Productive meetings don't happen by accident — they're carefully planned to eliminate wasted time and keep everyone on track. And if you've ever sat through a poorly planned mandatory meeting, you know how painful they are. So unless your process is nearly perfect, it's probably best to start by overhauling your process using proven tips and best practices.
Below, we've listed nine creative tips to help you hold more productive meetings. Check them out and find the approaches that will work best for your team, saving everyone time and frustration.
9 tips for more productive meetings
Holding effective staff meetings is an art form, but that doesn't mean you can't use tips and best practices to improve. After all, even the best artists learned their craft somewhere! These nine tips will help you hold productive meetings that actually get stuff done.
1. Define the ground rules
Unproductive meetings often lack ground rules, leading to wasted time and poor decision-making. You need to define the ground rules for your meetings and make sure everyone is familiar with them. Ground rules can improve participation, discussion, respectful listening, learning, conflict prevention, and a sense of trust among team members.
Here are some examples of ground rules to help you hold a good meeting:
- Listen to others and respect their points of view: Meetings are public discussions, not debates or arguments. Respectful listening is a must, and only one person should speak at a time.
- No one should dominate the meeting: Always be brief and to the point when you speak. Let others talk if you recently took the floor.
- Try to understand every option and idea: Productive meetings are about clarity and objectivity. Instead of trying to be understood or make a point, participants should focus on the pros and cons of each idea or update to make sure they clearly understand.
- All team members are invited and encouraged to participate: The meeting leader may ask for input from members who haven't spoken to encourage participation. While it's okay to pass on commenting, it's encouraged to participate.
- Phones stay face down or out of sight: Participants should keep their phones face down or out of sight to prevent distractions (unless they’re needed as meeting tools or for accommodations). Texting and playing with apps is distracting and can cause wasted time.
Include your ground rules with the meeting agenda, and add anything unique to the topic or type of meeting. For example, if you're holding a phone meeting, you might ask each person to state their name and location before speaking during a brainstorming session. Just make sure you enforce these rules so that your team respects them.
2. Set a time limit
Limit the meeting time to keep it from interfering with the workday and becoming unproductive. Time limits also create consequences for going off-topic, which prompts changes to ensure more productive meetings in the future. For example, if the last meeting got tangential and you didn't get a chance to cover everything (consequence), you can reflect on this afterward with your team and devise a strategy to focus better next time (change).
Don't forget to include the time limit on the meeting agenda so that participants know what to expect. This can also help employees decide whether or not they have time to attend the meeting (more on that later).
3. Create a meeting agenda
It helps if the project manager or meeting facilitator (whether or not that’s you) creates a meeting agenda with necessary action items and discussion topics. An agenda will help you have successful, productive meetings by preparing each contributor for what to expect. For example, your agenda might include the topic of the discussion, desired outcome, priority of each action item, time limits for each topic, and who is expected to attend.
Limit your agenda items to what you can realistically cover within your time limit, and save the lowest priority items for last. This way, if you run out of time, it's not the end of the world to miss these items. A template will make this step easier, so find one you like or create one based on your first few agendas.
4. Make sure it's necessary
If you want to have better meetings, make sure they're necessary so that everyone has a reason to be engaged. Don't hold status update meetings — you can usually share this type of information via email. Productive meetings need a clear purpose and benefit for your team members.
Look at the meeting agenda before sending it to participants, and determine if a comparable outcome is possible via email. The team leader or project manager should be able to assess how necessary the meeting is, but they need to be objective.
5. Consider virtual meetings
Great meetings don't have to be face-to-face, especially if you have a hybrid or fully remote workforce. Video and phone call meetings can allow everyone to share information while making the discussion more convenient. Virtual meetings work best with small groups (10-20 people), and they're particularly effective when participants need to work on a project or task together.
If your meetings rely on side conversations, choose meeting software like Zoom that allows chat between individual members. And don't forget to explore different modes within your software to find those that will help you achieve a productive meeting every time.
6. Try walking meetings
Did you know that walking meetings can result in higher productivity, creativity, and health? If you have a central workforce, consider having walking meetings at a nearby park or greenbelt.
To help make sure it's a productive meeting, give team members plenty of notice ahead of time and limit the number of participants (y'know, because everyone needs to be able to hear). You'll also want to plan the walking route ahead of time and create a structure to keep the meeting on track.
Or, if you'd like to try more active meetings indoors (and it makes sense for your team), you could introduce Agile stand-up meetings right in the conference room. These short meetings are a regular practice for all team members to touch base and get on the same page.
7. Limit the number of meeting participants
Too many team members can make a meeting unproductive, but having a select, few number of people can help you have great meetings. Smaller meetings (10 to 20 people) help encourage participants to speak up, and those who aren't needed can get on with their other work. In addition, the agenda and action items can help you identify who is essential and who isn't.
8. Send comprehensive follow-up info
Send follow-up information to recap the meeting with comprehensive meeting notes so that everyone can get on the same page. Include the action plan listing the next steps for each team member to complete after the meeting and an outline of everything the meeting covered. This info will bring any team members who couldn't attend up to speed while filling in anyone who missed a few points (hey, it happens).
It's best to treat each bad meeting as an opportunity to learn and apply the lessons to future meetings for continuous improvement. So when you have a bad meeting, make sure you reflect on what worked, what didn't, and how you can do better next time. You might also invite each contributor to weigh in on how to improve the next meeting, which can help them feel more invested in productive participation.
Pro tip: Try using an automated note-taking tool like Anchor AI to make follow-up emails easier. Anchor AI provides notes with timestamps and action items — it also identifies speakers and allows you to search meetings for speed and convenience.
9. Make participation optional
Except for the most important meetings, consider making participation optional for all team members. Don't enforce penalties for declining to attend. Just send comprehensive follow-up information and enjoy working with those who can make it. Forcing employees to participate in every meeting can lead to distracted behavior, especially when people have other important obligations or tasks to handle.
Everyone loves better meetings (trust us)
Productive meetings make everyone happy, and they'll help your teams be more effective. The best part is that you don't need all of these tips to make your meetings more efficient. Instead, pick and choose based on what relates best to how your teams work. And consider asking your team members which tips they'd like to see implemented (this probably isn't meeting-worthy — try a survey!).
Remember, productive meetings require planning, minor adjustments, and great notes for useful follow-up and recap information. Need to streamline the note-taking process to make that possible? Anchor AI can help you record all relevant information, including action items and time stamps, so your team can focus on the meeting. Sign up for Anchor AI today!