The Meeting Manual

A comprehensive guide to running effective meetings

August 25, 2021

Introduction

It’s time to talk about meetings.

Meetings are where teams come together to connect, collaborate, and move projects forward. Or at least that’s the intention.

Today, many of our meetings have morphed into something else. They’re unwieldy, boring, and burdensome. An ineffective time-suck that’s the first thing to get skipped or multi-tasked during when the going gets hectic. They drain our productivity and well-being, stifle engagement, and fast-track employee burnout. Oh, and most of them “could have been an email.”

If you’ve ever left a meeting feeling drained, frustrated, or even more lost than when you got there, you’re not alone.

Leaders consider 67% of meetings to be ineffective, yet we still manage to spend such a huge portion of our time in them. The average employee says they waste 31 hours in unproductive meetings each month. Forty-five percent say they’ve felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings and 47% say meetings are their office’s number one time-waster.

Collectively, we waste $27 billion on unproductive meetings each year — with energy and time that could be better spent doing just about anything else.

So how did we get here? And what’s got to give?

Are our meetings worth saving and, if so, how do we get them back on track?

It’s time to take a long, hard look at meetings as we know them and begin the process of reimagining them for the unique needs, work styles, and possibilities that exist for our teams today.

The trouble with today’s meetings

Could meetings be sucking the life out of you and your team? Chances are, yes.

Oftentimes, teams default to meetings as the primary way to communicate with one another about projects and updates. And while meetings are certainly valuable for collaborating, addressing blockers, and connecting as a team, far too often — they stray from their intended purpose.

Here are six of the most common issues:

  1. They’re ineffective: They lack purpose and structure, and cover the same topics each week instead of making progress. People often wonder “wait, why am I here?” because the discussion happening is only valuable to a few folks in the room.
  2. They’re inefficient: Teams try to cram too much into 30 minutes or 60 minutes, and inevitably don’t get to everything or run over time. Conversation easily gets derailed and only a handful of folks actually participate.
  3. They focus on the wrong topics: Teams spend too much 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 and moving forward.
  4. There’s a lack of meeting accountability: People don’t feel like their role in the meeting is important and are therefore less likely to engage. Learnings from the meeting are often lost in the shuffle, since they aren’t consistently documented or followed up on.
  5. They haven’t adapted: Meetings today often fail to take into account new ways of working — like remote and hybrid teams. They’re also not designed to best suit the unique work and personality styles on our teams.
  6. There’s just plain too many of them: Meeting overload — it’s all too real. A problem exacerbated by a global pandemic and the shift to more remote work — teams often use meetings as bandaids for a lack of other forms of communication. And no matter how much calendar blocking and no-meeting Wednesdays we try, they just keep popping back up.

The following sections will dive into each of these meeting pain points and explore ways to solve for them. We’ve included stories from other companies who’ve fought the meeting battle and won, templates to pull ideas from, quick wins to get you started, and big picture strategies to help you reimagine meetings on your own team.

Meeting greatness

What does our north star look like?

A great meeting leaves folks feeling energized, accomplished, connected to their team, and ready to tackle whatever’s on their plate. Here’s what that looks like in theory.

The elements of every great meeting:

While meetings may differ in topic, length, frequency, and a whole lot of other things, great meetings are made up of three key ingredients: effectiveness, efficiency, and inclusion.

  1. It’s effective: An effective meeting has a purpose and is productive. It drives work forward and adds value for everyone in the room. It helps teams tackle problems, connect, and collaborate — speeding them up rather than slowing them down.
  2. It’s efficient: An efficient meeting gets the most done in the least amount of time. It stays on track and focused, and is a good use of everyone’s time.
  3. It’s inclusive: An inclusive meeting is one where everyone can actively participate and add value. Instead of conversation being dominated by just a few people, it’s spread across the whole group.

From ineffective to ultra-productive

The power of meeting purpose

23 hours — that’s the amount of time senior managers spend in meetings each week, according to research from MIT. Non-managers clock in around six hours a week (which the study cites as a conservative estimate.) Another study reports workers spend 21% of their work hours in meetings. Any way you look at it — it’s a lot of time. Especially if it’s not being used effectively.

“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

Folks often feel like their time is wasted when meetings don’t have a clear purpose. Purpose is what you're trying to achieve during the meeting. It helps folks connect time together 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.

