Are your meetings effective?
Unfortunately, for most organizations, the answer is a big no.
Studies have shown that
71% of meetings are considered unproductive. And it’s contributing an estimated $37 per year in losses.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to this.
The reason why most meetings are productive is that companies conduct them improperly.
Employees often find that meetings are too long, have no clear direction, or are managed poorly.
Let’s change that for you, shall we?
We’ll share six strategies to help your meetings become more engaging and productive.
Prepare a meeting agenda
An agenda is a list of points and topics that
should be discussed in the meeting. It’s often set by the facilitator, such as the Scrum master, in a sprint planning session.
An agenda ensures that the most important points are covered in the allotted time, thus preventing people from going off-topic.
It also informs everyone of the things to be covered so they can prepare beforehand. This can help speed up the meeting.
Because of how vital agendas are, we believe they must be the foundation of any meeting. So much so that we suggest having a policy of
no agenda, no meeting.
Just look at this statistic—more than
30% of people surveyed said having a clear agenda made them more excited about a meeting.
Curiously, only around 5% of participants mentioned perks as an incentive.
In other words, people valued their
time way more than a free lunch. Because that’s the purpose of an agenda—to respect other people’s time.
So, how do you prepare an agenda?
what your objective is for the meeting. Is it to brainstorm solutions to a specific problem? Or to get updates on the project?
Setting the objective helps participants know what to expect. You should ideally have only one objective so that you can focus on that.
Once you have your objective,
identify the topics under that objective you want to cover.
For example, if your objective is to get updates on the project, you can determine the specific aspects you want to cover, such as UI and UX design.
Finally, specify in the agenda if participants
need to prepare anything, such as a document or prototype.
This prevents wasted time trying to get these requirements during the meeting proper.
Once the agenda is finished, you should send it to everyone involved at least a few days before.
This gives enough heads-up for people to clear their schedules, thus improving participants’ attendance rate and engagement.
The bottom line is that an agenda serves your meeting the same way a blueprint does a house—it defines the structure of the entire thing.
Choose a time that works for everyone
Choosing the best time for a meeting can be easy or extremely tricky, depending on your work culture.
But what you should
never do is set a meeting without taking participants’ schedules into account.
That’s because you risk interrupting a person’s tasks and responsibilities, which could potentially reduce their productivity.
On the extreme end, it can make you an annoying or even downright abusive manager.
This is reflected in the
Rude Index, a data-driven framework that measures how rude a behavior is based on surveys and online sentiments.
According to the Rude Index, here are the worst etiquette mistakes when scheduling a meeting:
So, how do you set meetings the right way?
The best way is to
consult your team on their preferred meeting times, then find a common schedule. If the whole team works on-site, that isn’t usually a problem.
When it gets tricky is if you’re outsourcing, and especially if you have members in different time zones.
Nearshore teams have it easier in this regard. By definition, the time difference between them is three hours or less, which gives plenty of time overlap to schedule a meeting.
for offshore teams working on the opposite side of the globe than the rest of the company, one side would need to make the sacrifice of hopping on a meeting outside of their regular office hours.
To help you find the best meeting times, you can use a timezone converter tool like
World Time Buddy.
It’s also important to consider logistics when setting a meeting time.
Check for any other meetings people have on their schedule. You don’t want them to be in back-to-back meetings—that’s a recipe for burnout.
Ideally, you should schedule only one meeting per day. If that’s not possible, allow enough time between meetings for people to catch their breath.
Additionally, have all meetings in the same room for convenience.
Finally, one last tip—avoid Monday morning or late Friday meetings. People aren’t in the best frame of mind then, which could diminish their engagement during the meeting.
Define the duration of the meeting
Equally as important to the meeting’s timing is its duration. You want to keep it as short as possible, while still covering the important points in the agenda.
Unfortunately, what happens is the opposite—most meetings are excessively long. And that’s detrimental to its overall effectiveness.
According to data presented by
MeetingKing, a person’s attention span drops dramatically the longer they are in a meeting.
For the first 15 minutes, people’s engagement with the meeting is at 90%.
But around the 30-minute mark, their engagement level drops to about 73%, and continues to decrease the longer the meeting continues.
Here’s another infographic that illustrates this point:
To avoid this drop in concentration, you should set your meeting start and end times beforehand and stick to it—a process called
Timeboxing is an effective time management tool because it increases focus and helps avoid procrastination. It also allows participants to prepare their schedules accordingly.
That way, they can focus on the meeting without worrying about interrupted work.
For maximum effectiveness, it’s best to keep the duration around 30 minutes on average. Refrain from organizing meetings lasting over an hour.
If you have to cover an agenda that requires more time than that, consider breaking it up into multiple meetings.
