Unlocking Productivity: Transforming Meetings into Powerful Drivers

I have seen first-hand the notorious productivity drain that meetings can cause in various types and sizes of companies. Countless hours can be spent in meetings without a clear objective, leading to frustration and wasted time. 

In fact, when I need to get something done, another meeting is exactly what I do not need.

However, not all meetings are created equal. Trial and error showed me a few key elements that can turn meetings from resource drains into productivity drivers. 

In this article, I share my strategies for organizing and running effective meetings with your teams. I’ll cover the essential components of a successful meeting. I’ll also provide tips to ensure you don’t waste another minute in a worthless meeting. 

Meetings are an integral part of our daily work schedules. They enable communication and collaboration between teams. However, the negative effects of unproductive meetings cannot be ignored. On the other hand, completely giving up on meetings is not a realistic solution.

The impact of unproductive meetings on a business can be significant, yet many people fail to realize how much they can cost. Consider this scenario: a 60-minute meeting with 10 attendees, no clear agenda, and no action items collected during the meeting. At the end of the meeting, the company effectively paid for 60 hours of wasted time.

But it doesn’t have to be black or white. Instead of abandoning meetings altogether, finding ways to make the most of that time is important. This way, they can be a valuable tool. I want to share with you my checklist for really productive meetings. There is no meeting that happens on my watch without all these questions answered:

  • Is the meeting really necessary? 
  • Does the meeting have objectives and expected outcomes?
  • Does the meeting have a clear agenda documented in writing?
  • Are essential participants and only essential participants attending?
  • Does the meeting have an exact start and end time?
  • Is the meeting engaging? Will attendees be asked to participate?
  • Is there a system (person or tools) in place for note-taking and assigning action items?
  • Will a follow-up email be sent to participants with the next steps?

Let’s go deeper into the importance of each of these questions.

Is the meeting really necessary? 

As a meeting organizer, this is the first and most important question that comes to mind whenever I see another meeting on the calendar.  Evaluating whether a meeting is the most effective way to achieve the desired outcome is crucial. 

Here are some criteria that I consider before deciding to schedule a meeting or go for asynchronous communication:

  1. Complexity of the topic. Consider having a meeting if the topic is complex and needs input from multiple team members.
  2. Urgency of the matter. Hold a meeting if the urgent matter requires immediate attention, but only if all necessary team members can attend.
  3. Need for real-time interaction. If there’s a need for real-time interaction, like brainstorming or problem-solving, a meeting may be best.
  4. Demos. Meetings are ideal for demos that require a live presentation but consider sending a recorded video instead.
  5. Achieving consensus or alignment. Hold a meeting if the goal is to achieve consensus or alignment on a particular issue, especially if there is a strict process for presenting facts. 
  6. Number of participants. If none of the above criteria are met, and the number of participants is high, use asynchronous communication to keep resource spend to a minimum. 

Consider these criteria before scheduling a meeting! This is how you can ensure that you use the most effective communication method for the situation. It saves time and resources and promotes a more productive and engaged team.

Meeting objectives and expected outcomes 

Meetings that lack a clear objective and expected outcomes are more likely to be unproductive and a waste of time. That’s why I never accept meetings without first understanding these things.

Establishing clear objectives is critical to the success of a meeting. Here are a few tips to help you with that:

  1. Determine what you want to accomplish. Before scheduling a meeting, it is essential to identify what you want to accomplish and what you hope to achieve by the end of the meeting. This helps keep the meeting focused and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  2. Communicate the objectives. Once you have established clear objectives, communicate them to the participants. This helps ensure that everyone knows what the meeting is about and what they must prepare for.
  3. Keep the meeting on track. The conversation may veer off course. If so, you can quickly refocus the discussion by reminding everyone of the meeting’s objectives and expected outcome.
  4. Encourage engagement. When participants know what they’re working towards, they can remain engaged and contribute to the meeting’s success. This makes the meeting more productive and efficient.

This is how you can turn a potentially unproductive meeting into a valuable use of time. Not only will it help to keep the conversation on track, but it will also allow everyone to contribute towards a common goal. 

