How to lead an effective team meeting

Written by Evita Højegaard

April 8, 2021

Think of all the bad team meetings you have attended: Meetings where one person dominated the conversation, the room argued in circles, or the content shared was repetitive – and could have easily been an email. Running an effective team meeting shouldn’t be rocket science. However, many managers are still running team meetings that are poorly organized, overly long, and lack clear takeaways.

Therefore, if you are in a position of leading a meeting, you might want to read this. We have prepared 8 important points that will help leaders and managers start leading team meetings that are effective and beneficial for everyone involved. Let’s dive in!

1: Invite the right people

To lead a productive meeting, take time to consider who will be involved. You want people in the room who will add value. For example: people that are active contributors, have background knowledge, are decision makers and/or who will be directly impacted by the outcome of the meeting. Not everyone in your company or team is the right fit for every meeting. This is one of the recommendations mentioned in Kristen Gil’s post, ‘Start-Up Speed’. She is VP of Business Operations at Google. If you limit the attendees to those directly involved in a project or procedure, it leaves the others more time to get on with their work.

2: Prepare an agenda

You can’t have an effective team meeting unless all the attendees are prepared to contribute to the conversation. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, insists an agenda is crucial for meetings and always has a spiral notebook with her to ensure that each item is ticked off.

Although it’s the manager’s primary responsibility to develop the agenda, team members can be invited to contribute agenda items. Send out a call for ideas a few days before the meeting.

Start adding things to your meeting agenda as they come up rather than creating a meeting agenda on the fly, as part of your meeting. This way, by the time the meeting starts, you’ll know what you want to cover, and what you hope to accomplish in the meeting itself. Bonus: you’ll gain back the first 10 minutes of the meeting, usually spent figuring out what you’ll be talking about.

Your meeting agenda should reflect the larger goals of your team and your company. As you go through items, be sure to gather information and perspective from your team. Identify next steps and owners for each resulting action item. If you can’t come to a clear decision about something, don’t debate or ruminate. Assign someone a next step to think about the solution and trust them to make the decision.

A great way of preventing people from moving away from the agenda is to place sticky notes on a whiteboard or write down in notes if people come up with topics that are not a part of the agenda. This signals that you acknowledge that it is important but also lets them know that it is out of scope of the meeting.   

efficient meeting

3: Bring all voices into the conversation

“The role of the conductor in an orchestra is to manage the tempo of a performance. They listen critically to keep musicians playing in unison and actively control the dynamic to prevent one instrument from overpowering the rest. The same goes for leaders in meetings — you need to manage conduct and give everyone space to play their part,” say Heath and Wensil.

One of the most important practices you can adopt as a leader is stepping in when there are one or two individuals dominating the conversation.

Go around the room and ask the quieter members of the team for their opinion.

Be on the lookout for interruptions! If someone gets cut off, provide cover by saying “Hang on, <Name> wasn’t finished.”

Foster a welcoming environment by repeating that everyone’s input matters and there are no ‘stupid’ ideas or questions.

(For example: Before a brainstorming session, ask people to write down their ideas and stick them on the wall before talking through each of them).

4: Respect people’s time

No one wants to be kept waiting for meetings to start and have to reschedule if meetings overrun. If you run meetings that start on time and end on time, participants know what to expect and know to turn up on time.

Andrew Grove argues, In the book High Output Management, that wasting employee’s time is the equivalent of stealing from your company. The comparison might sound a little harsh, but it’s a good way to explain that gathering a group of employees in the same room represents a big cost – and should only be done when it will boost your team’s productivity.

Establish how long you’re going to spend on each topic and stick to a schedule – even if a timer required to keep chatty individuals in check. Spending twenty minutes on a topic may lead to a better decision but if the conversation drags on endlessly, you won’t have time to discuss other important items and your one meeting will turn into two, three, or four. (Pro-tip: If needed, you can assign a person to keep a track of time and make sure that you stay on schedule, in that way you will have one less thing to think about.)

Finally, respecting people’s time involves acknowledging when a meeting should be cancelled or cut short. Some reasons why you might want to finish early or cancel that week’s meeting include:

  • Most of the team is out or on vacation.
  • You checked off all the talking points in the meeting agenda.
  • The team could use the time to work on an upcoming deadline.

Most of the information we tend to cover in meetings doesn’t need to be communicated in a room, or to a roomful of people. Therefore, it is beneficial to rethink the necessity of the meeting in the first place.

5: Have a positive attitude

It is the single most important thing a manager can do as a leader to improve team meetings. It’s surprising how many managers are proud to proclaim their dislike of meetings! In order to achieve significant results, solve problems, make decisions,  inspire and motivate, managers need to work with people with a positive attitude.

To get everyone in the room in a positive mindset and energized for the meeting, a great starting point is to get everyone in the room to share something they’ve made progress on or are excited about. This immediately sets the tone and direction of the entire meeting.

Being the leader of a meeting isn’t about flaunting authority or abusing power. Chastising someone for being late in front of the team is an example of doing this. Keep a sense of humor and your humility.

 

6: Assign clear action items and takeaways

Action items are arguably the most important components of your team meeting. They’re an essential part of making sure that your meetings involve new discussions, ideas, and decisions – and aren’t just scheduled to exchange updates.

It is the meeting leader’s responsibility to clearly lay out the action steps, responsibilities and timeframes for taking action on the key elements of the meeting.

Write them at the bottom of your meeting agenda and assign them as the meeting evolves. This will allow you to go back and reinforce what the team agreed on at the end of each meeting. When you take this approach to documenting work and responsibilities, you’ll ensure that tasks won’t fall through the cracks and your next meeting will be that much more productive.

Lastly, write minutes. People tend to forget the conclusions of a meeting which leads to even more meetings about the same things. To avoid that, you can also send them out after the meeting, reminding all the involved about what you talked about and what is expected of them. (We have created a downloadable template just for that).

how to lead an efficient team meeting

7: Keep it short

Why can’t meetings be shorter, more productive and even, dare I say it, fun?

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a meeting watching the clock tick by. Meetings should not drag on for hours. Research shows that our attention span is between 10 – 18 minutes, so the most innovative organizations know that meetings should be short. If you have a clear purpose and agenda for the meeting, you should have a sense of how long the meeting should last. If it needs to go longer than half an hour, make sure to take breaks for coffee and chit chat.

8: Change up the environment

If you find that meetings are slow to get going or are becoming stale, it might be time to change up your environment. A boardroom and PowerPoint are enough to put anyone to sleep. Richard Branson suggests innovative ideas will come from innovative spaces. He says that the novelty of holding a meeting in a park or cafe will inject a breath of fresh air into any group meeting and likely generate new ideas and ways of thinking. If you don’t have a private island or yacht to discuss this month’s P&L, try getting outside, going for a walk or using a different space in the office, like the kitchen.

 

The bottom line

Meetings are not going away. They are an inevitable, and essential, part of corporate and business life.

But to ensure they are not just a waste of time and are an effective way of collaborating and working to deliver and achieve major goals and projects, we need to set the meetings up, so they are worthwhile, productive and produce tangible results.

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