Exercise: Purpose audit

Evaluate each meeting on your team’s calendar by asking yourself the following:

  • What’s its intended purpose? (Ex: create stronger team bonds, foster trust, social connection, communicate updates, set a plan for the week)
  • Are there other meetings with the same purpose? Are there ways to achieve this purpose that don’t require a meeting at all?
  • Are people attending it?
  • Is it providing value to everyone in the room or just a few individuals?

If you can’t identify a purpose, you may want to re-think whether you need a meeting in the first place.

Connect what happens in meetings to what’s going on outside of them

Meetings shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Connecting what you discuss during meetings to work happening outside of them reinforces the value of time spent together and reminds folks that collaboration drives daily work forward. Effective teams use what’s going on with individuals and projects outside of the meeting to shape more meaningful discussions when they come together to meet too.

Here’s an example of how you might tie a weekly team meeting back to the work your team is doing on a daily, weekly, and even quarterly basis.

Weekly team meeting agenda

  • Goal check-in: Kick things off with a quick update on how the team is tracking toward quarterly goals and OKRs. This helps build accountability and keep goals top of mind at all times, not just during quarterly planning.
  • Big topics: Carve out dedicated meeting time to discuss blockers or common themes bubbling up in 1:1s, on Slack, or in daily check-ins.
  • Celebrate wins: Use the end of the meeting for recognition and gratitude — saying thanks to teammates for things that happened during the week.

A purpose-driven agenda

Your meeting’s purpose can (and should) inform what’s on the agenda. When the agenda is purpose-driven, it keeps the meeting on track and ensures productive and effective use of everyone’s time.

Case study: At One Medical, purpose drives meeting structure

At One Medical, project teams hold ‘What’s happening’ meetings to gain alignment. They use the purpose of the meeting (sharing context and building accountability) to structure their agenda — something CTO Kimber Lockhart says makes their time together most effective.


Meeting: ‘What’s Happening’ meeting

Purpose: Help everyone on a particular project understand the full context of the work and build accountability.

Agenda:

1. Build accountability: One Medical kicks off each What’s Happening meeting with a review of the team’s goals and metrics. According to CTO Kimber Lockhart, this “keeps everyone in the meeting up to date on how the team is actually doing against their OKRs, and it also creates a structure that forces regular updating of those OKRs.”

They structure this section very intentionally — doing a quick review of a team’s metrics and goals, and then moving directly into project updates from that team. That way discussion is focused on the work that supports those metrics and goals and ties back into the bigger picture.

2. Share project context: Since the What’s Happening meeting’s primary purpose is to share context, they spend the majority of time on dedicated updates about what’s happening on each team. They use a stoplight system to standardize how everyone shares and get everyone on the same page quickly.

  • Green: Things are running smoothly and expected to be delivered on time
  • Yellow: Suggests caution and risk, signaling that an area may need extra attention
  • Red: A project is well behind its OKRs and is in dire need of support

Each team shares the context behind their rating, including whether they need additional resources or what’s caused the shift in status.

This section is also a time for leaders to share context from other parts of the business. It’s not company-wide updates — One Medical has a separate meeting for that, but rather, specific learnings or knowledge that would be useful to the team. Leaders also share constructive feedback or “nudges back in a different direction.” By doing this in a team meeting, other teams see and hear this context too, empowering them to make connections and provide support as needed.

Put it in writing

Kimber says once you have a purpose-driven structure in place for your meeting, it’s just as important to write it all down. This helps hold the team accountable to the structure, and it also helps explain things to current and future team members.

“Documenting the meeting goals and structure is simple, but we didn't do it for a long time. Without this documentation, new hires often didn’t understand what they could expect and what purpose each meeting filled. We made a lot of progress by writing it down.” — Kimber Lockhart, CTO, One Medical

Strategies to steer inefficient meetings back on track

In a perfect world, meetings run on-time, never stray from topic, and tee up teams to get more done. In the real world though, that’s not always the case.

Inefficient meetings drain our energy, waste valuable work hours, and ultimately decrease employee engagement and output. The average employee attends 62 meetings each month and says over half of those are a complete waste of time.

