03 Aug The Ultimate Guide to Productive Meetings (14 Tips That Work)
Have you been in a meeting that felt never-ending, with people talking over each other and nothing getting decided except for scheduling a follow-up meeting?
We’ve all been there!
It’s common knowledge that certain groups have too many meetings. We get it; scheduling a meeting is easier than considering why you need to hold it.
According to research, meetings are only productive and interesting for about half of the time. Inefficient meetings waste a significant amount of money and time throughout the year.
Here are some fascinating statistics about meetings:
👆 In the US alone, more than 25 million meetings are held every day
👆 Over $37 billion is spent on unproductive meetings
👆 Meetings consume 15% of an organization’s time
👆 Executives consider 67% of meetings to be failures
👆 92% of attendees confessed to multitasking during meetings
This isn’t shocking news to many of us.
A meeting without clear direction, leadership, and structure can significantly increase the cost of meetings, lead to failure, and leave everyone involved unhappy.
But don’t worry! You don’t have to put up with unproductive meetings that make you hate your job. Luckily, there’s a more efficient (and dare we say, fun) way to run them.
Let’s take a look and see how we can make your meetings something to look forward to!
But first, let’s clarify why meetings can be both inefficient and draining.
What Makes Meetings so Ineffective?
If you’ve ever sat through an unproductive meeting, it is likely that you have already researched ways to make your meetings more effective.
The meeting may be improved by making an improved agenda, beginning and ending on time, and considering whether or not the discussion could be summed up in an email.
Although the suggestions may appear helpful, they are not very effective in practice.
Canceling some meetings may have freed up some time, but the remaining ones are still unproductive, regardless of how fancy or interesting your agenda is. This is due to the fact that these suggestions only mask the symptoms of a deeper issue.
The key reason why meetings are so tedious is that they fundamentally go against the way people operate and digest information. If you don’t have a system of tools and procedures in place, your meetings will all look and feel the same.
In a group setting, introverts and junior members may not feel comfortable speaking up, even if they believe they have the best solution. The most extroverted or senior members of the team often dominate the conversation.
When team members are afraid to speak up against the consensus of the group, groupthink sets in. The group loses sight of the original problem as talk wanders off-topic.
Everyone has a somewhat different take on what has to be accomplished. There are no concrete results and tangible outcomes from the meeting, therefore another one is planned.
Meetings like these are not only frustrating, but they also fail to accomplish the fundamental goal of any meeting: bringing everyone onto the same page and establishing concrete next steps for the project.
What Makes a Meeting Really Productive?
At this point, it is evident that simply creating a better agenda or taking notes in a different way will not fix your meetings. You need to tackle the real issues, such as information overload, groupthink, and dealing with office politics.
If you want to increase the productivity of your meetings, consider switching from an unstructured open discussion, with its inherent flaws, to a workshop format. A workshop is a structured meeting that guarantees tangible results and can significantly enhance meeting productivity.
In fact, our mantra at Design Sprints Studio says “Don’t have a meeting; throw a workshop!”
Workshops can be game changers when it comes to collaborative work. They replace unstructured chit-chat with smooth processes that help teams focus on the task at hand. No more groupthink or talking in circles – just structured discussions and uninterrupted ideation.
Workshops are like a Swiss Army knife for teams. They can help you share knowledge, generate ideas, and build relationships with your team. This can lead to better communication and teamwork. Plus, you can customize them to fit your needs and goals, making them super useful for solving problems, making decisions, building your team, or learning new skills.
That’s why big companies like Google and cool startups like Blinkist use workshops to help their teams get things done better and faster.
Not sure if your team is open to workshopping? Or maybe you want to try out workshop techniques before fully committing?
No worries, you can start small by incorporating some of the techniques that make workshops so effective into your next meeting. We promise that it will make a huge difference, increasing effectiveness by up to 10 times.
14 Tips for Running Successful Meetings
1 – Establish guidelines and set a comfortable atmosphere
It is important to set ground rules before the meeting begins to make sure everyone feels safe speaking out and contributing their views without interrupting others or veering too far off subject.
