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An in-depth post to design and facilitate more productive and effective meetings
Why taking the time to write an in-depth guide to design successful meetings?
For starters, great meetings don’t happen by accident, but by design. If you are reading this is because, just like me, you don’t want to waste your time and talent. You are trying to make a difference, but meetings get in your way. Always jumping from one conference call to another — from a brainstorming session to a status report — sucks your energy and time. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Most executives spend 40–50% of their working hours in meetings. And most professionals agree that, at least, 50% of that time is wasted.
I could bombard you with more stats like this. Blaming meetings for our lack of productivity is an easy way out.
Meetings are not the problem — unnecessary, poorly designed ones are the issue.
Collaborative meetings are key to move projects forward. They are vital for areas such as product development, marketing, design, and innovation that rely heavily on teamwork across disciplines.
This post is a long, in-depth one — you can read it in order or jump to a specific section using the table of content below.
It’s not meant to solve your meeting problems, but to give you actionable insights and tools.
I will cover the different types of meetings, mindsets, and approaches. And share practices and tools that you can incorporate into your daily sessions.
Try some ideas. See what sticks. Tweak and build your own solutions.
Let’s design and facilitate engaging, productive meetings – both in-person and online.
P.S., I will update this guide to successful meetings from time to time. Send me your feedback, ideas, and tips, and I will add them here crediting contributors.
Table of Content of the Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings
- An in-depth post to design and facilitate more productive and effective meetings
- 1. Meetings are how we get things done
- 2. The 5 keys to designing a successful meeting
- 3. To flare or to focus? Choose one to have more effective meetings
- 4. Productivity boost: make meetings more productive by having fewer, shorter ones
- 5. The opening and closing define successful meetings
- 6. Agendas make or break successful meetings
- 7. Opt-in: everyone hates mandatory meetings
- 8. Size matters — only invite the right people to a meeting
- 9. Participation: uncover and amplify hidden talent
- 10. Team rituals for more interesting, successful meetings
- 11. Mindfulness: the power of being present
- 12. The different types of productive meetings
- 13. Logistics: the devil is in the detail
- 14. Resources & Tools for Successful Meetings
1. Meetings are how we get things done
Most meetings should be avoided. But that doesn’t mean that we should eliminate all.
Antony Jay wrote in How to Run a Meeting that our attachment to the places we work is based on social interactions. If there are no meetings, our devotion to the organization we work for decreases dramatically.
Collaboration is deeply ingrained in our human nature. We are social animals. We do our best work interacting with others, not in isolation.
In Jay’s own words:
“Meetings fulfill a deep human need. Man is a social species. In every organization and every human culture of which we have record, people come together in small groups at regular and frequent intervals, and in larger “tribal” gatherings from time to time.”
We usually think of meetings as a waste of time. Most people say that they only work once all their meetings are over.
I want to encourage you to change this.
Unproductive, poorly designed meetings are a time-waster. Productive meetings are the foundation for team collaboration. They should help us accomplish stuff, not just block our calendar.
We all need to balance our individual and collaborative time. Let’s start by addressing the key to design a successful meeting.
In other words, get things done during a meeting — not just after. Now move to the next part of the guide to successful meetings: design.
2. The 5 keys to designing a successful meeting
This is the key reason why your team gets together. You shouldn’t meet by inertia or because someone else expects you to.
Why are we having this meeting?
The purpose is not the agenda, but the vision — it should drive both clarity and excitement. Simply put, there’s no way we would accomplish the desired goal without having this meeting.
The right mentality increases mood, focus, and participation. A status report is utterly different from a brainstorm session.
You don’t want anyone judging others’ ideas during an innovation session. It would make people defensive rather than creative.
You can bring two mindsets to a meeting: flare or focus.
The key lies in understanding which one is needed depending on the meeting you are having.
A meeting is only as good as what you achieve before it’s over.
The goal should be defined before the meeting starts.
Try to limit the number of goals you want to achieve. When we try to accomplish too many things, meetings end losing focus and engagement.
It’s better to have fewer, shorter, and more focused meetings than longer, confusing ones.
Effective meetings are outcome-focused. Don’t leave the room without a clear outcome.
