“If you aren’t meeting regularly with your team, you don’t have a team. What you have is a collection of boxes in an org chart.” - Barbara Burke
“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings.” - Dave Barry
These quotes represent two radically different perspectives on team meetings. While the first quote recognizes the necessity and value of regular team meetings in developing a team’s identity, relationships, and teamwork, the latter represents meetings, generally, as a waste of time.
The truth, however, is that team meetings are what you make them. As Bob Weir aptly sums it up, “The meetings can be a lot of fun or they can be frustrating.” This makes you the master of your team meeting’s fate. Adopting team meeting best practices allows you to run enjoyable and effective team meetings and transform how your team works.
We will discuss them extensively in this article.
By definition, a team meeting is a pre-planned session between members of a team or other people in an organization with a shared set of responsibilities to go over issues relating to their work.
While we often use instant messages and emails to communicate ideas in the modern workplace, we must admit that sometimes, a team meeting that brings all stakeholders together for a quick discussion is more efficient and necessary.
Being a crucial part of a company’s communication and operation, team meetings fulfill different purposes besides the obvious one of sharing information. Some are listed below:
Building team alignment
Team meetings are a sure way to guarantee that members are aligned on team goals, priorities, developments, projects, and other details necessary for cohesive work. These yield several benefits for teams, including improved productivity, responsiveness, and efficiency.
Teams that lack alignment on these crucial aspects tend to have a disjointed approach toward projects and goals. And in most cases, the absence of alignment is an indication of a lack of employee engagement.
Decision-making and planning within teams should not exclusively be the manager’s responsibility. Managers who monopolize the decision-making process are often left with inequitable and sub-par decisions, as well as an excessive workload.
Team meetings counteract this and foster inclusive decision-making by giving room for team members to contribute their knowledge, opinions, and ideas during the decision-making process.
Improving team bond and collaboration
Team meetings are very valuable in building rapport within teams as nothing matches face-to-face communication in fostering relationships - a practice that is threatened by the remote work culture and the increase in asynchronous communication.
During team meetings, members typically have open discussions, talk about both social and work-related topics, and gradually become better acquainted.
Improved affinity further helps create harmony in the workplace and facilitate cross-functional collaboration. A survey found that 37% of employees rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important” and teamwork is the reason why over a third of them stay with a company.
Effective idea generation
Dedicating time to brainstorming as a team is often a more effective way to generate ideas than emails or other forms of textual communication.
During meetings, team members can fully explain and refine their ideas through discourse, and great ideas are often produced in this process.
Brainstorming can also be used to drive the participation of team members in designing and executing a course of action. This could translate into gains for a company’s employee engagement because the participants are made to feel like they have a say and influence in the company’s affairs.
Despite the bad reputation, team meetings are vital to every area of a team’s work. Therefore, every team should see them as an opportunity and adopt the right practices to make the most of them.
While team meetings are beneficial, they are not appropriate for every situation, or else there won't be complaints about how a meeting could have been an email.
Knowing when to hold a team meeting and when to communicate through instant messaging will help avoid overburdening employees and having unproductive meetings.
There is a clear goal for the meeting
Meetings should never be held on a whim. A meeting without a clear intention or goal you seek to achieve might not be held in the first place.
Sometimes, having a goal is often not even sufficient. You should take it a step further by interrogating whether the meeting goal can be efficiently achieved through asynchronous communication and only proceed to hold the meeting if the answer is negative.
The subject matter is sensitive or complex
Not every discussion can be efficiently done over email. Where the subject matter you wish to discuss requires the input of team members, or it is sensitive or too complex for textual communication, for example, the sprint planning, a meeting is necessary.
A good way to test if the subject matter falls in this category is if the outcome of the discussion has a far-reaching impact on the company or team.
Immediate action or feedback is required
Some situations might require prompt action or decisions from the team. For example, during a crisis or emergency, it might be necessary to brief all team members and come up with suggestions on how to approach the problem.
A key thing to note here, however, is that while emergency meetings might sometimes seem fitting, you should avoid them unless you are convinced that they are absolutely necessary because they tend to disrupt employees’ schedules and workflow.
Real-time collaboration is necessary
The increasing popularity of remote work has made asynchronous collaboration the method of operation for many teams. However, there are instances where real-time collaboration is necessary for tasks to be efficient and productive.
There is no agenda for the meeting
No agenda, no attendance.
You should have second thoughts if you are going to hold a meeting without an agenda that outlines the details of the meeting and the topics for discussion.
Without an agenda, the meeting is likely to be unfocused and unproductive. The lack of an agenda is also often indicative of the absence of clear meeting objectives and topics. Going on to have a meeting in such an instance would be a bad use of team members’ time.