How to tell if your meetings are inefficient? The following signals might point to problems with meeting efficiency:

  • People seem bored or checked out
  • Only a few folks are participating in the discussion
  • There’s no agenda
  • Things feel rushed — you rarely get through everything on the agenda and often have to punt important topics to the following week
  • You’re frequently derailed by side conversations, relevant to only a handful of folks
  • You frequently run over time

Not only are inefficient meetings draining, they can also take a major toll on your team’s engagement, productivity, and overall well-being. Left unaddressed, they can lead to much bigger problems: exacerbating employee burnout, decreasing output, slowing progress on goals, and lowering overall team effectiveness.

The power of a simple meeting agenda

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%.

Encourage folks on your team to create an agenda for every meeting. If you’re invited to one with no agenda, ask the organizer to create one and share it. Empower your team to decline meetings without agendas.

Tip: Use templates to make agenda-setting a no-brainer. No time to create an agenda? Not a problem. We put together template agendas for many common meetings — sprint planning, weekly 1:1s, scrum meetings, post-mortems, and more — to help get you started.

Great meetings start with great facilitation

Meetings don’t run themselves — or at least they shouldn’t. Without a meeting facilitator, meetings are more likely to get off track, run long, and lose sight of their intended purpose.

If you’ve ever used any of these phrases to describe a meeting, chances are it could have benefited from having a facilitator.

“We talk about this every week”
“This isn’t going anywhere”
“I wish more people would speak up”
“What are we talking about again?”
“My topic always gets punted to next week”
“This could have been an email”

The role of a meeting facilitator

A meeting facilitator is a designated person in the room assigned to keep things on track and spark more productive discussion during meetings. Having a facilitator can help fuel greater teamwork during meetings by using tools to foster trust, collaboration, and engagement.

Tip: 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.

A meeting facilitator is different from a meeting sponsor or team leader. They help the group reach a decision point, but do not make any decisions for them. Ideally, the facilitator role should be held by someone who’s seen as a neutral party to help balance power dynamics. For instance, if you’re meeting to brainstorm new ideas for a big launch project, the project lead should be in the room but wouldn’t be the best person to facilitate the discussion because they already have a high stake in the outcome. They might also have biases or preconceived notions about what the outcome should be already.

Exercise: Choose your meeting facilitator

You’ll want to pick a teammate who can comfortably guide conversation and effectively keep things on track. It’s important for the facilitator to understand that they’re primarily playing a supportive role — asking questions to engage the whole group and sussing out concerns, without influencing what’s actually being said.

Here are a few traits to look for in a meeting facilitator:

  • Asks good questions and can engage the whole group
  • Active listener
  • Can manage conflict if it comes up
  • Solid time management
  • Neutral party — someone who doesn’t have too much skin in the game on whatever’s being discussed

Facilitation is a skill, so having some training or guidelines in place for this meeting role can be useful too.

Check out our meeting facilitation cheat sheet

Meeting topics: Are you wasting time on the wrong ones?

Status updates and project context aren’t meant for meetings. In fact, when it comes to meeting topics, people say status reports are their number one pet peeve. (We don’t blame them. Meeting time is too valuable to be wasted on updates that could be handled asynchronously.)

If you’re spending time on topics that could be covered offline, you’re cutting into valuable discussion, decision-making, and collaboration time… and probably getting on everyone’s nerves. Let’s look at some strategies to help change that.

More collab time, less “who’s working on what”

You’ve got the whole team together for a reason – so why not use it? Meeting time should harness your collective time and brainpower to accomplish things that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Think: collaborative problem-solving, group discussions to inform the direction of a big project, or connecting and bonding as a group.

“But how will we know what everyone’s working on?” For starters, moving some of your agenda topics to an asynchronous format (written updates) can help.

5 reasons async status updates make meetings better

Moving status updates out of your meetings (and into an async format) can have a powerful, positive impact on your team’s effectiveness and well-being. Teams who try it report a number of other benefits too:

  1. They promote transparency: When status updates are written down, it’s much easier to find and reference information later on. So you’ll always know “who’s working on what” and have clear visibility into how projects are moving forward without having to hound folks for details.
  2. They fuel productive discussions: Async updates set the stage for meaningful conversation by providing important context and alignment beforehand. Meeting time can then be used to tackle blockers and move work forward — rather than simply sharing round-robin updates that may or may not be relevant.
  3. They’re more inclusive: Not everyone on your team may be comfortable speaking up in meetings. Async status updates give everyone an equal voice and allow individuals a way to prepare before coming together.
  4. They give back valuable team time: When you remove status updates from the meeting, you free up time to collaborate, bond, and connect as a group. You might also choose to meet less often or for shorter stints — freeing of valuable work time.
“As a leader, what I love is that it doesn’t make the meeting less effective. In fact, it makes it more effective. I think I had mistaken the length or intensity of a meeting with the effectiveness of the meeting,” — Harper Reed, Modest Inc.