Not everyone involved in a project or team should join every session. Invite those who can provide unique skills, perspectives, or information.
When making decisions, make sure the right people are in the room.
Limit the number of participants by inviting the right people. Read how here.
This is the most critical part. Great meetings don’t happen by accident but by design. Assign someone to facilitate the meeting based on their skills, not title.
An excellent facilitator keeps people on track and engaged. It ensures equal participation as well that the outcome is achieved on time.
For complex meetings, consider hiring an outside facilitator.
You might probably wonder why I didn’t include the agenda as a critical element. The answer is simple. It’s indeed important but not as crucial.
You can run an effective without an agenda if you have a clear purpose and great facilitation. But not the other way around.
Learn more about the role of the agenda here.
A good facilitator brings clarity and focus. She/ he assigns clear roles and practices active listening — caring more about tensions than what needs to happen.
Facilitators manage time effectively and care for equal participation — ensuring everyone gets their fair turn.
Managing the meeting energy, flow, and providing closure are other vital reasons why you need to assign someone to facilitate the meeting.
A skilled facilitator doesn’t need to be an expert on the topic. But on making the meeting a thoughtful, cohesive, participatory, and enjoyable experience.
3. To flare or to focus? Choose one to have more effective meetings
We all love multi-tasking, but very few can do two different things at the same time effectively. Understanding what’s the right mindset that each session requires is an important part of any guide to successful meetings.
Flare is like stretching out your body and trying to reach for the stars; Focus is trying to touch your toes with your hands.
That’s the danger of simultaneity. We can’t touch our toes and reach for the stars at the same time, like this amusing Harvard video shows.
Convergent and Divergent thinking don’t go well together. Keep them separate.
Goal: unblock the team, drive clarity and alignment, move forward
Types of meetings: Status update, information sharing, and decision-making.
Convergent Thinking: Improving, Reflecting and Analytical
Mindset: Quality of ideas, selection and prioritization, pros and cons
Goal: solve a problem, drive excitement, explore possibilities
Types of meetings: Problem-solving and team building.
Divergent Thinking: Exploring, Discovering and Illogical
Mindset: Quantity of ideas, building on other’s concepts, nothing is wrong
“The main thing is to keep the main thing a main thing.” — Stephen Covey
Understanding the purpose of a meeting will not only drive clarity; it will help you stay focused rather than trying to achieve too many things in one session.
Divergent and Convergent Thinking are the two sides of the same coin, but when done simultaneously they confuse everyone and get the team stuck.
Focus and Flare — but not in the same meeting.
4. Productivity boost: make meetings more productive by having fewer, shorter ones
Cutting meetings – either by eliminating some or shortening others – is the most effective approach to improve productivity. This is a critical part of meeting design (that’s why it’s part of the ultimate meeting guide).
However, be mindful — this solution is not one-size-fits-all.
Focus your energy and time on where it matters.
Some meetings can be dramatically reduced or eliminated altogether. Others might require more time than you are currently allocating.
“A meeting is an event in which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.” — Anonymous
To prune and crop is a regular agricultural practic – cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems increases fruitfulness and growth.
The same approach can turn mediocre meetings into high-yielding ones.
You have four alternatives to cut back on meeting dependence: Eliminate, Optimize, Shorten, or Do Nothing.
If a meeting creates little to no interest among the team – or doesn’t pass the health test outlined above – get rid of it. Like removing a dead branch, it will help redirect the energy to places that are worth it.
Removing unnecessary meetings needs to be done with a purpose.
People must understand why it’s been done and how it will affect their work. Many companies cut sessions to free their team’s calendars, but end up creating a bigger problem.
The same way you would redirect the traffic of a deleted website page, where would the work be reallocated once a meeting is cut?
We don’t have time; we make time. Shorter meetings are effective and productive – participants are more focused. Eliminating unproductive meetings will free your calendar.
Time saved is time you can invest somewhere else.
One of the most frequents issues I usually observe is that companies plan meetings in 30- and 60-minute increments. The one-hour meeting is, by default, our biggest addiction.
I’ve been using an approach that has not only saved me (and the companies I help) a lot of time, but it also creates breathing room for everyone.
