10 ways to keep your meetings productive

Meetings can be a source of creativity and help you achieve a lot if done right.

Let’s dive deeper.

Is it a meeting you really need?

It is easy to have a meeting about everything but the important question is – is it the one you really need. For example, the Agile framework has several recurring meetings which all are great – weekly planning meeting, grooming meeting, retrospective meeting. Probably you need a meeting to review and prioritize bugs for fixing, daily standup meetings and so on. But there is one thing that Agile again doesn’t say – you need to take helpful things instead of adopting everything in a framework as is.

If you have a small team of ten people and make a list of all the meetings you should be having, you’ll quickly discover that not much time is left in the week for actual work. Make sure you have the important meetings to support your goals but not more. We believe that when it comes to meetings, less is often more.

Have a person in charge.

Make sure there is one person in these meetings who will help you keep your focus, watch the time and ruthlessly keep you focused on your goals. It’s so easy to let your mind wander off to different topics. Instead, make a note of the things coming up and continue discussing the particular topic for the meeting.

Keep it small.

We’ve seen many meetings that are easily confused with an office party where everyone was invited and they simply forgot the snacks and the beer. Find the truly critical people you need to solve the problem at hand. Usually, this would be around 3-6 people. In rare occasions, it could be 10 but never really more. Who knows about the subject most? Who really needs to be in that room? And do not hesitate to let people they are not needed in the meeting if that should be the case. The person gets more time to do other things and you have a smaller meeting – win-win for everyone.

Timeboxing your meetings.

Timeboxing is the best helper to keep your focus. And it takes practice. It is not okay that a meeting goes over time, even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes. You will finish on time, always. For standup, you need only 15 minutes. For average meeting 30 minutes and for bigger planning – an hour. No meeting should be longer than an hour unless it is your team retreat event. Timeboxing will magically force you to be better prepared for each meeting as a team. A great side-effect, don’t you think?

Drive towards results and action items.

A meeting to chat is simply time to discuss and talk. A good meeting always has a goal. And a goal always results in action items. For agile teams, those should end up in your backlog.

Keep your focus.

Ever had a meeting when you started discussing priorities and ended up discussing design and usability for an hour? This is what we call bad focus. You let your minds wander off to new exciting things and forgot your goal overall. When your meeting starts to slip, the person in charge should simply take a note of those topics coming up. Then you can discuss them later, but keep your meeting focus on one topic.

Engage your remote employees.

A simple video call is probably the standard way to engage our remote employees during a meeting. But magically we pull up a presentation or a whiteboard and have a full engaged conversation with people in the room, leaving those remote employees entirely out of it. Sending slides over and repeating entire meeting “We’re on slide 10 now” is not the answer. Use real-time tools where everyone can contribute and feel part of the conversations.

Choose a location that supports your purpose.

Coffee corner in the office might be great place for standup, a walk around the city could be great for a one-on-one meeting, a retreat to nature great for longer planning and so on. Be bold and creative to find the location that helps you get results.

Say NO to “death by thousand slides”.

You could argue that powerpoint is great as a tool, but on average, we are terrible at slides. We are in fact great at creating hundreds of slides filled with text and perhaps some pie charts that seem so amazing for the person presenting. But it makes our meetings boring lectures where even the person with strongest will can keep their focus. Loose the lectures and slides and have engaging interactive conversation instead.

Doodle your notes.

ou heard it, yes. There are tons researches done saying we not only understand visual information better, but we remember it. A study at the University of Plymouth found that doodlers can retain 29% more information than non-doodlers in meetings and lectures.

Summary

So for a quick summary overview, to keep your meetings productive:

  • Is it a meeting you really need?
  • Who’s in charge?
  • Keep it small and simple.
  • Have you timeboxed your meeting?
  • What is the expected result?
  • Keep your focus on the topic and results.
  • Engage your remote employees.
  • Choose a location that supports your purpose.
  • No to “death by thousand slides”.
  • Doodle your notes.

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