Exercise: An async sharing experiment

Pick a recurring meeting on your team’s calendar for next week and try sharing async updates beforehand with the following templates. Your updates might take the place of the meeting altogether (like for a daily standup) or serve as a pre-read to enhance meeting time when you come together (like for a team meeting).

Meeting: Daily standup

Purpose: A quick daily pulse check.

Prompts:

  • Plan: What are you working on today? Share your top 1-3 priorities
  • Progress: How have you moved work forward since we last checked in?
  • Blocked: What are you blocked on?
  • Mood: How are you feeling today?

Meeting: Status update

Purpose: Sync up on a certain project or initiative.

Prompts:

  • Status check: What’s the status of this project? How have you moved it forward since your last check-in?
  • Blocked: Is there anything you’re blocked on?
  • FYI: Is there anything the team needs to be aware of?

Meeting: Team meeting

Purpose: Align beforehand with a pre-read to fuel a shorter, more engaging discussion in person.

Pre-read prompts:

  • Weekly focus: What’s your primary focus this week?
  • FYI: Is there anything the team needs to be aware of?
  • Team-building: Rotate in a different team-building question each week to get to know each other and spark discussion
  • Celebrate: What’s something or someone to celebrate this week?

Meeting: Sprint retro

Purpose: Prep ideas before you meet for a shorter, more productive retro

Prep prompts:

  • Working: What went well during this sprint or project?
  • Work on: What could have gone better?
  • Learning: What’s your biggest takeaway from this cycle?
  • Gratitude: Say thanks to someone who helped you out or went above and beyond

Meeting: 1:1

Purpose: Make 1:1 facetime more about personal growth and development

Prep prompts:

  • Mood: How are you doing this week?
  • Accomplishment: What are you most proud of this week?
  • Learning: What did you learn this week?
  • Blocked: Is there anything you’re blocked on?

What’s the deal with pre-reads?

When making decisions, brainstorming solutions, or collaborating on a project, it’s important that everyone has the full context – but you shouldn’t be wasting valuable meeting minutes on it. “Just a few slides” later, and suddenly you’re halfway through the meeting with little to show.

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.

Pre-reads are 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.

4 reasons to use a meeting pre-read

Sure, nobody likes homework. But ensuring everyone prepares before the meeting can actually save the team time and maximize the minutes you’re spending together.

  1. Faster decision-making: Async pre-reads get everyone on the same page so it’s easier to make decisions when you come together, without having to muddle through 30 minutes of context and background info.
  2. A more level playing field: When everyone’s on the same page before the meeting starts, discussion can be more inclusive. Folks are more likely to speak up and participate when they know they have the same amount of information as everyone else in the room.
  3. Greater participation: Some people take more time to react to new information than others. Providing an async pre-read gives folks time to process discussion topics beforehand so they’re prepared to discuss in-person.  They’re also more likely to actively engage in the conversation and contribute ideas when they’ve had some time to actually think about them.
  4. More impactful outcomes: With async pre-reads, you’ll actually make progress instead of just discussing the same things every time. You’ll leave meetings feeling a greater sense of accomplishment because you’ll have time for meaty discussion topics, collaboration, and decision-making.

Pre-reads can be used for all types of meetings. (Our team has found them especially useful for recurring meetings — like our weekly team meeting or sprint review meeting — because they help get the “who’s working on what” portion out of the way so we can focus on bigger discussion topics and collaboration.) Some teams do the pre-read before the meeting. Others prefer to do it during the first few minutes of the meeting (like Amazon) to ensure everyone’s taken the time to do their homework and no one’s “faking it”.

From blasé to bought-in

How meeting accountability helps you get more done

Think back on some of the best meetings you’ve been a part of. You likely felt bought into the discussion, responsible for the outcome, and energized by the fact that your opinion and actions made a difference in driving it forward. This is called meeting accountability.