It is merely for sharing information
Meetings are unnecessary where your intention is simply to share an update or non-sensitive information. Using emails or other messaging software would be more appropriate for such events - they are quicker, and employees can have a look when they are available without interrupting the current work.
Key participants are unavailable
You should never hold a meeting where key participants necessary for having a meaningful and productive conversation are not available. In cases where the conversations proceed without them, resolutions might be reached without the necessary information, input, or legitimacy.
It is not uncommon for the resolutions reached at such meetings to be upturned and another meeting rescheduled to accommodate the key participants.
Participants are unprepared for the meeting
Before going into a meeting, ensure the expectations and guidelines are set and communicated clearly. You should also share all the information and documents relevant to the discussion so that every participant can take the time to prepare and have something to share within the meeting.
Where these are not in place, proceeding to hold a meeting would often be a waste of time.
Making this distinction between when to hold meetings and when not to and only calling for meetings when necessary will save your team time and money and will be appreciated by employees.
This way, you can also clear up time and divert them instead to more productive activities.
A team meeting agenda is essentially a guide for your conversation during a team meeting. And every meeting must have one to be effective and enjoyable.
This is because while most meetings last between 31 minutes and an hour, using an agenda could help decrease this by up to 80%. However, in spite of its clear value, only 37% of meetings in the US use agendas.
Knowing the right details to include in an agenda is key to drawing up a good one. What is included in an agenda often depends on the team, the meeting type, and the subject matter for the meeting. However, the following are common items included in a team meeting agenda:
Meeting date, time, and location
Topics to be discussed
Supporting documents to read
These meeting details are often listed at the top of the agenda document, right after the title.
You should provide clear information on when the meeting will be held, how long it expects to last, and whether it’s an office or virtual meeting. Sometimes the participant list is also included in the agenda.
They might seem unnecessary since we always include them while sending a meeting invitation; however, they are useful for record purposes. This is because specifying the date and time of the meeting makes identifying, retrieving, and referring to the agenda or meeting notes at a later time easy.
Every team meeting agenda should have its objectives spelled out.
The meeting objective should clearly define the reason the meeting was called or what the team seeks to achieve at the end of the meeting.
This detail helps to guide the conversation and keep every participant accountable. It also serves as a measure of the productivity or success of the meeting.
It’s necessary to assign a facilitator to lay down the ground rules for the meeting, tactfully drive the conversation, and keep the meeting organized. They often apply the agenda to provide guidance on the topic to be discussed, the duration, and focus areas.
It is common practice to have the person who calls the meeting serve as the meeting facilitator. However, if this is not the case, the agenda should specify who is responsible for moderating the meeting.
Every meeting has a set of topics for discussion in the order of priority. Team meeting topics often include metrics review, status updates, challenges and roadblocks, successes and wins, and any other issue connected to the team’s work.
Including these in the meeting agenda helps team members to know what to expect and prepare ahead of the meeting.
Setting a duration for the meeting and a timeframe for each item is a time management and meeting productivity hack.
You should allocate an expected time based on its complexity. For example, a meeting icebreaker usually takes 5 minutes while project updates surely take longer than that. Preparing an agenda that clearly defines the timeframe for each conversation helps avoid getting carried away during the conversation and stick to time.
Pro Tip: The Airgram meeting agenda tool not only allows your team to collaborate and add timeframes to your agenda items but also keeps track of time in a meeting with a countdown timer.
Supporting documents are all the files and information relevant to the conversation at the meeting. They often include strategy documents, reports, concept notes, contracts, etc.
The meeting participants are typically required to study the supporting documents before the meeting to save time.
Here is a shocking number: an abysmal 11% of meetings are productive. The problem with this figure becomes even more apparent when the amount of time and resources invested in meetings are considered.
Employees spend an average of 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings while businesses lose $399 billion a year, in the US alone, to them.
Meetings are also unpopular among employees - and even more surprisingly, managers - because their values are, sometimes, not apparent. In a study by the University of North Carolina which surveyed 182 senior managers in various industries:
65% of the respondents said that meetings prevent them from completing their work
71% consider meetings unproductive and inefficient
64% believe that meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
But as we explained earlier, whether team meetings are effective or waste-of-time largely depends on how you run them. Based on research and our true experience, we have prepared a list of team meeting best practices to make them effective and enjoyable.
As a leader, you must consistently drive effective communication. Meetings must be deliberate and intentional - your organizational rhythm should value purpose over habit and effectiveness over efficiency.
- Chris Fussell
The starting point for organizing any effective meeting is defining its purpose and goals. The purpose is why you are holding the meeting. This could be because you want to conduct a review, make a presentation, discuss an idea, receive and share updates and information, brainstorm on a campaign or improve team affinity.
