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6 hacks to improve any meeting on your calendar

Troubleshoot common meeting pain points with these quick fixes

September 16, 2021

“Nobody’s paying attention”
“We always run over time”
“We’re getting derailed… again”
“We talk about this every week”
“I wish more people would speak up”
“This could have been an email”

Meeting woes got your team out of whack? Beyond being a drag on time and energy, poorly run meetings can take a major toll on team effectiveness. They drain our productivity and well-being, stifle engagement, and fast-track folks to burnout.

The average employee says they waste 31 hours in unproductive meetings each month — that’s a lot of time to spend on anything — let alone something that’s so deeply wearing us down.

So, is it possible to take back those wasted hours and turn them into something ultra-productive instead? The answer is yes.

Here, we’ll cover quick fixes to help solve many of the most common meeting pain points. If you’re struggling with some (or all) of the meetings on your team’s calendar, this is the place to get started.

Get The Meetings Manual

Our comprehensive guide with more tips, strategies, and examples of how to improve your meetings.

Pain point #1: “Nobody’s paying attention”

Hack: Try a meeting purpose statement

People tend to feel (and act like) meetings are a waste of time when they don’t have a clear purpose. To solve for this, give people a reason to be there in the first place. Develop a meeting purpose statement and share it with the group so they know the why and the what. (Why am I invited? What are we trying to accomplish?)

Here’s an example.

Meeting: Sprint retro

Purpose statement: The goal of this session is to come up with 3 new ideas we can try to help us improve during the next sprint.

Attendees: The whole product team — we want to hear everyone’s perspective so we can make sure future sprints run more smoothly and productively for everybody involved.

Purpose helps folks connect meeting time to daily work and larger goals, and can make your time together more effective because you’re aligned on why you’re there and what you’re trying to achieve.

Bonus hack: Try adjusting your meeting format too, so it’s less “one person talking at the group” and more dynamic. Start with an opening round or team-building question to get everyone talking early on. Ask for the feedback at the end — and always iterate.

“A lot of engineers will state ‘I don’t like meetings,’ and understandably so. This is because they’ve been exposed to a bad or poorly-designed meetings process, not a process that facilitates them getting done what they need to get done.” — Kimber Lockhart, CTO, One Medical

Pain point #2: “We always run over time”

Hack: Use a fool-proof agenda template to stay on track

Having an agenda in place beforehand gives structure to your meeting, helps steer it back on track when side-topics come up and ensures everyone comes prepared for a productive discussion. Creating an agenda beforehand (and sticking to it) can decrease meeting time by up to 80%.

Each agenda topic should have an allotted amount of time and a topic owner or facilitator to keep discussion on track. To save you time, we put together template agendas for many common meetings — sprint planning, weekly 1:1s, scrum meetings, post-mortems, and more.

If you’ve got a solid agenda in place and find you’re still running out of time, it may be a sign that you need to break things apart into multiple meetings, adjust the meeting length, or try to cover less each week.

Pain point #3: “We’re getting derailed… again”

Hack: Assign a facilitator

A meeting facilitator is a designated person in the room assigned to keep things on track. If a side conversation comes up, it’s the facilitator’s job to ask folks to move it offline. If someone starts dominating the conversation with something that’s off-topic, it’s the facilitator’s job to politely remind them of the meeting’s purpose and steer the conversation back on track. Ideally, the facilitator role should be held by someone who’s seen as a neutral party and isn’t the team or project leader, to help balance power dynamics.

The key to being an effective facilitator is knowing what to say to get folks back on track without distracting or offending. Check out our meeting facilitation cheat sheet for some go-to responses you can use for different challenges.

Pain point #4: “We talk about this every week”

Hack: Tune up your process around notes and action items

If you feel like you have the same conversations week after week, it’s likely because nothing’s getting done between meetings or people are absent and you’re having to fill them in. Implementing a clear process for tracking action items and sharing notes can help.

To start, take notes and assign action items during the meeting as soon as things come up — don’t wait until afterward when you’ll inevitably forget some details or context. Share notes immediately after the meeting’s over. Then, use the first 5 minutes of the next meeting to check in on last week’s actions. (We recommend adding it as a recurring agenda item so you never forget.) This will also help build accountability — if folks know the actions they’ve been assigned will always be followed up on, they’ll be more likely to prioritize that work so they have something to report.

Pain point #5: “I wish more people would speak up”

Hack: Make your meeting agenda collaborative

Participation can take a hit when folks feel like they don’t have a stake in the discussion or anything valuable to add. To remedy this, it’s all about building meeting accountability – everyone in the room should feel like they’re there for a reason and have an active role to play in driving the meeting’s outcome. Action items are one great way to build meeting accountability.

Another is to use a collaborative or dynamic agenda to collect discussion topics from the whole team. The facilitator can collect them beforehand or do a quick round-robin to make sure everyone has a chance to voice topics that are important to them.

Pain point #6: “It could have been an email”

Hack: Try a meeting pre-read

Teams often spend too much meeting time on things that could be covered offline — like status updates, project background, and context — and end up repeatedly hashing over the same things instead of making decisions or moving work forward.

This is where pre-reads can help. A pre-read is a written report or summary that meeting attendees are expected to read through before the meeting begins. They’re used by companies like Amazon (Jeff Bezos is a big champion of this concept) to get everyone aligned and fuel a more productive, engaging, and efficient discussion when they come together.

Since you’re all aligned on background and context beforehand, pre-reads mean decision-making, greater engagement, and a more level playing field for everyone attending. They can be used for all types of meetings. We’ve found them especially useful for recurring meetings — like a weekly team meeting or sprint review meeting — because they help get the “who’s working on what” portion out of the way so you can focus on bigger discussion topics and collaboration.

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Still feeling stuck? Looking for more ways to take your meetings to the next level?

Get The Meetings Manual

Our comprehensive guide with more tips, strategies, and examples of how to improve your meetings.

6 hacks to improve any meeting on your calendar
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