How to Have a Productive Meeting

by Greg Skloot
Featured   |   5 Min Read
how to have a productive meeting

Let’s face it: meetings are not always fun. They are often too long, not focused and just let the loudest person in the room talk the most. Worst of all, meetings distract the team from getting things done. Yet, our days are often stacked with meeting after meeting.

I’m not suggesting meetings are all bad. To the contrary, meetings that help the team have a discussion and reach consensus on an important issue are well worth the time. So we can’t get rid of meetings altogether. However, with the right mix of tools and tricks, we can drastically reduce the number of meetings and make meetings shorter, avoiding frustrating for the team and letting them focus on their jobs. Consider these suggestions to see how to have a productive meeting:

1. Change the default calendar time to 20 minutes

Most calendar applications make the default meeting length 1 hour long. That is quite a long meeting! Most discussions do not need nearly a full hour. Instead, consider adjusting the settings so the default length is significantly shorter. By setting the expectations that you will only be meeting for 20 minutes, it forces everyone to stay on topic and get to important decisions quickly.

2. Stand up rather than sit down

For particularly short meetings, the “standup” meeting has become popular. Since standing is less comfortable than sitting, keeping everyone standing will ensure you get through the discussion promptly and get back to work (where everyone is presumably sitting down at desks).

3. Do status updates in writing

Always avoid having a meeting that consists of each person sharing status updates. That should be done in writing (you can use a tool like Weekly Update). Whether it’s each week’s progress, problems and upcoming plans, or it’s specific tactical updates about a project, it’s always more effective to capture that information in writing. Save the meeting time for discussing specific issues that were brought up in the written update.

Shorter meetings. Real accountability.
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4. Create an agenda prior

Showing up to a meeting without an agenda is like a professional baseball player showing up to play without a bat. The agenda is a critical component that keeps the group aligned on what’s being discussed and ensures that we accomplish the goal that the meeting is designed to serve.

5. Set a clear goal for the meeting, and share it upfront

In the beginning of each meeting, I like to clearly state what our intentions and goals are for the meeting. For example:

“Thank you everyone for getting together! For today’s meeting, we need to talk through the upcoming marketing campaign. By the end of the meeting, we should decide if we are purchasing the radio or TV ad.”

That sentence is so easy and simple, and by stating it upfront, it sets the tone for why we are here and what we aim to accomplish.

6. Reduce the invite list

A sure way to have more productive meetings is by inviting less people. A common mistake in many organizations is to invite too many people to a meeting in order to keep everyone in the loop. While these are noble intentions, it is much more effective to only invite the people responsible for making the decision that the meeting was planned to discuss. Once a consensus is reached, one person at the meeting should be responsible for compiling notes and sharing those notes with other stakeholders that may be impacted.

7. Avoid pre-scheduled recurring meetings

Finally, we often have a habit of scheduling recurring weekly, bi-weekly or monthly meetings on specific topics to “check in.” This is often a waste of time because situations change, we don’t always have enough to talk about, and these types of meetings are usually “update” meetings that would be better served sharing written updates regularly and pulling out any issues noted in those updates for further discussion.

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