Ensuring that everyone on the team is heard and that everyone has an opportunity to contribute is crucial.
Likewise, Make the space more comfortable for everyone in attendance by opening the blinds or decorating the room, and maybe even serving some refreshments.
Meetings can be more productive and relaxing if the room is properly set up with regard to factors such as temperature, lighting, seating, and even some aesthetics like potted plants.
One of those terrible, poorly illuminated, frigid board rooms is the last place anyone wants to hold a meeting.
2 – Determine the meeting’s objectives and end goal
When you walk into a meeting, do you ever ask yourself, “why am I even here?”
A meeting’s success has a direct connection to its purpose. It serves no purpose if its attendees are not working toward a common goal.
As a leader, it is important to be able to determine when a meeting is necessary to achieve a specific objective, such as planning a project, troubleshooting or setting goals. However, there are also times when just an email, Slack message, or phone call will suffice.
For objectives such as problem-solving, decision making, and customer journey mapping, a workshop is typically a better option. This allows for more interactive collaboration and group discussions, which can lead to more innovative and creative solutions.
It is important to define the objective of a meeting with a simple statement that outlines the desired outcome. This helps to give participants a measurable goal that they can work together to achieve.
By having a clear objective, you can then determine the success of a meeting based on whether the team accomplished the goal, rather than just having a meeting for the sake of it.
3 – Appoint a facilitator to guide the team
Facilitators (or Workshoppers, as we like to call them) ensure that meetings have clear outcomes and next actions, keep participants on track, and prevent discussions from going in circles.
When a facilitator is present, people are able to devote their full attention to the problem at hand, rather than getting stuck in a cycle of repeating the same questions and offering the same solutions.
As a team member, you can offer to lead the next meeting, the launch of a new project, the decision-making process for the long-delayed new feature, or the resolution of a particularly difficult problem.
Anyone, whether shy or outgoing, loud or quiet, can learn to lead productive workshops. As long as you keep the facilitator’s perspective in mind, you should be fine.
This involves adopting the role of the guide instead of the hero and letting your participants shine rather than trying to steal the show with your superior skills, knowledge, and confidence.
4 – Appoint a decider to ensure meetings are productive
In a flat hierarchy, it can be tempting to avoid assigning decision-makers in meetings.
However, this can lead to a lack of accountability, team politics, and conformity. To avoid these problems, it’s important to appoint a Decider for each meeting.
The Decider is the person who will have the final say on all decisions made during the meeting. This person should be someone with a high stake in the outcome of the meeting, such as the product owner, manager, or CEO.
Once you’ve appointed a Decider, be sure to communicate this to the rest of the team at the beginning of the meeting. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the meeting is productive.
5 – Assemble the right team
When putting together a team, it’s important to include people with diverse viewpoints and areas of expertise. However, to have the most productive session, it’s best to avoid inviting anyone who has little connection to the topic at hand.
If there are a lot of people in attendance, it might be difficult to run the meeting smoothly.
Having more individuals in the room means more person-hours will be spent on solving that particular issue. Before inviting everyone you’ve listed, ask yourself if it is necessary. Perhaps some people only need a brief summary of the meeting after it’s over.
It might be tricky to find the perfect number when deciding how many people to invite to a meeting, but a good rule of thumb is to have no more than 7 participants for one facilitator.
6 – Structure your discussions
Unstructured discussions can quickly derail a meeting. To keep your meetings on track, it’s important to structure your discussions. This means dividing your meeting into phases and sequencing the order in which people speak.
On a macro-level, you might start by defining the challenge you’re facing. Once that’s clear, you can move on to brainstorming solutions. Finally, you can discuss the pros and cons of each solution and make a decision.
On a micro-level, you can use a variety of techniques to sequence the order in which people speak. For example, you could use a round-robin format, where each person has a chance to speak before the next person goes. Or, you could use a voting system to determine who speaks next.
