How to run effective meetings

Jane Sparrow shares 10 simple steps to holding meetings that will actually help you get stuff done

We’ve all had those weeks where we feel like we’ve been in meetings constantly. We’ve also all probably been in a meeting and questioned its value. And it’d be fair to bet that most of us have said at some point in our careers: ‘I’m in meetings so much, I don’t have enough time to get any actual work done!’

Part of making meetings effective starts right there – with a shift in our attitude towards them. If we approach meetings as being outside of the day job – a necessary evil – rather than one of a number of important elements of our work, and as an important way of communicating with those around us, we’re on the back foot to start with. Before we’ve even stepped into the meeting room, the chances of us executing it effectively are slim.

Meetings are a coming together of minds; an opportunity to exchange ideas, listen, develop thoughts and formulate action plans. With the right planning, management and follow-up, meetings could become one of your most productive activities, rather than an obstacle to your productivity.

Here are my top 10 tips on running effective meetings for maximum value and output:

1. A clear objective

Have a clear meeting objective that is shared ahead of time and then reiterated at the start of the meeting. If tangents come up, record them to be picked up after the meeting to help you stay on track.

2. Time it right

Break the electronic calendar mould and try 50-minute meetings instead of the usual hour. It drives pace, gives people time to breathe and refresh before their next activity and helps to keep the focus in the room. Avoid running important meetings at 3pm, too, as that’s often when we start to tire.

3. Meet on the move

How about walking meetings? The more oxygen gets to the brain, the more ideas come out of it. Try small group meetings outdoors and on the move for a more creative, inspired output – as well as a feel-good boost from those natural endorphins.

4. Exit policy

Trial a ‘meetings exit policy’, where anyone who feels they are neither adding nor gaining value from the meeting has the liberty to leave. It can have quite an impact on active participation.

5. Rule of listening

Run respectful meetings where everyone is listened to, with zero tolerance for attendees who talk over people.

6. Device ban

Unless there’s a specific purpose for them connected with the meeting, ban the use of electronic devices. They’re nothing but a distraction.

7. Lead by example

So there’s an electronic devices ban policy for company meetings, but the CEO gets out his mobile within five minutes? Business leaders have to be on board with meeting etiquette, or it will fail at the first hurdle.

8. Unexpected guests

Think really carefully about who you invite to each meeting. Avoid the usual suspects for certain subject areas and get some fresh blood in the room. It helps move the thinking on and get it ‘out of the box’.

9. Great meetings culture

We’ve all heard about companies that have a ‘meetings culture’. Change the mindset to being one of a ‘great meetings culture’, where every meeting is made to count – or it doesn’t happen.

10. It’s a wrap

Clearly summarise the key messages and actions at the end of a meeting to ensure everyone is on the same page when they leave the room.

When time is money, no one can afford ineffective meetings. It’s so easy to slip into bad habits, so try some of these tips next time you hold a meeting, and see what happens.

Jane Sparrow is an author, culture expert and founder of The Culture Builders