Trim your meetings to 15, 25, 45, and 55 minutes.
Most meetings should last either 15 or 25 minutes.
You’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish in a 15-minute meeting – when time is limited, everyone focuses more.
Quick catch-ups, simple decisions, updates, or launching a new initiative are all meetings that can be done in 25 minutes or less.
I always block – at least – 15 minutes in between meetings.
This provides time for preparation, bio breaks, or merely move from one conference room to another. Most people are always late because they don’t block time in between meetings.
Use 45- and 55-minute ones only for topics that require more extended discussions . Spare longer meetings for ‘special occasions.’
The 55-minute is the new one-hour meeting — those five minutes can make a big difference in the long run.
If a meeting is popular among your team, has a clear purpose, and feels extremely necessary, you can still optimize it.
How can you improve team dynamics? Can they generate better outcomes? What about shifting players or reducing the number of participants?
Optimization requires experimenting with small tweaks to maximize desired factors and minimize undesired ones.
4. Do Nothing
Change is not always good. Mindless change can create unnecessary issues.
I’m all about changing stuff, but with a purpose. If a meeting is working perfectly, don’t feel the need to change it just for the sake of it.
Focus on those which are unhealthy or unproductive.
Exercise: practice cropping and pruning meetings
To apply a prune-and-crop approach, you must first assess your current meetings.
This simple exercise will help you categorize all your team gatherings as well as discover how time is spent . It will help you put a dollar sign to your recurring meetings.
First, start by creating a spreadsheet of all regular meetings.
Create the following columns: meeting name, purpose, number of attendees, duration, frequency (daily/weekly/ monthly/ annual), quantity per month, and cost. To assign a dollar sign, multiply the hourly salary of all attendees by the yearly hours per meeting type.
Second, sort meetings from more to less expensive.
Third, categorize each meeting with the following color code:
RED: Useless, unnecessary, and frustrating meetings. No one wants to attend, but we can’t get rid of the addiction to having them.
These are the “Why the heck are we still having these meetings?” type.
YELLOW: Meetings that are necessary, but aren’t being managed efficiently or productively. We all feel we’re getting a larger dose than we crave for.
These are the ‘okay’ meeting type.
We get work done, but we know that we can do much better by either shortening the meeting, lowering the number of participants, or getting better outcomes.
GREEN: Exceptional meetings. They feel balanced regarding energy, duration, and outcome. We wish we could have more like these – they seem like a healthy addiction.
These are the ‘one-of-a-kind’ meetings.
It’s time to start pruning and cropping your meetings.
5. The opening and closing define successful meetings
Now, as part of the guide to successful meetings, I want to focus on the importance of the beginning and the end of a session. Not only are the two most critical moments of a meeting, but they define how people collaborate. The opening sets the tone and focus. The closing makes sure the effort was worth it.
One drives the team into action, the other funnels the energy to create a real impact.
Kicking-off a meeting is like starting a keynote — you need to grab people’s attention fast, or you’ll lose them forever.
Set up the meeting. Remind people of the challenge and what needs to happen. Share the goals and build the right atmosphere.
A mindset check-in is a useful practice to drive focus and presence from the getgo.
Emotions play a crucial role in the workplace — they can lubricate or harm collaboration. By simply asking, “What’s got your attention?” you can understand what’s keep each team member busy.
By addressing that question, people can put those emotions aside and focus on working together.
Learn how to facilitate a mindset check-in.
No one should leave the room without clear next steps or unsolved issues — use the last few minutes of a meeting to build clarity.
Shellye Archambeau, chief executive of MetricStream, end her meetings by asking, “Who’s got the ball?”
Use the WWW approach — Who will do What by When.
This is a regular practice of Holacracy — it gives everyone the chance of a “last word.” A closing round allows people to express how they feel about the meeting and to get something off their chest
The closing should also feel like a celebration more than just discussing the next steps.
Everybody should leave a call or meeting energized — they have to feel the time spent was worth it.
6. Agendas make or break successful meetings
The agenda matters, but…
Having an outline of the key activities and time allocation is vital for a successful meeting.