Structuring discussions may feel unnatural at first, but it’s a valuable skill that can help you to run more effective meetings. By following these tips, you can keep your meetings on track and ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.
7 – Visualize discussions and decisions made
During a meeting, it is unrealistic to expect people to remember every important detail as human memory is limited. This is why it’s important to establish a consistent method of visualizing the information, themes, and ideas discussed throughout a meeting.
Using a whiteboard, some sticky notes, or a remote collaboration platform is a simple method to accomplish this.
This eliminates any room for confusion or misunderstanding, allows all involved parties to share their information, and saves them from having to keep track of everything in their minds.
8 – Use visuals to explain concepts instead of telling
When you’re explaining a concept to your team, it’s important to use visuals to help them understand. This is because visuals can help to make abstract concepts more concrete and easier to understand.
Here are a few tips for using visuals to explain concepts:
✅ Use sketches or diagrams: This can be a great way to illustrate a concept or process.
✅ Use screenshots or videos: This can be helpful for showing how something works or looks.
✅ Use role-playing: This can be a great way to show how a concept would be applied in real life.
✅ Use metaphors or analogies: This can be a helpful way to explain a concept by comparing it to something that is more familiar.
The key is to use visuals that are clear and easy to understand. You should also make sure that the visuals are relevant to the concept that you are trying to explain.
Here are some additional examples of how to use examples to explain concepts:
➡️ If you’re explaining a new product, you could show a prototype or a video of the product in use.
➡️ If you’re explaining a new policy, you could show a sample policy document or a video of a meeting where the policy was discussed.
➡️ If you’re explaining a new process, you could show a flowchart or a video of the process in action.
By using examples, you can make your explanations more clear, concise, and effective. This will help your team understand the concepts you’re explaining and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
9 – Deal with troublemakers in meetings
As a facilitator, you will inevitably encounter troublemakers in meetings. These are the people who disrupt the flow of the meeting, ask sabotaging questions, or simply don’t pay attention.
Here are a few tips for dealing with troublemakers in meetings:
💡 Set expectations at the beginning of the meeting: This includes stating the meeting’s purpose, ground rules, and expectations for participation. By getting buy-in from the participants before the meeting, you can hold them accountable for their behavior.
💡 Use a “parking lot” for side topics: If a discussion starts to go off-topic, suggest that the group park the topic for later discussion. This will help to keep the meeting on track and prevent the troublemaker from derailing the discussion.
💡 Give troublemakers tasks: If someone is consistently disrupting the meeting, give them a task that will keep them occupied, such as taking notes or drawing a map. This will help them to feel involved and less likely to disrupt the meeting.
💡 Ask probing questions: This can help you to understand the troublemaker’s motivation and to get them to see the impact of their behavior. For example, you could ask, “What’s behind your question?” or “How do you think this will help us achieve our goal?”
💡 Use the “nuclear option”: If all else fails, you may need to ask the troublemaker to leave the meeting. This should be a last resort, but it may be necessary to protect the productivity of the meeting.
It is important to remember that troublemakers are not always trying to sabotage the meeting. Sometimes, they may simply be unaware of their behavior or they may have a legitimate concern.
By using the tips above, you can help to keep troublemakers in check and ensure that your meetings are productive.
10 – Timebox each activity to be carried out
Set a specific amount of time for each activity on the agenda, and make sure to stick to it so that the conversation doesn’t get out of hand. For instance, you can schedule 10-20 minutes for defining the task, and then move on to the next phase when the time is up.
Using the timeboxing approach will force you and your team to think more efficiently and eliminate unnecessary back-and-forth.
The time allotted for each task should feel tight, forcing you to immediately shift into a problem-solving mindset rather than letting you wander in your head.
It may feel like you’re leaving something out or that the team needs more time, but remember that fruitless, repetitive arguments accomplish nothing and drain morale.
11 – Utilize the “Working alone, together” concept
“Working alone, together” refers to a method of collaborative problem-solving in which team members work on the same issue simultaneously without verbally sharing their thoughts but instead writing them down on a sticky note.