The goal of the meeting, on the other hand, is what you hope to achieve with the meeting. In other words, “What do we hope to achieve at the end of this meeting?”
In the case where recurring meetings have been scheduled, it is important to constantly evaluate if there is a purpose and goal for the meeting before going on with it. For example, if you have weekly team meetings, it is bad practice to go into each meeting only because it is expected without interrogating and defining the aim.
“Meetings should have as few people as possible, but all the right people.”
- Charles W. Scharf
What makes a good participants list is not volume but function.
An easy way to trim a lengthy list of participants is first to ask, “Who is vital to this meeting?” These are the most important stakeholders in the meeting, including the key decision-makers, contributors, and anyone who will affect the outcomes of the meeting.
Secondly, “Who is it expedient to include?” These are participants that are nice to have but who the meeting can go on without.
And thirdly, “Who does not need to be there?” They usually only receive information and have nothing to contribute.
After identifying where each participant falls, you can proceed to remove those that fall in the third category. You can further trim the list by removing participants in the second category too.
Besides serving as a guide for meetings and letting participants know what to expect, agendas are a very effective way to make meetings more productive and save time.
After drafting up the agenda, share it with other meeting participants for their feedback and input. Sharing a meeting agenda shouldn't just be for notification purposes. A good meeting agenda enlists what preparation your attendees should have ahead of time.
Do they need to create a report? Are they coming with a proposal? Are they to come up with potential solutions for a particular problem? All these are what your shared meeting agenda should address.
In my case, our team always uses the Airgram meeting assistant for this purpose. First, the leader outlines the core discussion topics and shares the agenda link with all participants; employees then input their ideas (for status updates, should include what they did and the metrics); lastly, all users can leave comments and add notes on the Agenda notepad while the meeting is going on. And you will get a complete meeting minutes easily without dedicated time to sort them.
As a manager setting up a meeting, it is also important to assign roles well ahead of the meeting, provide clarifications on anything participants are not sure of, and provide them with all the information they require.
A study showed that 96% of employees had missed meetings due to a plethora of reasons. But a way to avoid this is to follow up on meeting invites with reminders.
Reminders are even more necessary when there is a stretch of time between when the meeting invite is sent and when the meeting is scheduled for.
The meeting reminder should be sent a week before, a day before, and the day of the meeting. Doing this will keep the meeting at top-of-mind for the participants.
The reminder should emphasize the importance of attending the meeting and provide details of the date and time.
Both virtual and in-person meetings often require reliance on tech equipment and software. You might need projectors to make presentations, video conferencing apps, or meeting management software.
The organizer should be five minutes earlier to test these out to ensure that you are familiar with how they work and that they are in good condition before going into the meeting.
Detecting and fixing any problems ahead of the meeting will prevent unpleasant surprises and time wastage when the meeting starts.
Tardiness is especially common with the team and other internal meetings. According to research, the average delay time per meeting for employees is 10 minutes and 40 seconds. This adds up to 3 days and 2 hours lost annually. It is even worse for senior executives with an average delay of 15 minutes and 42 seconds per meeting and 5 days and 19 hours annually.
Starting meetings late is another culprit in why there are delays in meetings. Delayed meetings, in turn, affect the work schedule of participants, waste time, and diminishes meeting productivity.
So, avoid keeping participants idling in the waiting room or sitting and expecting the meeting to start by starting the meeting on time.
Having a 5-10 minute window where participants can join before the official meeting time is ideal. This way, the meeting can start right on schedule.
Employees are, more often than not, reluctant to express their thoughts and opinions in the workplace and in meetings. It is common to have people who tend to speak up or participate during meetings and others who do not speak up at all or only do so when called upon. But participation is key to having effective and enjoyable meetings.
According to research by the University of North Colorado Social Research Lab, the absence of psychological safety in the workplace is the leading cause of workplace silence and the absence of innovation.
This is a major problem that goes into the organization’s very culture. So, creating an environment of psychological safety within the larger team and organization is an important first step.
Within the meeting, however, managers can employ simple conversation facilitation devices such as asking open-ended questions to involve more quiet team members, involving them in the conversation by inquiring about their thoughts and opinions, starting the meeting with ice breakers, and listening actively and attentively when they speak.
Also, ensuring that all team members practice respectful communication and show regard for one another within and outside meetings might make participants feel more psychologically safe.
In order to maximize the limited time you have for the meeting, it is important to keep the conversation on track by focusing on the goal of the meeting.
Avoid distractions and off-topic discussions, and do not entertain unnecessary deviations from the talking points in the agenda.