However, facilitation is more important than the agenda itself. Meetings that are too structured tend to be dull and limiting.
One person shouldn’t own the agenda. Use online collaborative tools to gather everyone’s input.
That you lead a particular meeting doesn’t mean you own — they should be beneficial for all participants.
To share or not to share?
Experts recommend circulating an agenda before a meeting. It helps clarify what the meeting is all about.
However, that is not always the way to go. Having the agenda in advance creates anticipation and can be a distraction.
Sometimes not knowing how things are going to play is more effective — mystery and scarcity increase curiosity and engagement.
Having a clear meeting purpose and desired outcome is critical. But also having people prepare in advance — either by pre-reading material or building their part if they are presenting or facilitating an activity.
Unveiling the agenda — one item at-a-time — makes people more present. Instead of anticipating a specific item, they focus on the one that’s happening right now.
This works particularly well for longer meetings such as a town-hall or team offsite.
Flexibility is king
Having an agenda keeps meetings focused. But, sticking too much to the schedule can be harmful.
When I design the agenda for team offsite, I obsessively allocate the time for each portion — exercises, debrief, presentation, feedback, group coaching, breaks, etc.
But I approach the agenda as a roadmap — it’s not set in stone. As I’m facilitating the session, I adapt the time depending on people’s reactions and interests.
If an exercise or content doesn’t resonate with the team, I cut it down. If a specific practice uncovers hidden tensions, I allocate more time to it. I then skip other parts that were initially on the agenda.
Use the agenda to organize your meeting.
Be flexible. Navigate what’s happening at the moment with an open mind — don’t let the agenda blind you from what the team needs at the moment.
Build the agenda on the fly
Do you think it’s a mistake to set up a meeting without an agenda?
For recurring meetings, you can build the agenda on the fly — that’s how Holacracy tactical meetings work.
Rather than anticipating the issues that need to be addressed, ask participants before the meeting starts. Holacracy shifts the seat of power from the person at the top to a process.
Brian Robertson, the author of Holacracy, believes that effective meetings focus on present tensions rather than anticipation.
As he explains in his book, “Rather than going through a preset list of items that you think you should talk about, try to drive your meetings with agendas built on the fly, in the meeting.”
The process is pretty straightforward.
Solicit agenda items from the group and capture them all. People don’t need to explain the whole issue — just provide 2–3 words.
Remind them that they can add new items during the meeting.
Do a quick calculation of the time remaining divided by the number of agenda items to ensure every tension can be addressed.
If there too many issues, the facilitator has the right to prioritize items. And to move some tensions to the following meeting.
Building an agenda on the fly helps focus your energy on burning or important issues.
This approach allows teams to tackle more issues in less time as this video shows.
7. Opt-in: everyone hates mandatory meetings
People don’t resist meetings — they resist being forced to attend useless ones.
The utility of a meeting lies in the eye of the beholder, not just in the meeting itself.
What is valuable for a manager might not be as relevant for some of the team members. Providing people with the chance to opt-in removes the pressure.
I’m not advocating for people to start skipping meetings but to give them the responsibility to attend those they feel valuable or where they can add value.
Imagine having people attending your party, but that they don’t want to be there. The same happens with mandatory meetings.
The law of two feet determines that people can walk out of a meeting when they feel they are wasting their time.
When someone feels the meeting is pointless for them or that they can’t add any value, they just walk out.
Contrary to popular belief, making meetings optional increases engagement.
First, scarcity makes things more valuable. When a meeting has a limited capacity, it becomes more attractive to join.
Second, autonomy makes people more accountable and responsible. When they feel treated like adults, they behave as such.
Third, it sends the message that the company values productivity. People leave one meeting to join another, where they make a more significant difference.
Opting-in meetings make people manage their time more effectively — it’s our most valuable asset.
8. Size matters — only invite the right people to a meeting
Selecting the right participants is an art in itself.
Jeff Bezos famously instituted the two-pizza rule: every internal team should be small enough that it can be fed with two pizzas.
Quantity plays a significant role. Having too many participants can make a meeting unmanageable and unproductive.
The more people you have, the more distractions and opinions you’ll get.
