Productive Meetings

Experts Guide to Running Productive Meetings

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Ahh, the two M’s.

Mondays and meetings.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to decide which is the lesser of two evils. Not today. Today we’re tackling the latter – meetings. In our hyper-connected world, with emails, IMs and Skype calls aplenty – there is still a place for the face-to-face meeting. And after hours of sitting, listening to people go back and forth, waiting and more waiting; the majority of the meetings we attend have us wondering:

“Are long meetings productive?”

Let’s see what the expert has to say about this one. By expert, we mean Google. And by Google, we mean taking a peek at their productive meeting ground rules. Google’s VP of Business Operations & Strategy, Kristen Gil wrote about the company’s return to “Start-Up Speed” in an issue of Think With Google. Here are the key takeaways.

  1. There should be no more than ten people in a meeting.
  2. Everyone attending a meeting should provide input. If not, rethink if that person should be there.
  3. If and when there is a decision to be made, it should never wait for a meeting.
  4. If your meeting is decision-oriented, it should have a clear decision-maker.
  5. Create quarterly Objectives and Key Results for each team and merge them with broader company goals so everyone’s working towards a shared result.
  6. Make tough calls. Hone in your focus by putting more resources towards high-impact deliverables.

Infographic: Should you call that meeting?

Wendy MacNaughton is an illustrator and a graphic journalist based in San Francisco.


David Grady: How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

Ever wondered how you ended up a meeting which turned out to have no need for your presence or input? David Grady tells you how you can get out of it without ruffling any feathers in this Ted Talk.


Consider these Google-approved insights

Google has put a great deal of thought and resources into dissecting the anatomy of a ‘perfect team’. The dynamics they discovered are equally important in cultivating effectiveness in your team:


  1. Psychological Safety: Are we able to speak freely in front of team members or take risks without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
  2. Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work efficiently?
  3. Structure and Clarity: Are our roles, goals, and the way we carry out our tasks clear to everyone in the team?
  4. Meaningful Work: Are we working on something that is important to us on a personal level?
  5. Impactful Work: Do we believe that what each of us is doing matters?

Nilofer Merchant: Got a meeting? Take a walk

Do you know how bad sitting for a long stretch of time is for your health? Nilofer Merchant explains further in this Ted Talk and proposes a new way to conduct some of your meetings.

Stand-up Meetings

Jason Yip, an Agile Coach at Spotify, is all for team stand-up meetings. What are stand-up meetings? It is when the whole team meets at the start of each day (or middle) to update everyone on their status. The entire meeting is run while standing up, so you’re inclined to keep the meeting short.

Yip says, “stand-ups are a mechanism to regularly synchronise so that team members can share an understanding of goals, coordinate efforts, explain problems and improvements as well as identify as a team.”

Your stand-up should cover three questions:

  1. What did I accomplish yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?
  3. What obstacles are interfering with my progress?

Another suggestion to help make your team meeting productive is to have it where the work happens. Why? Because your workplace has visual memory triggers about what’s going on. It also beats spending time on coordination, booking a meeting room and walking to it.

“…if anyone thinks the current conversation has gone off topic or is no longer effective, then they raise a hand. Once a second person raises a hand then that’s a sign to stop the conversation and continue with the rest of the stand-up. Those speaking can continue the conversation after the stand up has finished.

– Benjamin Mitchell, “Stuck in an overlong Agile stand-up? Try the two hands rule

The seven rules to rule them all

Neal Hartman, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at MIT Sloan School of Management tells Forbes about these seven rules for running a productive meeting:

  1. Make your objectives clear
  2. Consider who is invited
  3. Stick to your schedule
  4. Take no hostages (avoid tangents)
  5. Start on time and end on time
  6. Do away with distractions (no tech allowed)
  7. Follow up to reduce risk of misinterpretation

We spoke to Kelly*, a local IT Consultant, whose work involves collaborating with teams around the globe. “I think sending out an agenda before a meeting is very important. It lets people know beforehand about a meeting’s objectives and it provides a structure for the discussion that all participants are aware of before the meeting,” she shared.

Kelly goes on to explain why there shouldn’t only be one person talking during a meeting. “There should be some time set aside for discussions or feedback. Else, it defeats the purpose of the meeting  and whatever the organiser wanted to convey could have been done through an email.”

Kelly also tells us it’s important that a meeting is arranged when all the key attendees are present. “This is in order to fully achieve the objective and have a unanimous agreement for any decisions.” When you are working with teams in different countries, Kelly says, “you must be sensitive to the different time zones and make sure you follow-up post meeting as required.”

Bring solutions, not problems

More often than not, the mindset that you carry into a meeting makes a difference. Michelle Gielan, founder and researcher at the Institute for Applied Positive Research, spoke at an event called re:Work 2016 about the importance of a solutions-oriented mindset.

“Research tells us just three minutes of negative news in the morning can lead to a 27% higher likelihood you’ll report your day as “unhappy: 6 – 8 hours later.” So, go into your next meeting with solutions in mind, instead of problems. Put on your positive pants. Resist the urge to shoot down initial ideas or proposals (there is no judging in brainstorming). Instead of saying “no, but…”, say “yes, and…” and you and your team will be well on your way to conducting a productive meeting.

How do you ensure your team meeting is productive? Share your tips or suggestions with us in the comments below!

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