In the event that a team member raises an important issue that wasn’t included in the agenda, you could make a decision on whether to address it during or after the meeting based on what the team’s priorities are. Otherwise, you can address it after exhausting all the talking points for the meeting if there is still time.
As mentioned earlier, every meeting agenda should have a meeting duration and timeframe for each agenda item.
It is the responsibility of both the meeting convener and participants to ensure that they complete the discussion within the timeframe provided. And here are several tips:
Keep the discussion focused on the relevant issue
Encourage participants to go straight to the point when they speak
Make sure enough time is allocated for each item when creating the agenda
Where spill-overs unavoidably occur, try to make up for the lost time by keeping discussions on the next item as focused and concise as possible.
Meeting notes are an account of what transpired in a meeting. Good meeting notes should contain records of issues discussed, deliberations, resolutions, and action items (should specify the team members responsible for each item).
The team leads should assign notetaking to a team member; either a specific person or employees take turns.
However, manual notetaking is often daunting and distracting for the person responsible. In this case, using live recording and notetaking software like Airgram is becoming increasingly popular in workplaces because it takes the burden off team members and ensures that no details are lost with real-time transcription.
This tool also has an integrated notepad that allows your team to take collaborative meeting notes, which makes note-taking a seamless and more efficient process.
Celebrating employee efforts is not only an effective way to improve the mood of participants in a meeting but also increases employee motivation and productivity.
Acknowledgment and praise are healthier and more effective motivators than reprimands and criticism. Even more impressively, 67% of workers consider it a top motivator compared to financial and non-cash incentives.
Ending the meeting with a brief summary of the main issues and next steps is a tidy way to wrap up the conversation.
It is also a chance to reiterate and remind the participants of important details they might have missed or forgotten.
Conclude by saying “thank you” to the team. It is a common courtesy to thank team members for their time and input in the meeting, which shows that you value and appreciate them.
After the meeting, review your notes and make the necessary edits. This is also an opportunity to highlight key points and tie loose ends.
Once you have confirmed that the notes are satisfactory, share them with the rest of the team. This is especially useful to team members who were not present at the meeting.
This is perhaps one of the best ways to identify the problems with your team meeting approach and get suggestions on how to improve it.
Ask your team members for feedback on team meetings afterward. Oral feedback might seem like the easier way, but they might be reluctant to communicate honestly if they disagree with your approach. Instead, an anonymous online form might be a better way to go.
Examples of questions you could ask are:
On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with the meeting cadence?
If you are not satisfied with it, what is your preferred cadence?
On a scale of 1-10, how effective do you think the meeting was?
Do you think the goals of the meeting were achieved?
Did you feel psychologically safe during the meeting?
How can we make these meetings better?
It is not enough to get the opinion of the participants. Make changes where necessary. It is okay to continuously make improvements until the team finds a method that balances effectiveness with enjoyability.
If you are ready to create an agenda for your next meeting, here are five free team meeting templates to get you started.
This is one of the most common and frequently occurring team meetings. Weekly team meetings are often incorporated into an organization or team’s standard operational practices and serve as an opportunity for teams to align on work, discuss wins and roadblocks, evaluate performance on set goals, and solve problems.
The agenda template below reflects this with the inclusion of a team check-in.
Three distinct features of all-hands meeting agenda are Business Updates, Announcements, and Employee Q&A. These three items set all-hands meeting agenda templates apart from other agenda template types.
Since the purpose of the meeting is company-wide alignment and leadership accountability rather than problem-solving, action items are not usually featured as an item on the agenda.
In addition to carving out enough time for idea generation and deliberations, every brainstorming meeting agenda must set out the ground rules for the brainstorming session.
These ground rules are intended to keep the conversation respectful, orderly, and productive.
Strategic planning meetings are sessions organized by a company’s leadership to develop concrete plans for achieving the team or company’s vision.
This requires a careful assessment of the industry and competitors, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) of the company.
Forward-thinking leadership teams should not see leadership team meetings as merely an opportunity to touch base on what is happening in individual departments. These meetings could also be a chance to identify and discuss opportunities in the company’s market and industry.
A leadership team meeting is incomplete without these items on its agenda.
The agenda template list above is not conclusive. You can also check out other free team meeting agenda templates created by the Airgram team.
Making your team meetings effective and enjoyable could be a big investment. But it is, undeniably, a worthy one.
You should, however, remember that you are not required to figure it out alone. Involve your team members in developing the approach that works for the team, and have fun switching things up as you go!
Using a meeting management software like Airgram to simplify your meeting setup from start to finish can also make the process a lot easier.
Ranee is the Head of Growth of Airgram and has rich experience in the SaaS field. She developed a passion for writing as a young girl and believed the written word could unlock doors as well as the imagination.