Quality is not about the smarts but balancing participants. You need diverse skills and points of view.
Determine the right size.
My rule of thumb is five plus or minus two.
Organizational psychologist Joseph Allen says, “The most productive meetings have only five to eight attendees, a group size that encourages participation and actionable discussion.”
Cognitive psychologist George Miller observed that the memory span of young adults is approximately seven items. The Magic number — 7 (plus or minus two) — provides evidence for the capacity of short term memory.
Some people use this formula — 7 plus or minus two — to define the ideal number of participants for regular meetings.
A team offsite is a different story — 30 is my ‘magic’ number.
For brainstorm sessions, I like to have 20–24 participants — split into groups of 5–6 members each.
Participants, not spectators
Only people who would actively contribute should join your meeting.
Active roles include: presenting, providing feedback, ideating solutions, making a decision, sharing insights or learning, etc.
Don’t just invite people to take notes or ‘feel’ part of the team.
Roles over politics
Don’t invite people because you have to.
I know, everyone feels the pressure to add someone because of their title or influence. That’s a recipe for disaster. Meetings are meant to make things happen, not to play politics.
Don’t worry if anyone gets offended — do what’s right, not what will make you look good.
Avoid duplication when possible.
If you two people play similar roles or have the same skills, invite just one.
Should YOU attend?
The same principles apply to you.
Unless your boss is forcing you to attend (which is not a strong reason), don’t go to a meeting if you won’t add any value.
Saying ‘no’ is not an act of rebellion, but an effective way to focus.
When you say ‘yes’ to a meeting that has no value, you are saying ‘no’ to doing something more relevant.
9. Participation: uncover and amplify hidden talent
An effective meeting requires equal participation from everyone, not just the loud voices.
Use the following practices to uncover everyone’s ideas and opinions.
This is an effective way to listen to the voice of quiet people.
Software developer Atlassian practices conversational turn-taking to ensure even participation among all team members. When participants speak one-at-a-time in alternating turns, you can avoid interruptions and groupthink.
Senior executives get to talk last, so they don’t influence or intimidate others.
Encouraging people to speak up requires design and intentionality. Asking people for feedback doesn’t work — that’s what Steve Jobs found out until he changed his questions.
The 1–2–4-All exercise allows people to work on an issue progressively building on each phase discussion.
First, on their own. Secondly, with someone else. Thirdly, two groups work together. Lastly, the entire team works as one.
This progressive approach is sensational for team retrospectives, brainstorms, or feedback sessions.
Noise can become a distraction — when everyone is talking, no one is paying attention or thinking.
Square runs silent meetings to help prepare before they address a particular challenge.
Silence allows the team to review a document individually first. After 30 minutes, the discussion starts. Not only it prevents unproductive conversation but encourages participation from silent voices.
Silence makes meetings more effective and productive.
Similar to turn-taking, silent meetings encourage inclusion and participation.
Everyone — especially minorities and introverts — gets their chance to analyze documents and come up with ideas before they speak up.
Only the most vocal people tend to speak up in front of the whole company. Create channels to make participation easier for introverts.
You can set up question boxes to address issues from all your employees — not just the extroverts. Spotify created an interesting feature: the question box.
Employees can submit questions before a town hall meeting. Everyone upvotes them — the most popular questions must be answered by senior leaders.
UKTV, a British broadcaster, has a similar practice. It attached a big black box with a question mark to a wall in the center of their office. Employees can drop anonymous questions whenever they want.
During their town hall meeting, the CEO answer all the questions spontaneously. This practice has increased transparency and accountability across the board.
Make it playful
Curiosity is the mother of learning.
Effective meetings don’t have to be boring — design an experience that encourages participation.
The LEGO® retrospective is a fun and stimulating activity to encourage group conversations. Participants are asked to create LEGO® figures to express their feelings and ideas symbolically.
Storytelling, metaphors, and hands-on activities help learn new ideas — they are more effective than presentations.
10. Team rituals for more interesting, successful meetings
Rituals are an effective and straightforward way to drive meaningful change.
As IDEO’s Tim Brown said, “Rituals create a constant nudging so that, over time, a culture learns to do something naturally and intuitively.”