Meeting accountability means everyone in the room is responsible for the meeting and its outcomes. It means the meeting is driven by every attendee — each with an equal role in actively participating and stepping up to take on tasks that help the group get work done.

Meeting accountability is important because it improves engagement, ensures everyone gets value out of time together, and helps maximize the effectiveness of your time together. A meeting where everyone is engaged and driving towards the outcome will ultimately deliver better results in less time.

Action items and meeting accountability

One powerful way to build meeting accountability is through action items — which require team members to take ownership of a task and hold themselves accountable by reporting on it the following week.

Done right, action items offer a number of other valuable benefits too, such as:

  • Giving every meeting a clear purpose
  • Setting clear expectations and priorities that help the team align
  • Empowering the team to be highly effective (when the folks have a set of clear tasks and outcomes to reference it’s easier to get work done)
  • Helping with daily and weekly planning, and are a great artifact to inform things like performance discussions, quarterly planning, and more
  • Spreading out responsibility across all meeting attendees, so folks feels a greater sense of individual purpose too (“My work matters in driving this project forward”)
  • Building a sense of teamwork, as the group works together to tackle projects collaboratively

Action items should be documented as soon as they come up during a meeting — with details on what the action is (be specific about what “done” looks like) and who it’s assigned to. If you use an app for daily planning or task management, make it as easy as possible to add action items directly to that tool.

There should also be a clear path for following up on them. For regular meetings, like a weekly team meeting and staff meeting, we recommend adding a recurring agenda topic at the beginning of each meeting to check in on last week’s actions.

Find more tips and a template in this blog post

A note on note-taking

Taking notes during a meeting isn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but chances are, even if it’s something your team already does today, there’s room for improvement.

Too often, meeting notes lose some of their value because teams don’t build a consistent practice around them. It’s important to stay consistent in:

  • When you share (ex: Immediately after the meeting)
  • What level of detail you provide (hint: Be specific!)
  • Where you share (ex: To the Eng team email alias)

Sharing consistently helps build a habit around meeting notes — both for the note-taker and for those following along. If your team uses Slack religiously, share your meeting notes in Slack. If email’s more your thing, share with your team alias there.

Keeping it all in one place means it’ll be easier for stakeholders to find and access info whenever they need it. This will help you avoid having the same meetings or conversations over and over, as you’ll always have a source of truth to clue folks in on past conversations.

Exercise: Streamline notetaking with this template

TEMPLATE

Meeting title

  • Date
  • Facilitator/notetaker
  • Attendees

Action items

  • Owner + action

Topics and notes

Topic 1

  • Topic owner
  • Description
  • Links
  • Discussion summary

Topic 2

  • Topic owner
  • Description
  • Links
  • Discussion summary

Topic 3

  • Topic owner
  • Description
  • Links
  • Discussion summary

EXAMPLE

Eng weekly meeting

  • 8/13/2021
  • Facilitator: Paige
  • Notes: Trey
  • Attendees: Jon, Gordon, Esther, Harry, Luce, Lil

Action items

  • Jon: Read through product spec for #ProjectMercury and add feedback by 8/18
  • Esther: Schedule follow-up meeting with localization to align on #Project Mercury launch

Topics and notes

Review bug tracker

  • Lil
  • Identify P3 bugs to investigate and resolve
  • Link to open P3 issues in GitHub
  • Prioritized and assigned open P3 issues that can be resolved this cycle

#ProjectMercury launch

  • Esther
  • Align on launch timeline for next month
  • Link to #ProjectMercury spec
  • Discussed dependencies across marketing, localization, and infra team
  • Flagged issue with localization

Giving everyone an equal voice

Teams today look a lot different than they did 10, five, or even two years ago. The following sections will explore strategies to help you design better meetings for everyone on your team — no matter how or where they work.

How to design more inclusive meetings

Diverse perspectives are essential to every meeting and it’s crucial to ensure everyone feels included and heard. Unfortunately, only 35% of people say they feel able to contribute in a meeting when they want to, according to a study cited in the Harvard Business Review.

Poorly run meetings can contribute to folks feeling more excluded. Without proper facilitation, it’s all too easy for conversation to get dominated by certain individuals or groups. Without an agenda, folks who like time to prepare for discussion don’t get the chance to and might not feel as comfortable speaking up.