Instead of starting the solution-finding process with a free-flowing conversation, have everyone on the team grab a stack of sticky notes, start a timer, and write down their best ideas before talking to each other. When they’re done, post their ideas on a bulletin board or wall without their names attached.
This method of teamwork is excellent for eliminating harmful influences like groupthink and bias from the creative process. It also allows shy people and newer or junior team members to speak up and contribute.
This gives each team member the chance to freely air their thoughts and opinions, without the fear that the others might think of their idea as silly.
12 – End with a decision and a concrete plan of action
Save time at the end of each meeting to plan what comes next. After a meeting, there should be an agreement on what to do next, even if no final decision was made.
And no, the next line of action should not be to set up another meeting to discuss the matter further.
Here are some tried-and-true methods for running productive meetings that will help everyone leave the room with a clear understanding of what they came for:
👉 Delegate tasks or follow-ups to particular team members
👉 Set a due date and outline an exact schedule for each task
👉 Make sure to bring up any side conversations that were put on hold, so that your team can decide if, when, and how to continue them
13 – Use multi-layered voting to make better decisions
Making decisions in a group can be pretty tough. Everyone has their own thoughts and ideas, and it can be hard to reach a consensus.
Multi-layered voting is a great technique to help you make better decisions by making sure everyone’s perspective is heard.
In addition, we use an impact effort matrix to determine which activities to prioritize and which to ignore. Since resources are limited in any organization, the matrix is essential for making the best use of the available resources for projects.
Here are the steps on how to do multi-layered voting:
1. Brainstorm ideas: Give each team member a sticky note and ask them to write down their ideas for action items (remember the ‘Working alone, together’ technique).
2. Vote on the ideas: Give each team member a set of voting dots. Have them vote on the ideas they think are the most important.
3. Reorganize the ideas: Move the ideas with the most votes to the top of the list. Remove the ideas with no votes.
4. Prioritize ideas with the Effort/Impact matrix: To evaluate each idea, ask the team whether they think it has high or low impact and high or low effort. Then, place it in one of the four quadrants.
5. Make a decision: Decide which action items to pursue based on your prioritization results. Choose tasks that have a significant impact on customers and require minimal effort. These are considered quick wins and can be found in the high-impact and minimum-effort quadrant.
14 – Try new things in your meetings and ask for feedback
Congratulations! The meeting was productive, and everyone involved understands what needs to be done next. There is only one more stage to go.
Meetings are a collaboration between participants, not a one-way street.
To improve your meetings, ask for feedback from your participants. Be mindful of how you word your questions to avoid bias.
Here are some questions you can ask:
❓ How easy was it for you to contribute to the discussion?
❓ How did you understand the purpose of the meeting?
❓ Did you feel like you contributed something of value to the meeting?
❓ These questions will help you understand how your participants are experiencing your meetings and what you can do to improve them.
Here are some additional tips for asking for feedback:
💡 Ask the questions at the end of the meeting, when participants are still fresh in their thoughts
💡 Keep the questions short and to the point
💡 Avoid asking leading questions
💡 Thank participants for their feedback
By following these tips, you can gather valuable feedback that will help you improve your meetings.
And there you have it: the 14 best ways to improve the efficiency and satisfaction of your meetings. Though it may seem daunting at first, we promise that after you put these suggestions into practice, you will never want to go back to your previous meeting methods.
Most meetings lack focus and make one feel like time was wasted. Invest in the time and effort from the onset to distinguish yourself and build your reputation as a capable and reliable professional.
Spend some time in advance getting everything ready for a successful meeting. The result? You’ll have a tight-knit group that pulls together to achieve common goals and fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation.
Meetings will go from being something people dread to something they look forward to in no time!
Get in Touch
If you want to transform your meetings from unstructured open-discussions with flawed dynamics to structured workshops, and learn how they can be integrated into your business, please reach out to us.
We will be happy to guide you through the workshopping process.