Ineffective meetings are your team’s worst enemy.
They drain energy, pull folks out of focus, stifle productivity, and lead to employee burnout. They also impact your bottom line—in fact, companies in the U.S. waste around $213 billion in ineffective meetings every single year.
We can’t abolish meetings altogether. But we can make them a whole lot better. In this article, we’ll cover eight ground rules to make every meeting on your calendar more effective.
The first rule for more effective team meetings is to prepare ahead of time. Preparation is key, not just for the meeting facilitator or team lead, but for everyone attending.
When folks come prepared, meetings are more productive. Discussion can be more informed and you waste less time on things like giving background or reporting on project status because everyone’s aligned on that ahead of time.
Meeting preparation also makes discussion more inclusive. When everyone’s on the same page before the meeting starts, folks are more likely to speak up and participate.
“Preparation for meetings is a critical component of productivity. The average amount of time spent on preparation for a meeting characterized as "highly productive" is nearly one hour, which is twice as long as the preparation time for a meeting described as ‘not very or not at all’ productive.” — Meetings in America, InfoCom & Verizon Whitepaper
So what’s the best way to ensure everyone’s prepared ahead of time? Here are a few proven tactics used by highly effective teams.
With template agendas built-in (and proven effective by real teams), Range makes it easy to incorporate meeting best practices, prepare for an engaging discussion, and share it all out with your team in seconds.
Your team’s time is valuable and when it comes to meetings, every minute matters. This is why the most effective teams aim to arrive—not just on-time—but early.
Why does being early matter? Those 3-5 extra minutes make all the difference in helping you:
Lateness has a proven negative impact on meeting effectiveness too. When attendees show up late, it’s linked to overall disengagement and feeling like the meeting was a waste of time.
Being present during meetings can be challenging at times—especially when there’s a lot going on. But active participation, where all attendees are listening and engaged, is 100% necessary when it comes to meeting effectiveness. That goes for individual contributors and leaders alike.
A study from Bain & Company found that among 33 traits, the ability to be present (or “centeredness”) was actually the most important attribute in leading and inspiring teams.
“Of all the elements, centeredness was the skill that employees most wanted to develop. Centeredness is a state of greater mindfulness, achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present. While a growing number of companies offer optional mindfulness programs to promote health and workplace satisfaction, our research shows that centeredness is fundamental to the ability to lead. It improves one’s ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others and listen more deeply.” — How Leaders Inspire, Bain & Company
It may feel counterintuitive to lead the meeting with something completely unrelated to it, but it’s actually super beneficial when it comes to group engagement because it pulls people out of “observer mode” and into “engagement mode”.
In meetings, participants are more likely to take on an observer role the larger the meeting gets. This is due to something that social psychologists call “diffusion of responsibility”—if everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. Icebreakers help teams avoid this problem by giving folks something they have to actively engage on from the get-go. It pulls them out of the role of observer and into the role of an engager.
If you feel like your meetings sometimes get derailed, you’re not alone.
According to one study, individuals say that getting derailed is one of the top three reasons they leave meetings feeling dissatisfied. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Meeting facilitation is a proven tactic to keep things running smoothly, which is one of the reasons why every great meeting starts with a great facilitator.
“Facilitation starts the moment attendees walk into the room,” explains Steven G. Rogelberg, author of The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review. “Because people often experience meetings as interruptions—taking them away from their “real work”—the leader’s first task is to promote a sense of presence among attendees.”
Some tips Rogelberg shares to achieve this:
Each of Rogelberg’s tactics help to prime the group for a productive, engaging discussion. Once the meeting starts, use these facilitation tips to keep things on track.
“[In meetings], some people will talk really loud and be excited and aggressive, not like aggressive in a bad way, but pushy. Other people will want to be quiet and not push. Their ideas are oftentimes equal, yet in typical meetings, what we found is that their ideas were not treated equally.” — Harper Reed, CEO of General GalacticFacilitate your next meeting with Range
Churn happens in meetings when we get so focused on talking about a problem that we forget to move towards a solution. If you want to run more effective meetings, it’s key to make progress towards tackling your problems every time.
The expectation isn’t that you close out or solve every issue presented in a one hour session. But it is possible to move closer to a solution and feel a sense of productivity and progress when the meeting ends.
Meeting notes are a simple practice with a big pay-off. They make teams more effective by improving transparency and making meetings more actionable. By capturing and sharing meeting notes, meeting attendees can look back on what happened, follow up on action items, and keep other teammates in the loop.
According to McKinsey & Company, meeting attendees should consist of four types of stakeholders:
“Many of your colleagues will want to be in the loop and will even need to be involved downstream eventually—but if they have no role in the decision-making process, they shouldn’t be in today’s meeting.” — Want a Better Decision? Plan a Better Meeting, McKinsey & Co
Note-taking is a great way to equalize information and keep folks in the loop on what’s happening when they aren’t in the meeting room.
The last meeting ground rule is to always stick to your schedule and end on time. Even if folks “don’t have a hard stop”—running even a few minutes over can be disruptive to your team’s time and workflow, pulling them out of deep work. So as tempting as it may be, it’s important to stay on track.
If you’ve set aside 30 minutes for your meeting and continuously find you’re going over or not getting to everything on the agenda, ask yourself the following.
“Try having a set of phrases that you keep in your back pocket that everyone can use. Something like ‘We have 20 minutes left and I know we wanted to get to 3 more topics. Are those still things we want to cover today?’ It makes it easier when there’s a power dynamic too, because it feels less personal and more like a team norm.” — Jean Hsu, VP of Engineering, Range
Ready to make these ground rules a reality on your team? Range makes it dead simple—with intuitive tools for agenda building, sharing pre-reads, facilitating engaging discussions, taking and organizing notes, and more.
With meetings in Range, you can:
When you run your meetings with Range, icebreakers and suggested agenda topics are built in to get the most out of your time together. Plus, Range keeps track of time for you to keep the whole team running on schedule.Try Meetings in Range for free