Rituals can accelerate positive change — bringing out creativity, enhancing collaboration, and appreciating each other.
Team rituals are also very effective to facilitate more engaging, productive, and dynamic meetings.
Asana, the work management platform, was struggling to find time for deep work.
To take back their productivity, Asana implemented the No-Meeting Wednesday (NMW.) As you can tell by its name, this policy forbids people from scheduling any meeting at all.
Wednesdays at Asana have become dedicated days to focus on heads-down work, with no distractions at all. It allows everyone, including managers, to get more things done.
This practice energizes the team — at least one day in the week, their work is not schedule-driven.
Routine kills most meetings — getting out of the office always helps.
You don’t need to hire a fancy place. Walking meetings encourage human interactions — you can address work issues without the burden of a regular meeting.
Walking meetings are not a fad — I’ve been practicing them for decades with excellent results.
You can go out for one-on-ones. But walking meetings are also suitable to solve smalls problems — our minds relax and find inspiration by exercising or being stimulated by being exposed to different people and scenarios.
Walking meetings remove the pressure of hierarchies and routines.
They work well for status reporting or to address some issues that are getting a team or project stuck.
Read more about walking meetings.
The use of tech tools facilitates information sharing and collaboration. But it also creates distractions.
Try a tech detox and see how it makes meetings more successful.
Tinder practices a no laptop, no phones rule during their meeting. As Jeff Morris Jr. wrote here, a speaker came into their office and suggested, “Close your laptops and shut off your phones during meetings.”
Jeff’s manager followed the advice. Everyone on the team abided by the no-phone, no-laptop rule.
The results were amazing — reducing interruptions turned into their most productive meeting ever.
Another benefit of going tech-free is increasing our ability to retain information and learn.
“Close your laptops and shut off your phones during meetings. I’m not kidding.”
Research shows that taking notes by hand is more effective — we tend to be more selective than when typing on a computer. Thus, writing by hand helps us remember and assimilate more concepts.
When having people joining a call via video conference, allow only one computer — use it to communicate and share documents.
Talent Show at Etsy
All-hands meetings are the perfect opportunity for team rituals.
Organizations realize the importance of encouraging their teams to bring their whole selves to work. Rituals create more human, authentic ways to make that happen.
Etsy kicks off their monthly “y’all-hands” meeting with a talent show. Employees can share all their hidden talents — from band performance, stand-up comedy to Johnny Cash covers.
“Keeping it weird gets results” — Elise Pereira, Etsy
Culture brings people together.
Beyond the fun, the talent show proves that employees are more than a title or job description. The performances inspire chats between people who might not otherwise talk.
Embracing vulnerability facilitates human connection. It allows building more human, stronger bonds between team members.
Having fun becomes a means to an end — activities like talent shows facilitate collaboration and engagement.
According to a study by 3M Meeting Network, between 25 and 50 percent of the time executives spend in meetings is wasted.
Lack of planning and preparation makes everyone frustrated.
A simple way to solve this is by practicing pre-reading — either before or at the beginning of the meeting.
Most companies spend most of a meeting on sharing information rather than working.
Instead of throwing a lot of content to people during the meeting, let them review the material ahead of time. Let participants prepare to discuss, provide feedback, and ask questions.
A pre-read makes meetings more effective and focused, saving everyone a lot of time.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos banned PowerPoint in meetings.
He believes this approach de-emphasizes the presentation portion — Bezos calls it “study hall at the beginning of our meetings.”
As Bezos said:
“If you have a traditional presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole six-page memo, on page 2, you have a question. But, on page 4, that question is answered.”
Allow participants to gather their thoughts before the meeting to create a more fluid and focused experience.
Oracle President Thomas Kurian believes that pre-reading enables his team to host more effective meetings. Allowing 20 minutes for people to review the material makes it quicker to jump into the discussion.
Meetings are too expensive to waste most of their duration listening to someone else — use that time for collaboration instead.
Pre-reading requires discipline. Everyone must prepare before the meeting.
The organizer has to share the content ahead of time. All participants must review the material before the meeting starts. But it pays off.
Software company Rise Vision holds a standing monthly meeting to review and discuss what each team has learned.