But if holding a meeting that’s an hour long, or possibly more, is inevitable, make sure to intersperse it with regular five- to ten-minute breaks.
This is a chance for participants to rest and reset their attention span.
Setting durations for each item on your agenda is a good practice to guarantee that you’ll stick to the meeting duration.
Budgeting time this way prevents a single item on the agenda from taking over the entire meeting.
Here’s an example:
Now, if your meetings go over schedule, don’t beat yourself up for it! Instead, try to understand why that’s the case.
It may be that you had too many items on the agenda, or simply that the time allotted was too short for what you wanted to achieve.
Whatever you determine, remember these findings so you can adjust the duration of your future meetings accordingly.
Invite only the key participants
When setting a meeting, it’s your responsibility to invite only the participants who are actually needed there.
That means people who have something to contribute or the topic directly relates to their role or task.
Any employee’s biggest waste of time is attending a meeting that’s irrelevant to them. Unfortunately, this happens much more commonly than you think.
For example, the development team might get invited to a meeting to discuss the sales performance of their app.
Sure, it’s nice to know how the product you worked on is doing in the market, but is it relevant to the team? Often it’s not, and the developers’ time is better spent more productively.
Ideally, the participants in any meeting should belong to one or more of the following three groups.
First are the
key decision makers or those who need to approve a task, strategy, or decision. Examples of people in this group include the clients, team leads, or product owners.
The second are the
subject matter experts or those with extensive knowledge required in the meeting. For example, if a meeting aims to solve a UI issue, you’ll need a UX or UI designer.
The final group consists of
the implementers, or the people executing the actions and tasks decided In the meeting.
For example, a meeting discussing the features of an app should include the developers assigned to create it.
Of course, there are exceptions.
For example, key decision-makers could be left out of early brainstorming sessions and only brought in the later stages.
Or, you might occasionally include people outside the development team to get diverse perspectives.
It all depends on the goal and the purpose of the meeting.
Appoint a facilitator for the meeting
Facilitators are essential to a meeting because things can get chaotic without them. They are like the conductors of an orchestra, making sure that all the pieces play in the same tune.
The role of a facilitator is threefold, as you can see below.
Here’s what all these aspects entail.
conductor, a meeting facilitator must ensure that all participants follow the ground rules.
For instance, they might interrupt a speaker if they go over their allotted time, behave improperly, or veer off topic.
Facilitators—in partnership with timekeepers—are also responsible for starting and ending the meeting at the right time.
In their role as
catalyst, facilitators help the discussion develop in the right direction.
They can gently nudge the group into a desired outcome based on the ideas and suggestions already discussed.
Finally, in their capacity as
coach, the facilitator ensures that all participants contribute to the discussion.
They might suggest how the group should proceed to help them meet the meeting’s goals.
However, the facilitator must stay neutral throughout the discussion. Their purpose is to artfully guide the participants to a solution without directly giving it.
As you can guess, facilitation takes specific skills and attitudes. Thus, you need to pick the person for the role using the following criteria as a guide:
Facilitators are different from the meeting leader, which is the person who initiates the meeting.
The latter have bigger responsibilities and privileges, such as preparing the agenda or deciding the participants. However, the two roles can sometimes converge in the same person.
Encourage developers to contribute
Meetings are at their most effective when every participant provides valuable contributions. Thus, it would be best to encourage everyone to chip in—including the developers.
Active participation is so important that the
Agile Manifesto even features it as one of its core tenets:
Furthermore, developers hold most of the answers in most software development meetings.
However, if you want meaningful answers from your developers, it’s important to
ask them the right questions. You’ll notice that this is where a good facilitator comes in handy.
For example, you can ask if they have problems with their task or certain app feature. This allows them to open up and share their thoughts with the team.
Another tactic is to ask them to
share a win or a specific technique with the group.
People always want validation and recognition, and giving them that helps them open up in other areas where you might need their input.
If people are still hesitant to contribute, here’s a strategy you can try.
Have participants write their thoughts, ideas, or complaints on a small note. The facilitator will then discuss each note without disclosing who wrote it.
This anonymous approach is especially useful when discussing a sensitive or awkward topic.
However you accomplish it, getting everyone to contribute is your ultimate goal in every meeting.
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your team meetings, you have to organize them in the right way.
This means sticking to a well-defined meeting agenda, holding the meeting at the right time and with the participants who can really contribute to the discussion, as well as making sure you’re not taking up too much of their time.
Even the world’s most time-efficient and well-planned meeting will be useless if you hold it with the wrong participants.
That’s why you need to be particularly mindful when hiring your team.
Getting the right people with the right skills and work ethic will make your work processes and your meetings much more effective and meaningful.
Need help hiring a development team? Check out our primer