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Five Steps for Leading Effective Meetings

Meetings are an integral part of running a project, and they’ve become so ubiquitous that most of our work days include one (or several!). Meetings are intended to bring people together around a specific topic, and while the idea behind a meeting is good, many of the meetings we sit through are often just a laundry list of status updates. They’re unfocused, unproductive and sometimes feel pointless. This results in your team — and you — feeling like you just wasted precious workday minutes that could’ve been spent being productive. If your project meetings have been more of a snooze fest than a success, here are five helpful tips for changing it up and leading effective meetings.

 

Ask Yourself: Could This Be An Email?

How many times have you sat in a meeting and thought to yourself, “This could’ve been an email.”? Chances are high that you’ve had this thought a handful of times. Before setting up a meeting and sending that Outlook invite, ask yourself if the meeting is really necessary. Consider the costs in terms of staff hours against your anticipated value. If the information you intend to share in the meeting could be covered in an email or a one-page report, chances are you really don’t need to meet. Without a compelling reason to bring people together, it’s okay to send an email instead, communicate on your messenger system, or write a brief detailing what you need to share.

 

Make a Note of Goals Ahead of Time

If you have established that a meeting is actually necessary, think of the goals you have for that meeting. Start by creating an agenda. Best practice says you should ask all attendees of the meeting ahead of time if they have agenda items they’d like to add. Once created and finalized, share the agenda with all attendees ahead of time. This way, by the time the meeting starts, everyone knows what you’re covering and what you hope to accomplish in your time together. Creating—and sticking to—an agenda can save everyone time, and that’s time that isn’t spent deciding what to discuss once in the meeting. Once the agenda is established, stick with it. Don’t let the conversation devolve away from what you set out to cover. Offer to create another meeting for any topics that come up that are off-topic or have a 1:1 ‘offline’ discussion with the person/people who need to be involved. In the most successful meetings I’ve been a part of, there is a set number of minutes dedicated to each agenda item to ensure that every important topic is covered. Follow-up meetings are often required, but a set agenda and schedule ensures that every relevant topic gets discussed.

 

Clarify the Goals of Each Agenda Item

The meeting agenda not only keeps your conversation on track, but, at the end of the meeting, the discussed agenda items should reflect the goals of your team and your project. As you make your way through the agenda, gather the necessary information and perspective from applicable team members to identify next steps for each agenda item discussed. These next steps should reflect the larger goals of your team and your company. If a decision can’t be reached on a particular agenda item or action items can’t be clearly identified, don’t get too stuck on it. Assign a team member with the responsibility to come up with next steps and potential solutions to the issue. This demonstrates your trust in their abilities, and that’s a bonus. Ultimately, this helps projects move forward and empowers team members to take pride in their work.

 

Ensure All Participants Are Engaged

We’ve all been there: sitting in a meeting listening to the same two people banter back and forth forgetting the rest of the folks sitting in the room (or on the Zoom meeting, in recent history!). Nobody wants that. Meetings aren’t lectures for you or others to blurt out information while everyone else listens. Everyone gets more out of the meeting if there is collaboration and sharing. you allow for collaboration and sharing. Ensure you’ve selected the right meeting attendees, so that everyone gets something out of the meeting and gives something of value while in attendance.  Although you’re likely to have some introverts on your team who would prefer not to speak out much in meetings, it’s important to ask that each person in the group contribute in some way and feels heard. Solicit feedback from individuals but make it clear that they can “circle back” to provide feedback if they need more time to think about it. At the end of each meeting, each individual present should have action items assign to them, as well as an agreement on deadlines for these items.

 

Recap and Share the Next Steps

As your meeting draws to a close, recap by going through the highlights of what was discussed. List achievements, outcomes, and next steps assigned. Ensure you have commitment from all participants on their assignments and deadlines. Don’t close the meeting until you’ve addressed these questions: What are the action items that need to be carried out in order to accomplish the goals you discussed during the meeting? Who is assigned those action items? What are the deadlines? Who will these individuals report to/consult with throughout the process? Before saying goodbye, thank everyone for their time and contributions, and decide on the date and time of the next meeting, if a follow-up is required.

 

No one wants to leave a meeting feeling like it was just a bunch of hot air blown around and time wasted. Following these tips can help ensure everyone’s time is respected and the goals of your project get met. Do you have any tried and true tips for leading effective meetings? Please comment below.

 

Lindsay Curtis
Written by Lindsay Curtis

Lindsay Curtis writes about communications, education, healthcare research, and parenting. She has extensive experience as a Project Manager, primarily in the healthcare and higher education sectors. A writer by day and a reader by night, she currently works as a Communications Officer for the University of Toronto. She also provides freelance copywriting and social media strategy services for businesses of all sizes. Learn more about Lindsay at www.curtiscommunications.org.

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