Most organizations have a love-hate relationships with meetings. Some companies ban meetings at certain times or days, while others feel like more meetings will solve all of their problems.
However, the meeting length and frequency isn’t nearly as important as the meeting content.
To make your meetings more productive — and to improve the happiness of employees who sit through them — we’ve created a guide to the five types of meetings you encounter in the workspace, and how you can make the most of them.
1. Status Updates and Check-Ins
Every company has these meetings on a regular basis, from daily scrums to end-of-week reviews. While they’re often appreciated by employees, they can get out of hand.
“The stand-up became enormously popular as a core practice of software teams using an agile development methodology,” Elise Keith writes at Lucid Meetings. “Since then, it’s gained many names (daily Scrum, daily meeting) and spread to other departments, who liked the fast, energetic pace.”
Update meetings should last no more than 15-minutes for daily scrum reviews, and no more than an hour for weekly or monthly check-ins. Anything longer, and you’ve lost your audience.
“Since the time is short, the team members should know exactly what they would speak at the meeting,” Nirav Patel writes at The Scrum Institute. “Their speech should be strictly limited to what they did the day before, what they plan to do today and what are the difficulties they are facing in meeting their goals.
“For this, the scrum leader should make it clear to the team members what he expects to hear from them at the meeting. Anything off the topic should be immediately interrupted.”
Furthermore, not all problems need to be solved in one specific meeting. Place items that require more time or discussion in the “parking lot,” and address them at a later time or during a one-on-one with those involved.
“The purpose of [these] meetings is to provide information,” Sharlyn Lauby writes as HR Bartender. “The reason they’re so dreaded is because, when there’s nothing to convey, the meeting still happens.”
Almost all employees have languished through a pointless meeting with no updates, praying it ends early. Conversely, other teams have scheduled meetings, but continue to cancel them every week to the point where they’re completely forgotten. The key to these update meetings is to make sure actual news is shared, or they should be held less often.
2. Decision-Making Meetings
Decision meetings tend to be the most heated within the company. Representatives from multiple departments want to make sure they’re heard and the company moves in the best interest of their team.
“For continuity, it’s helpful to tie all discussions back to your broader strategic goals,” David Chait writes at Entrepreneur. “There are many ways to do this, but a dead simple one is to simply start your regular team meetings by posting or quickly running through those goals.”
This ensures that all decisions made by the assembled team will be in the best interest of the company, even if certain members are inconvenienced.
After the goals, the moderator should explain the process for finding a solution. By explaining this before the debate begins, employees can understand how everyone came to a solution at the end.
“Some decisions may call for unanimous agreement, while others may best be done as a decision by the owner,” Stever Robbins writes at Quick and Dirty Tips. “When people agree on process first, then even if that process chooses an option some people don’t like, they’ll usually agree to abide by the decision.” If people are unaware that the manager can override them at anytime, they could feel suppressed when the meeting comes to an abrupt end.
By explaining the process and goals, the team moderator is able to reduce friction when people disagree on certain decisions.
“One of the most important aspects of decision meetings is to create unity around the decision that is created,” writes the team at Meeting Sift. “When each participant feels their opinion has been fully considered as part of the decision making process they are more likely to feel ownership of the decision, even in cases when it is not the outcome they hoped for.”
By following these rules, and making sure every employee is listened to and treated with respect, managers can ensure decision-making meetings stay professional and productive.
3. Creative Planning and Brainstorming Sessions
On the opposite end of the decision spectrum is the creative brainstorming sessions, which tend to go long because employees are distracted and having fun.
“Meetings want to suck,” Jake Knapp writes at Heleo. “Two of their favorite suckiness tactics are group brainstorming and group negotiation. Give them half a chance, and they’ll waste your time, sap your energy, and leave you with poor ideas and a watered-down decision. But meetings don’t have to be that way.”
Despite their power to hijack an afternoon, many amazing concepts and solutions come from these meetings.
“The ability to contribute to a shared vision is the magic behind those 2 a.m. breakthroughs that are part of every startup story,” Veer Gidwaney of Maxwell Health writes at Inc. “The human collective is much more creative than one person working alone, because employees’ individual experiences bump up against one another, forming new associations and revealing intriguing possibilities.”
By adding structure to your meeting, whether you’re brainstorming a client solution or planning a fundraiser, you should be able to stay on task and leave with actionable ideas.
“A lot of creatives are quick on their feet and love to spitball ideas,” Rich Birch writes at Unseminary. “But not every creative person is wired this way. Not everyone develops their best ideas in the midst of a brainstorming meeting. Some people thrive with time and thought. Communicate the scope of the discussion beforehand to aid folks who like to mull over ideas.”