On a remote or hybrid team, this problem can be exacerbated even further — the loudest voice on Zoom gets all the screen time or teammates at HQ dominate the conversation without considering teammates who are not.

Prioritizing meeting inclusion means focusing on diverse perspectives and making sure everyone in the room (or on the Zoom meeting) feels welcome, heard, and valued.

Meeting inclusion checklist

  • Attendees: Review your list of attendees. Are you missing people who represent diverse or dissenting points of view? Is every team who’ll be impacted by the meeting represented? Have you included new teammates?
  • Agenda: Send out an agenda ahead of time so folks can prepare. Some people like to come up with ideas on the spot, others take more time to process new information and then weigh in. Leave space for both.
  • Environment: If possible, set up the room in a way that gives everyone equal space and proximity to the discussion. Greet each meeting participant warmly, by name, so everyone feels welcome. If the meeting is happening over video, make sure everyone’s comfortable using the tech.
  • Ground rules: State ground rules and structure of the meeting upfront and make sure they explicitly foster inclusion. Some good examples include: no talking over each other, passing around a totem to speak, and using a message board for remote or hybrid meetings (be sure it’s actively monitored during the meeting).
  • Facilitation: Keep track of who’s talking and ensure everyone is heard. Encourage folks to participate in a way that’s inviting, instead of blatantly calling them out. Exhibit zero tolerance for interruptions. Prevent anyone from dominating or derailing the discussion.
  • Feedback: Use the last few minutes of each meeting for a quick round of feedback on the meeting. Give other avenues for feedback too (email, Slack, 1:1) so that everyone feels comfortable weighing in.
  • Notes: Share notes after the meeting’s over to make sure information is distributed equally — even if folks weren’t able to attend the meeting.
“For quieter folks who tend not to speak unless prompted, the larger the meeting, the higher the perceived barrier of bringing your topic to the table. We use dynamic agenda-setting – which means the facilitator goes around and everyone gets a chance to add a topic to the agenda if they have something (no pressure if they don’t).” — Harper Reed, Founder of Modest Inc & former CTO of the Obama 2012 Campaign

How to design meetings for remote and hybrid teams

Meetings look a lot differently these days. They happen virtually, across time zones, and often from the comfort of our own homes. 74% of professionals say they expect remote work to be the new standard, which comes with its benefits (hello sweatpants!) and its challenges.

When you don’t have serendipitous snack kitchen chats and can’t swivel in your chair to diffuse tension with a teammate, being intentional with how you meet and share information becomes all the more important.

Case study: Adobe’s formula for more impactful global meetings

Teamwork across time zones and continents

Across the US and India, Kristen Toole and the Adobe Content Experiences & Innovation team rely on meetings to stay connected and aligned. Kristen, who manages the team, is based in San Jose, California. The rest of the team, made up of designers and a content strategist, is based in the company’s Bangalore and Noida, India offices.

They use asynchronous check-ins as a way to eliminate daily standups, which are difficult to coordinate across time zones. They supplement them with video meetings — which happen less frequently — as a space to bond and collaborate.

How it works

Cadence and format

  • Written updates: Daily
  • Meeting: Weekly

Written updates

  • Daily status updates that keep everyone aligned, informed, and accountable
  • Help individuals plan for their day and report on their work
  • Help individuals spot areas for collaboration
  • Give visibility into how everyone is doing so the manager can better support their team

Meeting

  • A space to come together as a team once per week
  • Bond with a team-building question
  • Work through blockers, action items, and other flags from that week’s Check-ins

4 hacks to make remote and hybrid meetings better

1. Try a speedy opening round: Working on a remote or hybrid team can take a toll on the sense of team belonging and, in turn, performance. Building small “get to know each other” moments into your meetings can help solve for this. Try starting each meeting with a round-robin team-building question. You can alternate between personal topics (What’s your favorite thing to cook? Where do you want to travel next?) and work-related ones (How do you like to receive feedback?) to get to know each other at and outside of work. Bonus: When someone speaks at the beginning of a meeting, they are more likely to engage throughout.

