeky email so there is one less thing to do on their to-do list.

Meetings go for too long. Due to the constructs of our calendar, meetings tend to go to the hour or the half hour if we are having shorter meetings. Interestingly the average person's attention span is 18mins, so there is far better benefit in having short sharp meetings. This is dependent on whether it is a strategic, operational or tactical meeting and also the number of items on the agenda.

Who is invited to a meeting can make or break it. When the right people aren't invited, it can waste everyone’s time. Ensuring those in the meeting have the right level of expertise, insights and are able to make decisions that are relevant to the agenda are all important when choosing who to invite.

Some meetings get derailed when discussions veer off topic and go on tangents. We spend time discussing irrelevant content, which wastes time, slows down progress to outcomes and dilutes the value of the meeting itself.

Other meetings require a lot of preparation, whether that is reports, presentations, data gathering or pre-reading. I am a big advocate for preparation, but only when it is useful and adds value to the discussion. We need to ensure the right balance between thorough preparation and ensuring that valuable time is not disproportionately allocated to pre-meeting activities.


What is the value of meetings?

Having said all of this, 92% still value meetings as the opportunity to collaborate and to problem solve.

Despite the challenges with ineffective meetings, they continue to hold significant value for organisations, teams and individuals. They are a platform for collaboration, information sharing, problem solving, relationship-building, and a way to celebrate success. Meetings bring together diverse perspectives, expertise, and insights, allowing teams to tackle complex challenges collectively. The interactive nature of meetings enables brainstorming, idea sharing, and the exchange of different viewpoints, fostering creative problem-solving and innovative solutions.

In addition to collaboration and problem-solving, meetings play a crucial role in building connections and relationships among team members. Face-to-face or virtual interactions during meetings provide opportunities for individuals to engage with one another, establish rapport, and foster a sense of camaraderie. Building relationships through meetings can enhance teamwork, improve communication, and strengthen the overall team cohesion.

Meetings serve as a platform to drive progress and get things done. They provide a structured environment where objectives, tasks, and action items can be discussed, assigned, and tracked. Meetings enable teams to align their efforts, set priorities, and establish clear goals, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common purpose. By facilitating effective coordination and decision-making, meetings contribute to the successful execution of projects, initiatives, and organisational objectives.

While meetings can present challenges, they possess inherent value. They enable collaboration, problem-solving, relationship-building and serve as a catalyst for action and progress.

How can you create a valuable meeting that people want to attend?

  1. Start on time and end on time. Respecting participants' time, as it demonstrates that their time is valued and not wasted. This practice helps establish a positive meeting culture. People shouldn't be punished by wasting their time.

  2. Personal Connection. Start your meeting with something un-work related. It sounds like a strange concept. This can be a brief conversation starter, a personal update, or a fun activity. Building rapport and fostering connections among team members creates a more engaging and comfortable atmosphere, increasing overall participation and enthusiasm. This also means that everyone has spoken and entices encouraging more collaboration when the work part of the meeting starts.

  3. Establish a Consistent Operating Rhythm. Develop a regular meeting schedule that team members can rely on. Consistency in meeting times and structure helps establish a predictable routine, allowing participants to plan their workloads accordingly. This rhythm provides clarity and stability, enabling teams to work together more effectively.

  4. Clearly Defined Meeting Purpose. Communicate the purpose of the meeting in advance and ensure it is well-understood by all participants. A clear objective helps participants understand why their presence and contributions are important. It allows for focused discussions and ensures that the meeting addresses specific goals or issues, minimizing time wasted on irrelevant topics.

  5. Use the time effectively. One of the biggest culprits of meeting mediocrity is the mismanagement of time. Be mindful of the meeting's duration. Considering the increased amount of time spent in meetings, strive to keep them concise and efficient. Respect participants' schedules by avoiding unnecessary discussions or extending the meeting beyond its intended timeframe. This helps maintain engagement and prevents participants from feeling overwhelmed or disengaged.

  6. Encourage collaboration. Make it easy for people to collaborate, whether face to face, hybrid or virtual. Leverage technology tools to enhance collaboration during meetings. Virtual whiteboards, online document sharing platforms, and real-time polling tools can facilitate active participation and generate ideas. Embrace these tools to foster engagement and encourage collaboration, particularly in hybrid or remote meetings.

  7. Meeting observer. Having an observer in the meeting to assess how effective the meeting ran. Rotate the role.

  8. Accountability and action: To break free from meeting mediocrity, it's crucial to establish a sense of accountability and ensure that meetings lead to tangible outcomes.

  9. Review meeting effectiveness. At least quarterly as a team review the effectiveness of a meeting, or if you observe that the purpose and effectiveness is wavering, call it out for a discussion so that you can discuss, learn and improve future meetings.

By implementing these strategies, meeting organisers can create an environment that values participants' time, promotes engagement, and ensures that meetings are purposeful and productive. Ultimately, a valuable meeting fosters collaboration, drives meaningful outcomes, and leaves attendees motivated for the future.


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