This also allows your team to conduct research beforehand about the topic, so they’re better informed when coming up with ideas.
“It’s [the] moderator’s duty to note down all the ideas on a whiteboard or anything else as per the convenience and discuss them with the participants,” Bhupendra Sharma writes at YourStory. “For this, a brainstorming session can be divided into two or more sub-sessions. While the first half can be dedicated to the idea-sharing activity, the other half can be devoted to discussing the pros and cons of those ideas.”
Not only does this limit segues that take the discussion off track, but it also lets teams return to past ideas and use them at a different time without needing to call a fresh meeting.
4. Collaborative and Planning Meetings
Collaborative meetings are becoming more popular as a way to kick off a project and make sure it has the appropriate follow-through.
“39% of employees surveyed in a recent study felt that people within their organizations did not collaborate enough, while 86% of executives and employees cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures,” Elliot Gordon writes at WeSpire.
“The core benefit of collaboration is the ability to share knowledge and expertise quickly and easily, and this sharing leads to better products and innovations, which in turn drives better profitability, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction.”
These meetings often work to map out a strategy, decide on certain elements, and assign tasks to complete afterward. The challenge of these meetings is that they can be dense and overwhelming to attendees who struggle to keep up.
“Social scientists are discovering evidence that the human brain is wired to pay attention and absorb information for 10 to 18 minutes before it begins to tune out,” Ade at the Jell blog writes. “The more information an audience is asked to consume, the more intense the mental load becomes. Eventually this ‘cognitive backlog’ becomes so heavy that listeners drop it all and fail to remember anything at all.”
Consider that next time you try to map out an entire project in one sitting. Before your attendees arrive at the meeting, send out an agenda of what will be covered and when. This way, your team comes prepared and knows what to expect.
“Looking at your agenda will give you a rough idea of how much time you can afford to devote to each item, because time is an important element of team meetings,” Paul Slezak writes at RecruitLoop. “They should start on time and only go for the allotted time. If some items on the agenda require more time than is available, they should be moved to the next meeting or, if urgent, a separate meeting should be held with those immediately involved.”
In some cases, the actual task assigned at the completion of the agenda item might be for two or three people to meet individually to come up with a plan or make a decision.
“In general, meetings and obligations tend to fill the space you give them,” Cameron Herold writes at Entrepreneur. “Estimate how long you think a meeting or task will take, then cut it in half. By limiting time, you increase your productivity, maximize efficiency and create a more highly profitable system of time management.”
If you schedule an hour-long meeting with only 30-minutes of content to cover, then your meeting will still last an hour. Try to limit the time to what is absolutely necessary, so your team can focus on doing instead of just planning.
5. Training and Professional Improvement Hours
The last type of meeting doesn’t directly impact the sales and revenue of a company, but it can improve the company in the long run. These sessions typically involve one or two presenters working with a handful of employees. While these meetings aren’t stressful, they can get boring if the subject isn’t relevant.
“Let employees choose training topics,” Larry Alton writes at the Huffington Post. “Nobody knows your employees better than themselves. Using our IT example, an employee struggling with a particular security solution has incentive to take a class on this topic because they know that it’s an opportunity to get better at their job and continue advancement.”
This also ensures the training will be relevant and fresh, and training meetings won’t go unattended after the first few sessions.
“Employees who don’t love learning can make your training sessions a nightmare,” Drew Hendricks writes at SmallBizTrends. “If you want successful trainings, begin by encouraging self-motivation and a love of learning.”
These benefits will extend beyond training meetings. Self-motivated employees can work by themselves and will research new ideas and possibilities before they come to you with a problem. This takes the burden off of you as a manager to constantly put out their fires.
“Employee training shouldn’t just be based on acquiring specific knowledge for a position,” Heather Huhman writes at Poll Everywhere. “Focus training efforts on building an understanding the company mission, organizational culture, values, and goals. Through this specific training, employees will garner a greater understanding, interest, and respect for company culture, allowing them to better utilize it on a day-to-day basis.”
This gives them a sense of purpose by showing them where the company is going (and how they can help achieve it) while instilling a sense of importance and value in their work — which turns into loyalty.
With this information, you can ensure that your employees approach every meeting confident that they will accomplish their goals without leaving drained, ignored, or bored. You’re proving that their time is valuable, and that you value what they do throughout the day. Soon your whole office — not just your meetings — will be buzzing with efficiency.