Every team is always learning from different media — podcasts, YouTube Channels, blogs, documentary, books, etc.
The purpose of the Learning Club is to cross-pollinate the learnings.
During the one-hour meeting, people share what they learned and discuss insights, tools, and resources with the broader team. Everyone is expected to attend.
The discussion is then shared with the broader company on their Slack channel. People from other teams can join if interested.
This straightforward ritual encourages a culture of curiosity and learning.
11. Mindfulness: the power of being present
Here and now
A successful meeting requires everyone’s full attention. Eliminate distractions — like interruptions or people checking their devices instead of participating.
There are many simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate at the beginning of a meeting.
A mindset check-in, a short breathing exercise, or body stretch help increase focus.
Give your brain a break
Create space in between meetings.
You need time to close one topic before you move to another. When you are jumping from one meeting to the next, you leave all follow-ups tasks for the end of the day.
A break allows you to send that email before getting a new meeting. It will enable you to free your mind.
Also, most people forget that it takes time to move from one conference to another.
Lastly, your body needs to stops from time to time. How can you take a bio break when you have back-to-back meetings?
Let your mind wander
Having idle time is vital for creativity and productivity. We need to see things clearly to arrive at the right conclusions or solutions.
Most ideas show up unexpectedly. They occur in a moment of sudden revelation, not when your brain is busy.
Make sure your team has time to let their mind wander. Meetings that are too rigid or structured can be as harmful as chaotic ones.
Monitor the meeting mood
Emotions spread like wildfire — especially your boss’ mood.
Negative emotions can be detrimental to any meeting. They can harm morale, hinder productivity, and limit honesty and participation.
Recognize the mood that a team is bringing to the meeting. Call out when someone’s attitude is distracting everyone.
Remember. It’s okay for someone who’s having a rough day to opt-out from a meeting.
12. The different types of productive meetings
Understanding the kind of session you are designing — or attending — is vital to create a more effective meeting and outcome. Each requires a different mindset and activities. As part of this guide to successful meetings, I wanted to provide a breakdown of the most common meeting types, according to MeetingSift.
#1. Status Update Meetings
Purpose: Align people on what needs to happen.
Mindset: Data and action-driven.
Key activities: Focus on the issues. Address Solutions. Assign clear responsibilities, next steps, and due dates.
Examples: team, project, or budget update meetings.
Avoid having a meeting when you can share or update information via online tools.
Shorten meetings by focusing on the challenges that need to be solved, not on sharing everything people already know or can read before.
#2. Information Sharing Meetings
Purpose: Share, motivate, and drive alignment.
Mindset: Curious, inspirational, and conversational.
Key activities: Set up the right mindset. Clarify expectations. Engage people. Q&A.
Examples: Panels, keynotes, lectures, presentations of results, launch new initiatives or change or direction, and townhall meetings.
Don’t share live when you can use digital tools instead.
In-person presentations are great for complex topics, when alignment is necessary, for collaborative learning, and to inspire teams.
Townhall meetings are an effective way to share information, build trust and transparency.
A study by McKinsey showed that communication and involvement of front-line employees dramatically increase the chances to drive a successful organizational transformation.
Eliminate day-to-day informational meetings — have a monthly town hall instead.
#3. Decision-making meetings
Purpose: To arrive at a decision before the meeting is over.
Mindset: Assertive, evaluative, analytical
Key activities: Share the challenge and goal. Clarify the decision making process and roles of those involved. Present pros and cos. Select the final decision. Ensure people are onboard — even if they don’t agree.
Examples: Hiring approvals, selections of ideas from a brainstorm, vote options, discuss, and approve budgets.
Don’t leave the room without a decision. Most teams meet to make a decision but postpone making the call — they create yet another meeting.
Send an email recapping the decision that was made and the next steps.
#4. Problem-solving meetings
Purpose: To uncover new solutions to existing or undefined problems.
Mindset: Divergent thinking, building on others’ ideas (yes, and…), non-evaluative, playful.
Key activities: Reframing the challenge, getting more in-depth insights, identifying new business opportunities, creating innovative solutions, brainstorming, etc.