So next time you plan a meeting, take a few extra minutes to establish clear objectives and expected outcomes. Your team will thank you for it, and you’ll be surprised at how much more productive your meetings become.

Have a clear agenda

To me, having no meeting agenda is a good enough reason to cancel or reschedule a meeting.

Having a clear agenda for meetings is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the meeting is productive and efficient. A well-prepared agenda can help everyone stay on track and ensure the meeting focuses on the key issues. 

Here are some of the benefits of having an agenda for all meetings:

  1. Provide structure to the meeting. A clear agenda provides structure to the meeting, ensures everyone stays on track and focuses on key issues. The last thing you want is for the meeting to be hijacked by random topics.
  2. Allow participants to prepare. An agenda also allows participants to prepare for the meeting, so they can arrive with relevant topics, ideas, and questions. This is especially important when the meeting is meant to review documents and other materials.
  3. Save time. An agenda saves time by keeping the discussion focused on predefined topics. When you get to the bottom of the agenda, the meeting ends. In my experience, meetings end earlier when they follow an agenda.
  4. Assign action items. The point of the meetings is to move things forward, which can only happen through action. An agenda can also be used to assign action items and follow up on unresolved issues.

Having a clear agenda benefits the participants and the meeting organizer. It helps to ensure that the meeting achieves its intended purpose. Also, everyone leaves the meeting with a clear understanding of what was discussed and what needs to be done next. 

Invite only essential participants

I cannot emphasize this enough! Invite only those participants who are directly involved or can contribute to the topic being discussed.

One of the biggest mistakes in organizing a meeting is inviting too many people. To avoid this, it is important to clearly understand who is essential for the meeting and who isn’t. 

Here are some reasons why you should only invite essential participants:

  1. Keeps the meeting focused. Inviting too many people can lead to off-topic discussions and derail the meeting. 
  2. Saves time and resources. With fewer participants, meetings tend to be shorter, saving everyone’s time. 
  3. Increases productivity. Inviting only essential people makes making progress and moving forward with the meeting’s goals easier.
  4. Reduces meeting costs. Unnecessary participants can be an added cost to the business. This is especially true for meetings that require participants to travel. 

I know there are participants you consider “nice to have” because they could listen in or use information from your meeting. Do not invite them! 

They will thank you if you do this instead:

  • Record the call and use a tool to transcribe and summarize meeting notes.
  • Share the notes with those participants who are “nice to have” – again, if this brings any value.
  • Share the recording with relevant team members in case you missed inviting them. Ask them to listen at 1.5x speed – this will reduce their time on this task.

This way, you increase the chances that the meeting is more likely to be productive, generate meaningful outcomes, and ultimately move the project forward. Remember, the goal is not to have as many people in the meeting as possible but rather to have the right people.

I apply all these in my work, and the feedback is excellent! The teams deliver on time, more time and resources are left for advancing goals, and the costs per project are lower.

Start on time and end on time

Starting and ending meetings on time may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often this doesn’t happen. 

I believe respecting each other’s time is crucial for successful collaborations. That’s why I consider lateness or extended meetings a lack of respect toward others. 

It’s important to remember that a meeting that runs longer than planned can significantly impact someone’s day. It can cause them to reschedule or cancel other essential appointments. This disruption can have negative consequences for business and should be avoided whenever possible.

Here are some tips that work best for me. By following them you can make sure your meetings start and end on time:

  1. Set clear start and end times for the meeting,  and communicate these to all participants. Take into account any time zone differences if you have remote team members. Keep all meetings on the calendar. 
  2. Show respect for others by arriving on time. Don’t make others wait for you to start the meeting. If you’re running late, let someone know as soon as possible so they can adjust their schedule accordingly. Set reminders 15 minutes before each meeting to have enough time to prepare and show up on time and focused.
  3. Avoid running over time. Plan your agenda in advance and allocate time for each item. Stick to the schedule; if a discussion takes longer than expected, cut it short and move on to the next item.
  4. Use a timer to track how much time is left for each item on the agenda. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you have enough time to cover everything you need to discuss. I like to divide meeting time among the agenda points based on their complexity.
  5. Wrap up the meeting on time, even if you haven’t covered everything on the agenda. Set a date for a follow-up meeting to cover any remaining items.