2. Use expert facilitation tactics: Managing a virtual or hybrid discussion can be even more difficult than an in-person one. All the more reason to have a facilitator in the room (or Zoom). To facilitate a great virtual discussion, make sure to test the audio and video beforehand, and familiarize yourself with whatever technology you’re using so you can help troubleshoot questions quickly if they come up. During the meeting, present your screen to the group so everyone can follow along with the discussion. If your group is hybrid (some in-person, some over video), make sure to call on video participants to speak just as much as in-person ones, and keep an eye on the screen to check in on body language and any cues from your virtual audience just as much as you would the in-person group. If the conversation gets derailed, use this cheat sheet to get back on track.

3. Always end with feedback: Before you close Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, take a moment to assess how things went in terms of process and if there's something everyone would like to do differently in the next session. Iteration is an important part of the process.

4. Invest in the right tools: Tools make collaborating across spaces and timezones easier (and more fun). In addition to whatever you choose for your video platform (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.) here are some tools that can help you run remote or hybrid meetings smoothly.

  • Range: Create a dynamic agenda, follow along and take notes as you go, assign action items, and automatically share it all out afterward. Use Zoom? You can do all this and more directly from your Zoom screen.
  • Mural: For whiteboarding together, even if you’re apart
  • Figma: For collaborating on designs in real-time

Tackle meeting overload once and for all

Back-to-back (to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back…) meetings. They’re both a mentally draining and costly problem. Take a daily standup meeting as an example. A 30-minute standup for a group of 12 takes away 120 hours of focus time from your team each month. Plus, meeting overload can be draining and take a toll on people’s ability to focus — so even after the meeting wraps up, it might be harder for the team to dive back into their work at full speed. (And if you’re meeting over Zoom, you’ve got Zoom fatigue to deal with too.)

“It could have been an email”

If you’ve felt like you’re drowning in meetings, you’re probably not the only one at your org who thinks so. Too many meetings is a team problem that is best remedied with team-level solutions.

But what exactly does that mean?

When teams try to solve the “too many meetings” problems, they try to solve it with tips like — “stick to the agenda” and “institute no-meeting Wednesday.” While these are solid actions folks can take to make meetings more effective or reduce the number of meetings temporarily, they won’t have the same impact on reducing meetings as foundational changes at the team level will.

The trick to getting meetings under control is to stop fighting them head-on. Instead, consider excess meetings a symptom that points to underlying problems in your organizational structure and culture.

4 root causes of meeting overload (and how to solve them)

1. Roles and responsibilities are unclear

A big reason people bring up topics in meetings is to ask for input, feedback, and approval. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle. But we’ve all been in meetings that feel like a waste of time because everyone is weighing in on some small detail. You might wonder, “Why are we even talking about this?”

Teams waste time talking about unimportant topics because they haven’t agreed on how decisions get made.

How to solve it:

Assign a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) for each project. Make it clear that the DRI is responsible for making decisions on the project, and that they can use good judgement to involve other people in decisions as necessary.

To clarify responsibilities even further, try a responsibility framework like RACI for each project. These more detailed frameworks help reduce meeting load by clarifying who needs to be consulted for major decisions, and who just wants to be informed of the outcomes.

2. People don’t know what’s happening

Oftentimes, teams over-rely on meetings because they don't have good alternatives for communicating updates, staying in sync, and getting work done. When teams and individuals don’t know what each other are up to, meetings get added to the calendar to sort it all out.

Status meetings are a big red flag. When you have a lot of status meetings, it’s probably because there’s no other way to figure out what’s happening.

How to solve it:

Set up a regular cadence of written communication to replace or shorten existing meetings. On small teams, you can have individuals write a daily update, much like a standup meeting. When you grow to several teams, each team can send out a weekly newsletter. And at a larger scale, leaders can send an update to the whole company. These levels of communication cadence will lay a groundwork of context that helps to reduce your overall meeting load.

Shifting as much of your communication as possible to an asynchronous format can cut down the number (or length) of meetings on your calendar each week, which can have a real and lasting impact on your team’s effectiveness, happiness, and well-being.

3. You’re doing too much at once

Every project has communication overhead. When your company tackles too many projects at the same time, the coordination overhead grows, and it can start to take all your time just staying in sync.

If you’re spending more time talking about work than actually doing work, you’re probably juggling too much.

How to solve it:

If your company is juggling too many projects, call out the inefficiency, decide how many projects you can handle at the same time, then make some tough calls prioritizing what projects get done first, and what projects will have to wait. When you limit work in progress, you’ll lower your meeting load.

