7 Steps to Better Team Meetings

Planning meetings

Published on: May 12, 2017

Out of all the aspects of our working life, the usefulness of team meetings – and even their very necessity – is probably one of the most hotly debated. Team meetings can be a hive of productivity. They’re a place where we can discuss big ideas, engage with our colleagues, be inspired to do better or knuckle down and get to the bottom of an issue. But ask some people what they really think and, at best, they’ll most likely say that meetings are a necessary evil.

And at worst? Well, let’s put it this way: American economist Thomas Sowell once said that “People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.”

We’ve talked before about how careful planning can help challenge negative perceptions, engage attendees and put your team meetings on the right path to success. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. The most inspiring agenda and the greatest engagement techniques in the world won’t help if the meeting runs into other issues or otherwise gets out of hand. In this post we’ll discuss some common challenges that put the best-planned team meeting off track and guide you through 7 steps you can take to make your meetings more effective.

1. Ask Yourself: “Is A Meeting Really Necessary?”

The number one step to better team meetings is to only hold them if they’re necessary. Put this way, this sounds quite obvious. But the truth is that it isn’t quite as obvious as one might hope. It’s estimated that the average worker in the UK attends between 3 to 4 meetings a week. Out of these meetings, 63% don’t even have a written agenda. Quite unsurprisingly, 34% of attendees fall asleep. The phenomenon even has a name: mundane meeting syndrome.

But how do you decide whether a meeting is truly necessary?

Well, first and foremost, a meeting should have a desired outcome or a specific purpose. This could be brainstorming ideas for a new project, deciding which vendor to hire or something else. The SMART technique is a great way to distinguish between meeting goals that are achievable and those that aren’t (and which therefore might be best tackled a different way). But that’s not all. More to the point, you should hold a meeting because it’s the best alternative. In other words, the goal is best achieved through a face-to-face group discussion. Many project status updates, for instance, could be easily given via email. And yet, they’re one of the most common reasons for holding regular meetings. The Harvard Business Review’s meeting decision tree is a great resource you can use to determine whether a meeting is necessary or not.

2. Involve The Right People

You’ve thought about it carefully and you’ve decided a team meeting is in order. Great! Now you need to actually involve the right people. Otherwise, the meeting won’t accomplish its goals.

Meeting attendees can be categorised into four main types:


-influencers, that is people who, while not the ultimate decision-makers, can persuade others to support a decision or get on board with a new initiative;

-people whose expertise, knowledge or skills can help inform the debate which leads to a decision; and

-those who’ll execute a decision or follow through on the agreed action points.  

Who you choose to invite will depend on the meeting’s objectives and on the kind of input required. Sometimes, you need a mix of all four. Other times, it’s enough to just call in those who’ll execute (if the purpose of the meeting is training, for instance). It’s good to be selective at this stage. While you may be tempted to just go ahead and invite the whole team, this may make the meeting drag on needlessly and create resentment amongst staff members who feel that their attendance wasn’t necessary.

3. Promote Active Listening

Active listening means listening with all the senses. In other words, it’s showing the speaker that you’re giving them your full attention. There are many ways you can motivate your employees and keep them engaged during a meeting, for instance by using warm up activities and energisers. However, you cannot hope for everyone’s full participation unless you also create the right atmosphere. When active listening is encouraged, speakers feel more at ease. In turn, this gives them the confidence to open up and participate more, which ultimately benefits the meeting.

Here are three techniques you can use to promote active listening:

-Kick off the discussion with a round robin

For every item on the agenda, start by giving everyone in the room a few minutes to speak. Each attendee gets to take a turn, which means everyone has an opportunity to speak without interruption. For best results, start things off by asking a clear and specific question, as this will help ensure that everyone stays on topic.

-Split attendees into smaller groups

Splitting your attendees into groups works especially well in larger team meetings. It avoids situations where someone is repeatedly interrupted or where the discussion is monopolised by one or two people.

-Use the talking stick technique

The idea behind this is that only the person who holds the talking stick can speak. This makes your attendees more aware that they’re interrupting, which helps them break the habit. Almost any object can be used as a talking stick. Catchbox works especially well, because it also functions as a microphone and as an energising activity.

Here you can see FullContact sharing their experience with Catchbox in team meetings.

4. Consider Banning Technology

Disinterested colleagues tapping away on their smartphones can ruin the vibe and discourage others from participating. It can also have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships. In one survey, one in four people reported having had a serious argument with a friend or colleague because they stopped paying attention to conversations by looking at their device. Interpersonal relationships aside, inappropriate use of technology also makes meetings more ineffective. People who multitask can lose as much as 50% of their efficiency and accuracy; and the figure goes up the more complex a task is. It’s good to set the ground rules before the meeting. Asking your attendees to switch their devices off usually goes over better than telling them to stop doing it. Alternatively, create a “phone drop” outside the meeting room so that everyone can leave their devices at the door. No exceptions.

5. Use A Timer

A report by the Royal Commission on the Civil Service found that the amount of work you’re able to get done doesn’t depend on how much time you have available. Rather, the work itself “expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” – a principle now famously known as Parkinson’s Law. With this in mind, you can streamline your meetings and make them that much more effective simply by introducing time restrictions. Having a limited time window to say what they have to say and reach a decision will force your attendees to come to the meeting better prepared. It’ll also increase their attentiveness because once the meeting’s over, that’s it. However, using a timer has other benefits, too. By assigning each speaker a set amount of time during the meeting, everyone gets an equal opportunity to speak without interruption. And it also avoids having to find a pretext to stop someone from rambling on and on: simply tell them politely that their time is up.

6. Get Your AV Sorted Out Ahead Of time

There’s nothing worse than having your projector shut down right in the middle of an important team meeting. Or being constantly interrupted by crackling speakers or an ear-splitting feedback loop. AV issues can kill your attendees’ concentration. They can put you way behind schedule. And they’re especially embarrassing if you have external guests sitting in on the meeting. So, it simply makes sense to test-run the equipment beforehand. Depending on the length and complexity of the meeting, it’s good to book your room at least a few hours before the scheduled meeting time. That way, you can work out any kinks with your technician and still manage to start on time. And don’t forget to make sure you have enough microphones, either. In general, you should aim to have at least one microphone for every two attendees. Alternatively, avoid all the fumbling and waiting for the microphone to reach the next speaker by throwing Catchbox around the room. It works with most types of sound systems and it’s sure to go down well with all your attendees!

7. Close The Meeting With A Quick Recap

Finally, it’s worth ending your team meeting with a quick recap. This confirms what has been decided and any action points, which ties everything together and ensures everyone is on the same page. It’s also a great opportunity to get valuable feedback while the meeting is still fresh in your attendees’ minds. That way, you can avoid repeating the same mistakes and make your next meeting even better. How do you make sure your team meetings are the best they can be? Do you have any tips or tricks you like to use? Let us know in the comments section.

And if you’ve found this helpful, feel free to share this post with your colleagues on Facebook or Twitter. Better team meetings lead to a happier, more productive working life – a win-win for everyone.