Meetings are an inescapable corporate activity. Some people might even call them a “necessary evil”. Although calling meetings “evil” is an exaggeration, meetings do tend to take some precious time away from actually working – which can be frustrating for some people.

Love them or hate them, meetings do require everyone’s immediate attention. This means that work you’ve been doing prior should halt for you to be in this meeting.

Most people that hate meetings probably think they’re a waste of time, or that meetings are held just for the sake of having meetings. The thing is, not everyone knows how to hold effective meetings, which makes up a huge factor in how they are perceived.

Now, how exactly can one provide the most value to this often misused stretch of time?

This article will show you what an effective meeting is, and how it can be achieved on a daily basis. Who knows? Maybe this’ll get your colleagues to love meetings.

Type of meetings

Meetings may all look the same, but they can serve a variety of needs.

Some may be in-depth meetings concerning a recently launched feature, others may be about reworking existing processes.

On the other hand, there are some “general purpose” meetings that tend to be held regularly as part of the Agile project management framework. Listed below are examples of these types of meetings, and the respective reasons they are held.

Standup meetings are typically daily during a sprint. These meetings usually take no more than 15 minutes and are meant to keep track of the progress or movement of each individual on the team. The three main questions asked during the standup are usually:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What did you do today?
  3. Is there anything blocking your progress?

Retrospective meetings (sometimes called “retros”) happen at the end of the sprint. This is when the team talks about what they did during the sprint – if they did them well – and what they can do better. The team also lists a set of action items to work on so that they can “do better”, either together or individually, to be applied to the next sprint.

Some meetings are more relaxed in nature. Brainstorming sessions are meant to run without judgment from any of the team members. Ideas and suggestions– even the most insane ones possible– are free to roam in this kind of meeting.

How to have effective meetings

Of course, getting to know the purpose of any meeting you may need to attend or hold is only step one. The rest of the steps that follow are important to ensure the meeting’s effectiveness and value.

Be it an online meeting or a face-to-face meeting, there are a couple of ingredients you need to keep brewing in order to have that perfect meeting.

Do you even need a meeting?

Although many meetings are pretty detailed when it comes to their topic and their scope, some meetings simply “could’ve been an email”. Even the shortest meetings can cause burnouts if they’re done too frequently, and nobody wants that!

It’s best to stop and think if a certain discussion can be done over email. Is it simply an update, or is it a discussion that requires everyone’s input and collaboration? Does the issue require an immediate response, or can it wait until later?

These questions might help you decide whether an issue is worthy of a meeting versus sending an email.

If you’re not 100% sure which it should be, opt for an email. If people respond and it’s clear more input is needed, schedule a meeting!

Setting an agenda

Since knowing the purpose of a meeting is the first step to making it an effective meeting, you must put it into writing so that others know the purpose, as well.

Setting an agenda is as simple as typing down all the points you wish to cover in your meeting. These key points will set everyone’s expectations and give them time to prepare for the topic to be discussed.

The agenda can be typed down in a shareable document, such as Google Docs, in the meeting’s calendar event, or even in a shared Slack channel.

As well as preparing everyone, the meeting agenda also steers people in the right direction during the meeting. It helps people stay focused on the priorities at hand and ultimately keeps the meeting reasonably short yet concise.

Use the right tools

On the topic of agendas in collaborative tools like Google Docs, make sure you’re using the right online conferencing solution for your team. Most companies today will have a preferred conferencing tool like Zoom, or alternatives to Zoom like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or GoToMeeting that integrates with their existing infrastructure.

Ensure that every attendee has the right solution installed on their device and that they’re comfortable using it. If you’re inviting someone from outside the company, make sure they’re able to join your meeting and have the necessary meeting link, access code, or dial-in numbers as necessary.

Invite the right people

Another important concern during the meeting planning phase is deciding who to invite to the meeting. Ask the right questions: should you invite the entire engineering team, or would the engineering team’s leads be enough?

Inviting the right people can be a bit tricky, but consider this: if you invite too many people, there will be more scheduling conflicts, and more “voices” to speak up during the meeting. In fact, the meeting might take up the whole day if you invite the whole engineering team to voice out their opinions on new features!

One good way to start would be to connect with the team’s lead and allow them to invite the necessary junior team members based on their own schedules and specialties.

It’s also quite tempting to invite everyone to an online meeting because it’s assumed they’ve got nothing else beyond their calendar availability. Even being asked to “jump on a quick call” between other meetings can throw a wrench in that person’s day, as they might have other important deliverables to work on.

Ideal length for effective meetings

Another tricky factor to determine during the meeting planning phase is the length of the meeting. Sometimes, you just don’t know how long a meeting will run its course!

A veteran of effective meetings, however, can have good time estimates regarding how long a certain discussion can run, so asking for input from these people might help you set your own time estimate.

Another thing you can do is to base it on your own experience– give a rough estimate of the span of time each section or priority of your meeting agenda might take up. It’s not necessary to stick by these estimates strictly as, in some cases, it might ruin the natural flow of the meeting. The point of these estimates is to give everyone in the meeting room a “consciousness” when it comes to time so that everyone at least has a rough sense of when the meeting will end.

Actions and follow-up

Now, the most important part: the meeting’s result.

We do know that every meeting has a purpose. And an effective meeting’s purpose, once met (or not met), always has a tangible result. These results can be in the form of a document or a sketch, and can be a set of instructions, a list of action items, or absolutely any kind of tangible evidence that “the meeting is over” and that “its purpose has been achieved”.

So that you’re sure that nothing from the meeting will be missed or overlooked, you can assign a note taker before the meeting begins, or better yet: you can record the meeting using a camera or screen recorder.

Project management tools such as Jira and Trello come in handy when it comes to jotting down tasks and action items, so consider integrating them into the meeting if your company or team already uses them. (Not to mention: consider using a project management tool if your team isn’t using them at all!)

At the end of the meeting, it’s best to reiterate all the to-dos, action items, and follow-up tasks each team member or group is assigned. Make sure to email any required documentation following the meeting, so the invitees can review the agenda in their own time.

Mismanaged meetings are often draining and demotivating. After all, what good is a lengthy meeting if nothing of value is achieved in the end?

Let’s face it, though: meetings are every corporate employee’s reality. Though their importance can sometimes be overlooked due to some of its repetitive and lengthy aspects, the most effective meetings are vital to good communication within the company. Without good communication, any company, no matter how grand the vision or skilled its people are, will suffer.

Plus, an effective meeting will not be “repetitive” and unnecessarily “lengthy”. Managing meetings and keeping them as clear and concise as possible keeps people from experiencing burnout and elevates the respect and value for everyone’s time.

Now that you’ve gone through how effective meetings are made, perhaps everyone will look forward to the next one you hold.