How to Lead Team Meetings in the Most Productive Way

During a busy week, the last thing a leader or manager wants is a wasted hour or two sat in an unproductive meeting.

If I asked you what the most efficient way to be inefficient would be, I’m sure many of you would say “bad meetings.”

Meetings today consume more work hours than ever before. Today, leaders spend about half their week in meetings.((TED: The Economic Impact of Bad Meetings)) According to research from TED a third of that time is wasted on pointless, badly run meetings.

A survey from Clarizen reported that workers consider status meetings a waste of time and that almost 50% of respondents would rather go to the DMV or watch paint dry.((Clarizen Survey: Workers consider status meetings a productivity waste of time))

In an article for Harvard Business Review,((Harvard Business Review: This weekly meeting took up 300,000 hours a year)) three consultants from Bain report the results of an exercise in which they analyzed the Outlook schedules of the employees of an unnamed “large company” – and concluded that one weekly executive meeting took up 300,000 hours a year.

And that total, the authors write, “doesn’t include the work time spent preparing for meetings”.

How many meetings have you attended where there was no clear agenda or objective?

How many of you have sat in meetings that jumped around from topic to topic with no clear action plan at the end of the meeting?

If you’ve left meetings more confused than when you arrived, please raise your hand.

Meetings don’t have to be something we dread and endure. They don’t have to be something we drift in and out of.

We have to find ways for meetings to be far more intentional, energising and productive, that deliver real, tangible results.

So how to lead team meetings more productively?

Here are 10 ways that leaders and managers can start leading team meetings that are productive and effective, and beneficial for everyone involved:

1. Frame Each Meeting in a Positive Way

To get everyone in the room in a positive mindset and energised 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.

Rather than people being in a negative mindset about having to attend the meeting, they come from a place of positivity, contribution and positivity.

2. Have a Clear Leader in The Room

Whatever the purpose of the meeting, someone in the room has to take charge of directing and leading the meeting.

This person will set the agenda for the meeting, make sure it doesn’t go off topic and will ensure the meeting stays within an agreed timeframe.

They will often report on progress, give clarity on what needs to happen after the meeting, and get commitment from people in the meeting on future actions steps.

If there is no-one taking control, people with the biggest personalities or biggest opinions can dominate and stop quieter personalities from contributing.

3. Have the Right People in the Room

Think back to the last great meeting you were in… Was the meeting full of people “making up the numbers’” or was it full of people who were contributing and providing input?

I’m guessing it was the latter.

To lead a really productive meeting, take time to consider who will be involved.

You want people in the room who will add value, who are active contributors, have background knowledge, are decision makers, are action takers and who will be directly impacted by the outcome of the meeting.

Be wary of filling the room, unless you absolutely have to, with people whose motivation for being there is either status or a fear of missing out on something.

Focus on getting people in the meeting room who will bring productive contribution, not passive bystanders.

If you have the autonomy to arrange your meetings however you like, focus on doing it so they deliver the most productive results.

4. Use People’s Unique Strengths in Different Meetings

Not everyone in your company or team are the right fit for every meeting.

A great tip for creating productive meetings is to get clear on what meetings team members should and should not be a part of.

Don’t think about just filling the room, be selective about inviting people who you know will make the biggest contribution.

We all have different strengths. Some of your team members will be great in brainstorming meetings, while others may get stressed out at the thought of participating.

The same goes for process and status meetings.

When it comes to creating the biggest impact from the meeting, it’s important to consider what energy you want in the room and who can bring the right value to a meeting.

If you have clarity on that, ensure the right people in the room.

During my corporate career, I used to lead brainstorming, strategy and status meetings. I knew that different members of team would bring different skill sets to specific meetings.

One of my senior directors was more strategic than creative, so I would ensure she was number one on my team sheet for the strategy meetings. But I kept her out of the brainstorming meetings, in favor of other team members.

Another team member was a great strategic planner, so I would ensure she sat in both brainstorming and strategy meetings. During the brainstorming meetings, her value was thinking about the plan and action steps needed to execute on the creative ideas.

Leading productive meetings is often about being the conductor of a great orchestra. If you don’t have the right complementary instruments and performers in the room, collaborating together and working in harmony, the result can be a big mess. But, if you bring the right performers together, the results can be magical and inspiring.

5. End Meetings with Clear Action Steps and Responsibilities

Think back to the last meeting you were in, chances are there were lots of great conversations, valuable inputs and insights.

But what happened at the end of the meeting? Did you all go your separate ways, or was there clear action steps and responsibilities set?

It’s worthwhile to set aside time at the end of every meeting to have everyone share their biggest insight.

This reinforces contribution and collaboration and ensures everyone comes away from the meeting with a clear perspective on the value of the meeting.

To reinforce this further, it is the responsibility of the meeting’s leader to clearly lay out the action steps, personal responsibilities and timeframes for taking action on the key elements of the meeting.

6. Create a Clear Purpose for the Meeting

Staying on track is one of the hardest challenges for running an effective, productive meeting. The reason for this is that many meetings are set up without a clear purpose, or even agenda.

Some meetings happen simply because someone may have decided that you are going to have a weekly status meeting.

Turning up to meetings like that, without a clear understanding of what specifically the meeting is about, what the agenda is or what the priorities for the meeting are, can make you feel like the meeting is a waste of your time.

When you are clear on the purpose of the meeting, you will be more engaged, know what to prepare beforehand and know what the desired outcomes of the meeting are.

7. Hold the Meeting Standing Up

In an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the authors found that sit down meetings took 34% longer than stand up meetings.((Journal of Applied Psychology: The effects of stand up and sit down meeting formats on on meeting outcomes))

If you are finding that your sit down meetings are not being as productive as you wish them to be, change things up and get all participants to stand.

8. Make Meetings Shorter

If you have a clear purpose and agenda for the meeting, you should have a sense of how long the meeting should last.

Many meetings I’ve experienced in the past had a calendar invite set for either 45 minutes or 60 minutes. Some meetings actually finished earlier, but because the time frame had been set for a designated time, the meeting carried on going for no real reason.

Start setting meetings with a shorter time window, be that 30 minutes or 40 minutes, and see if the meetings become more productive and effective.

Our attention span and energy levels can begin to drop off the longer the meeting goes on.

9. Start and End on 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.

If team members choose not to arrive on time, it may be wise to have a separate meeting with that person to make it clear that you expect them to arrive on time.

10. 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.

I’ve had some of my most productive meetings simply by leaving the office and going to an inspiring venue, or having a meeting or two in a local park.

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.

We need to learn how to lead team meetings productively and effectively.

If you take action on the tips and strategies I’ve laid out on how to lead team meetings in the most productive way, you will ensure that you maximize the strengths and mental energy of everyone in the room.

Your meetings will no longer be something you and your team dreads or tries to avoid. Instead, the meetings will become a way to reconnect, get creative, decide on strategy, get support, celebrate progress, and generate productive momentum.

More Resources About Workplace Productivity

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