Following these tips will show your team that you respect their time and value their contributions. You’ll also help ensure that your meetings are more productive. Not to mention that everyone can return to their work without unnecessary delays.

Encourage participation and engagement

I mentioned before that inviting only essential participants is important. They are called essential because their input is needed to reach a resolution, so they must participate in the meeting.

It’s also important to structure the meeting agenda to encourage all attendees’ engagement.

The 5 things I do to make sure everyone is actively participating in a meeting are:

  1. Have a clear agenda. It is important for a meeting to stay on track and to ensure that all essential topics are covered. Ensure the agenda is structured in a way that allows all participants to have a role in addressing some topics and asking or answering questions.
  2. Assign topics to owners. It ensures that everyone knows who is responsible for what. This way, each participant can prepare relevant points beforehand and the discussion is more productive.
  3. Share the agenda beforehand. This allows participants to come prepared and can lead to more productive discussions. This also ensures that everyone knows what topics will be covered and can provide relevant input. I like, whenever possible, to share agendas 24 hours before the meeting.
  4. Time allocation. This is a great way to encourage participation and ensure that everyone has a chance to express their viewpoint. Make it clear from the start how much time each participant has to speak. This reduces frustration if they are interrupted.
  5. Encourage questions. Such a great way to keep the discussion going and ensure that everyone clearly understands the agenda topics. Allocate time for questions and answers and encourage participation. 

This makes my meetings more engaging and productive. Remember, everyone’s input is essential, and a meeting where participation is encouraged will lead to better outcomes.

Take notes and assign actions

Again, when done right, meetings are a valuable tool for moving projects forward and achieving goals.

One key to ensuring meetings are productive is taking structured notes and assigning actions.  

Here are some ways to effectively do this:

  1. Determine the next steps. A meeting aims to move things forward by determining the next steps. By the end of each meeting, there should be a list of actions for each point discussed.
  2. Capture all action items. Make sure that all action items are captured during the meeting. This means writing them down and ensuring they go to the right place in the project management system. Without this step, the discussion did not reach its objective, and any decisions made will be forgotten.
  3. Assign actions to the right owner. The next steps should be turned into action items and assigned to the right owner. Without someone responsible for each action item things fall through the cracks.
  4. Use a project management system. Make sure that all action items are tracked in a project management system. This brings transparency into the projects and responsibilities. 

Here’s a common mistake I see in many businesses! A resolution is often reached, and the next steps are agreed upon during meetings. Still, no one is designated to own them, resulting in 0 progress. This often leads to the same discussion being repeated multiple times before any action is taken.

Assigning actions is the 10% that gets the job over the line. 

Follow up 

So you’ve had a productive meeting where the agenda has been followed, discussions have taken place, and the next steps have been agreed upon! Great! Now it is important to follow through with execution. 

This is where follow up comes in! I consider it to be an optional extra step for excellence in execution.

Here’s what I do for an effective follow up:

  1. Send a Meeting Recap. A meeting recap with notes and action items for all participants is a great way to confirm the discussion. Also, list transparently each attendee’s tasks to move things forward. This also serves as a reminder of what was agreed upon.
  2. Check on Progress. Follow up on the tasks assigned to each attendee before the due date to check on progress. This shows that you are committed to the success of the project and the team. 
  3. Start the Next Meeting with a Progress Report. If another meeting is scheduled on the same topics, always start by presenting the progress on the previously assigned action items. This cultivates accountability and ownership in the team and shows that progress is being made toward the end goal.

Taking the time to follow up after a meeting is a powerful way to ensure that progress is made and everyone is on the same page. It means going the extra mile to ensure that everything runs smoothly. 

Final thoughts on unlocking the productivity of meetings

I am a big fan of async communication. I believe it is the most effective way to move projects forward in a distributed team. Yet, I’ve seen it first hand: effective meeting management and structure can unlock the potential for productivity gains. 

I encourage you to apply the tips outlined in this article. In no time you will turn meetings from a drain on time and resources into a powerful driver of productivity and success for you and your team.

For more business productivity tips join my newsletter

Scroll to Top