4. People don’t trust each other

Having a problem with trust doesn’t mean you’ve got a Jerry Springer situation where people are screaming and throwing chairs. It’s usually much more subtle. Imagine a sort of cold war situation, where everyone is cordial, but secretly gathering information about each other and playing the angles.

When people don’t trust each other, they tend to hoard information instead of sharing it openly. You get more misunderstandings, and more meetings to untangle those misunderstandings. When project teams don’t trust each other to follow through with commitments, you get more meetings to make sure everything is still on track. And when managers don’t trust their team to do quality work, you get more meetings to micromanage.

If you’re discussing the same things over and over again, and people don’t follow through with commitments, then you’re likely suffering from a lack of trust.

How to solve it:

Look for ways to build trust on your team and throughout the company. To get started, you might add an opening round to the start of your team meetings. It’ll help everyone understand each other better, see each other as full human beings, and over time, it can build a foundation of trust and psychological safety.

“[Team questions] are everyone’s favorite part of the meeting, and that’s why we give them time. Other people might do that for a few months and then say, ‘OK, we’re a team now, we’ll skip that and be all business.’ We said no, this is crucial to who we are as a team.” — Kristen Toole, Adobe

Still stuck?

Quick fixes for the most common meeting problems

For whatever ails you, troubleshoot some of the most frequently heard meeting pain points with these quick remedies.

Problem: "Nobody's paying attention"

  • Quick fix: Give people a reason to be there. (No, we don’t mean donuts, but it doesn’t hurt!) 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?) 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.

Problem: “We always run over time”

  • Quick fix: Add an agenda to the meeting in advance so everyone knows exactly what will be covered and how to stay on track. Each agenda topic should have an allotted amount of time — and stick to it! If you 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.

Problem: “Only one or two people are speaking”

  • Quick fix: Try collecting discussion topics from the whole team to create a dynamic agenda — 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.

Problem: “Everyone’s talking over each other”

  • Quick fix: To avoid the awkward “you go” “no you go!” try using a spinner tool to smooth out discussion. The spinner randomly determines who speaks next to avoid interruptions and get more people talking throughout the session.

Problem: “Things are getting derailed”

  • Quick fix: Whenever possible, assign a meeting facilitator 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, politely remind them of the meeting’s purpose and steer the conversation back on track.

Problem: “It’s impossible to take notes and follow-along”

  • Quick fix: If your group is large enough — make sure your facilitator and note-taker are two different people. It can be nearly impossible to do both jobs well at the same time.

    You can also use a meeting facilitation tool to follow along with the meeting and take notes in-line, without having to open a separate Google doc.

Problem: “Action items aren’t being acted on”

  • Quick fix: Assign them during the meeting as soon as they come up — don’t wait until afterward when you’ll inevitably forget some details or context.

    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 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.

Problem: “We’re always covering the same topics week after week”

  • 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. To fix this, build in a standard process and follow-up around action items and be sure to share out notes religiously after every meeting. If people have questions on what was discussed, point them to the notes.

Final thoughts

Just like problems with meetings tend to slowly creep in over time, redesigning your team’s meetings, especially if they’re deeply ingrained, doesn’t happen overnight.

Challenges with meetings can drain energy and productivity from your team if left unchecked. Ineffective, inefficient, and poorly focused meetings slow you down. A lack of meeting accountability means you’ll get less done. And when meetings become non-inclusive or way-too-prolific, they’ll zap the life and engagement out of everyone on the team.

Reinvesting time to adapt what you’re doing today can breathe new life into old meetings — it’s well worth the investment. You’ll see greater productivity, engagement, and teamwork. Your team will feel energized and excited to come together. And ultimately, you’ll get more done.

Having an initiative mindset when it comes to meetings is the key.

You don’t have to tackle it all at once. Take what you’ve learned here and try applying it to one or two meetings on your calendar. You might start by focusing on one major problem area, use strategies from this guide to troubleshoot it, and go from there with the momentum you’ve built. Even small changes, over time, can make an incredible difference.

Solving challenges with your team’s meetings will never be a “one and done” fix because it’s an inherently iterative process. Meeting should be malleable — see an opportunity, try something new, observe the outcomes, and iterate. By allowing yourself to be open to making adjustments whenever you learn something new, you’ll get more value out of your time together and provide the most supportive forums for your team possible.

The Meeting Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to Running Effective Meetings
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