Meetings can be an important part of work life. They bring people together. At their best, they facilitate meaningful interactions and fuel progress. The time and energy invests produces outsized returns.
Advocating for better meetings, the Meeting Manifesto serves as a litmus test. A few critical elements shape an effective meeting. By communicating and championing each expectation, meetings will improve.
- Start on Time
- End on Time
- Schedule in Advance
- Agenda is Clear and Communicated
- Stay Focused
- Meeting is Necessary
- Everyone Contributes Meaningfully
- Technology Functions Properly
Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, it’s the presence of only what (or who) is essential.
Start on Time
Was everyone present and ready to begin?
It’s not just about the clock or the people, it’s about preparedness. Attendees should be present and ready to begin. Starting a meeting at the agreed upon time shows respect for others’ time and primes attendees to take the meeting more seriously.
Starting late eliminates time for rapport building and can produces a feeling of hurry. Also, meetings that start late typically end late too.
End on Time
Was everything resolved before the scheduled end-time?
Much like starting on time, ending a meeting on time (or early) is a sign of respect for everyone involved. Meetings that end late create new problems for each attendee. They risk being late to their next meeting, cutting into planned activities, or jeopardize their other commitments.
Honoring the end-time is also a healthy constraint that ensures the intended purpose is accomplished. Electing a timekeeper is a great way to stay on track and finishing on time.
Schedule in Advance
Was the meeting schedule last minute or ‘day of’?
When meetings are scheduled far enough in advance, it’s more reasonable to assume that team members have considered if the meeting is necessary. They at least had the opportunity to plan their day around the meeting.
Last minute meetings disrupt schedules. By definition, they are reactionary and allow less time for attendees to come prepared.
A surplus of meetings scheduled last minute can cause a feel of “where did my day go?!” among team members. While everyone has the same number of hours in a day, I’d bet on the one with time to prepare.
Agenda is Clear & Communicated
What does success look like?
We’ve all been in meetings at seem to go nowhere. Undefined discussion or talking in circles. A clear agenda outlines the items to be discussed, the decisions to make, and a clear picture of success when the meeting is complete.
Using the ‘notes’ or ‘description’ section of a Calendar invite is a helpful way to distribute the agenda. Also, kicking off meetings with a brief review of the agenda is a great ritual that signals a meetings start. If the agenda takes more than 30 seconds to review, there is a chance you’re in for a long meeting or success isn’t well articulated.
Requiring an agenda is also a forcing function to ask, “Who is owning and running the meeting?” Having a clear owner empowers team members and increases focus.
Was the conversation moving forward and in the right direction?
Focused meetings reduce circular conversations or detours. Focus helps all attendees stay engaged and makes sure the agenda is accomplished in the time allocated.
Running over the scheduled time, needing to book an additional meeting, or not accomplishing the purpose are all symptoms of a poorly focused meeting.
Meeting is Necessary
Could the meeting have just been an email?
Meetings are great for activities that involve collaboration and creativity. They’re an opportunity to connect and interact. When meetings become status updates or one way knowledge transfer, they can feel unnecessary and wasteful.
The most common symptom of an unnecessary meeting is when one person does most of the talking or when attendees drift off into other activities without the distraction being noticed.
Everyone Contributes Meaningfully
Is everyone in attendance necessary for success?
Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, it’s the presence of only what (or who) is essential. Keeping the number of attendees low ensures everyone has time and insight to make a valuable contribution.
Inviting too many people dampens discussion and risks people disconnecting. More often than not, the most generous act is excusing someone, or excusing yourself, when it becomes clear there time is better spent elsewhere.
Technology Functions Properly
Was the conferencing tool or other technology working like expected?
Technology should improve effectiveness. Unfortunately, situations arise where it becomes a frustration or a distraction. Investing more time earlier ensures the right tools are used and the barriers are reduced.
Time is wasted when slideshows won’t load, conferencing tools are glitchy, or “we don’t have a dongle for that computer”. When not promptly addressed, frustration begins to surface. Establishing organizational norms or enforcing preferred products can alleviate perpetual tensions.
Meetings are a tool. They are not the point. When meetings are thoughtfully constructed and consistently improved, organizations grow and thrive. These should accelerate our work, not impede it. Meetings conducted well leave attendees and team members feeling efficient, respected, and valued.
They might be inevitable, but they don’t have to be a source of tension. To help teams and leaders increase their awareness about meetings, we’ve built a simple tool to measure and improve meetings.
Meetings are expensive. With a greater emphasis on remote work, it’ll only become more important to save time and money while increasing results.