Examples: Innovation sessions, brainstorms, blue sky ideation, or fixing everyday issues.
Effective problem-solving meetings are meant to generate solutions, not to evaluate them.
Anyone can be creative with the right coaching. Some people can be detrimental to brainstorming sessions — they can’t stop judging people or ideas.
Aim for diversity of thinking to make the session richer. Make sure everyone participates and that all voices are listened to.
#5. Team Building Meetings
Purpose: Strengthen collaboration and productivity
Mindset: Self-aware, empathetic, and collaborative
Key activities: Get to know each better, uncover blind spots, build trust, improve communication and feedback, discover what’s working and what needs to be improved, and experiment with new mindsets and ways of working.
Examples: Team offsite, team kick-off, corporate outings, team retrospectives, etc.
Create well-designed experiences. Invest time and resources in planning the session.
Hire an external facilitator to raise the bar and create a meaningful impact.
Don’t confuse team development with team bonding.
13. Logistics: the devil is in the detail
This is something that we usually don’t appreciate how important it is, that’s why I included in this guide to successful meetings.
Start on time, finish on time (like Netflix does)
Punctuality is everything. It took me almost half of my life to realize this.
Starting late means punishing those who arrive on time. And to reward selfish behavior.
If everyone adheres to this simple rule, organizations will alleviate a lot of stress.
Just as crucial as kicking-off on time is finishing on time. It will ensure that people can start their next meeting or task on time too.
We all get overwhelmed when meetings overlap one with the other.
Don’t underestimate food
Use it mindfully. Food can be fuel or a burden.
For longer meetings, like brainstorming sessions or team retreats, it’s critical to keep your team fed and hydrated. For shorter meetings, food can be a distraction.
Quality food sets the bar high — it defines the level of a meeting. I always tell my clients, if you are short on budget, prioritize food over other items.
You don’t need a room with a view
Functionality matters more than the location or looks.
I had to facilitate many sessions on places that were gorgeous but impractical. Either the size of the room or the decor got in the way of the group activities.
A room with a view can be distracting — mainly if the team has gathered together to work, not to have fun.
When choosing the space, consider the meeting purpose. Are you planning a working session or a fun outing?
Craft a nice invitation
Every meeting should be treated as a party. The first contact you make creates a lasting impression. The tone of the invite will get people excited or bored.
Take time to craft an exciting invitation — make people feel special.
For recurring events, refresh the invitation, so the meeting doesn’t become invisible.
Don’t assume it will work. Maybe someone else used the room and screwed up the setting.
Test everything before the meeting starts — the show should always start on time.
Setup the videoconference, video projection, etc. Test it more than once.
Sending a last-minute reminder with dial-in info and other necessary links doesn’t hurt either.
14. Resources & Tools for Successful Meetings
Poll Everywhere: design the agenda on the fly, monitor engagement, and track the progress of your meeting.
SessionLab: an interactive online tool to plan team sessions and design agendas and tic tocs.
Slack: almost everyone knows it, but still my favorite real-time messaging and file-sharing app for team collaboration.
Notion: an intuitive tool for team cooperation — it has great templates for collaborative project development.
Breather: online booking tool for flexible, distraction-free spaces for team retreats, meetings, and corporate events.
Doodle: poll the participants to find a time to meet that works for everyone.
Calendly: quick way to schedule meetings.
Evernote: take notes using this digital notebook application and share them with your team. There are many others. Notion.io comes with a similar function.
Mural: a digital workspace for online brainstorming, visual collaboration, and inspiration.
Every Time Zone: helps you figure out time zone differences and find one that works for most participants. I use it when running webinars so people can check their local time.
Holacracy: official website for the self-management practice. You can find some interesting tools and methods to borrow without going full-on Holacracy.
Asana: a work management platform to help teams focus on their goals, projects, and daily tasks.
Slope: a software collaboration tool, designed for marketing and creative teams, that includes content review features.
Do you have any suggestions that should be included in the guide to successful meetings? Send them, and I’ll add it to the list.
Disclosure: I don’t have any affiliation with the companies above. I include resources I consider valuable. If your suggestion doesn’t make it to the list, don’t take it personally.