team running an effective meeting

How to Run Meetings Without Wasting Time

Meetings are meant to do so much more than simply share information. They can help with determining strategy, making decisions, clarifying roles and responsibilities, inspiring collaboration, and more. Having a truly effective meeting, however, requires adhering to some time-tested principles… and avoiding some of the common time-wasting obstacles. This article will break it all down so you can be as efficient with your time as possible.

We’ve all heard it before: “We should have a meeting about this.” It’s a natural instinct, after all, to bring people together to discuss issues or opportunities. But here’s why the suggestion for a last-minute meeting is often met with eye rolls: too many of us have followed that suggestion too often, finding ourselves in hastily scheduled meetings that lack a clear purpose or agenda. 

Those are the meetings that contribute to the lost hours of a day, a week, a month. It’s critical time wasted and, to state the obvious, you can’t get it back. 

When meetings are properly structured, however, they can actually be time savers, providing clear direction on what needs to be done right now and what, specifically, needs to be done next. Removing the ambiguity on the way forward for any issue or opportunity saves precious time for people who would otherwise be sending emails or messages to others, making a slew of calls to find clarity, or … scheduling another last-minute, reactive meeting. 

Such meetings are rarely, if ever, remembered as “effective.” So let’s focus on what we can control. And that’s running an effective meeting using some key principles as a guide to ultimate productivity.  


Effective Meetings Improve Productivity and Morale

According to the New York Times, effective meetings must have these three things:

  1. An agenda
  2. A time limit
  3. Agreements on next steps

If meetings fail to have those three criteria, meeting participants:

  • Won’t know why they’re there
  • Will think there’s no real reason to meet
  • Probably won’t stay or participate… or accept the next one

Having a clear agenda and a firm time limit for those agenda items — coupled with a firm start and stop time for the meeting itself — helps create agreements for an action plan by the meeting’s end. What’s more, you'll have spent the time well by igniting ideas, fostering engagement and collaboration, and maintaining high levels of productivity and morale typically seen at high-trust companies.


First, a Refresher on Essential Types of Meetings 

Over the past few months, we’ve written extensively about meetings. That’s because many of us, over the years, have learned a lot about effective meeting principles and tactics and their direct impact on the process of building a great company. We hope you’ve found some valuable insights in the course of these articles and have seen the many ways your meetings can be made better.

Before we delve into the tactics, let’s first review the essential types of meetings every organization should have if it wants to ascend the Stages of Development and become what we call a Level 5 company:

    1. Weekly Team Meeting (WTM) — connects teams on the most critical work ahead of them. 
    2. Weekly 1-on-1 Meeting — provides a regular opportunity for team leaders to coach team members and help with issues or opportunities.
    3. Quarterly Planning Meeting (QPM) — provides a space for teams to sit back and assess progress toward Compelling and Audacious Goals (CAGs). 
    4. Annual Planning Meeting (APM) ensures everyone is aligned on the organization’s Vision and 3- and 1-year goals.
    5. State of the Company Meetingoutlines where you are as a company with your team members and is an integral part of building a positive organizational culture.
    6. Quarterly 1-on-1senables two-way feedback between a leader/coach and one of their team members.
    7. Whole Company Offsite offers an opportunity for companies to enhance organizational culture by bringing all team members together at least once a year.
    8. Project Retrospective — allows time for post-project reflection on key wins and learnings. 

These meetings go well beyond the notion of simply being effective. These are the meetings that promote the kind of accountability, transparency, and trust great organizations are built upon. We’ve seen it firsthand, but we’ve also heard from many people using Ninety just how valuable our Meetings tool is to them.

woman engaged in team meeting

The Fundamentals of Running Great Meetings

Here’s where we cobble some key tactics together and point you to specific articles if you need a refresher on any particular meeting concept or tool.

  • How to start a meeting
    When meetings begin, you can either forego the small talk and dive right in, or you can allocate some time to healthily connect with team members before rolling up your sleeves. This article shares tips for setting a positive tone and starting a meeting effectively… with a little help from time-tested agendas and agreements established among team members.
  • Writing a meeting agenda
    Meetings are essential to gaining alignment and creating an organization that can thrive, but they’re only as effective as the agendas we create for them. This article highlights the power of time-tested (and time-saving) meeting agendas and how to turn any meeting from a bore… to adore. After all, no matter the organization, time and resources are valuable. And we don’t want to waste either one, right?
  • How often should you have meetings?
    Establishing an appropriate meeting cadence is a surefire way to foster spirited collaboration among team members while beating back the risk of meeting fatigue. While there’s no perfect answer to how often a team, department, or organization should meet, this article highlights a few guiding principles to help keep calendars manageable… and team members engaged.
  • How long should a meeting last?
    Determining the appropriate duration of any meeting goes a long way to ensuring engagement and collaboration between team members, alignment on the next steps, and productive outcomes. This article highlights a few guidelines for assessing and implementing an appropriate duration for your meetings. Along the way, we share some tools, best practices, and tactics to help keep you on time, every time.
  • The danger of too many meetings
    The right meetings are always worth it, of course. But leaders and managers are attending so many of them, it’s taking up a substantial amount of their time and energy. Here’s where we provide some strategies for decreasing the reactive, limited-scope meetings that jam up our days, while enhancing the meetings we truly need to help boost overall productivity and job satisfaction. 


Engaging Participants and Encouraging Interaction

So, now we have these meetings, we know how to run them effectively and, presumably, we have the right people in the room for each of them. The question is, how do we encourage active participation and get the most from those people?

For starters, people are more likely to contribute to a meeting when they know what their role is in expediting the agenda. First, you need to clearly communicate the purpose of the meeting to all participants and tell them what you want them to do to achieve it. Ensure that the person running the meeting isn’t also dominating the discussion; this may compel others to clam up and simply nod in agreement.  

It’s important for participants to feel like the meeting is a safe place to explore divergent ideas. They want to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and creative thoughts. Leaders can build that trust by:

  • Setting a nonjudgmental tone for the rest of the group
  • Letting curiosity rule the day
  • Facilitating deeper discussion with open-ended questions
  • Including everyone in the discussion
  • Re-directing those dominating the meeting into another role, such as taking notes

Ideally, someone in the meeting is highly attuned to the level of collaboration taking place, and they help engage those who seem withdrawn. But the bottom line is, group discussions are always more fruitful than monologues. Make sure you allocated enough time in the agenda for the level of discussion needed to explore a breadth of ideas for any given opportunity or to reach actionable outcomes for every stated objective.

Effective Strategies for Online Meetings

In this Work From Anywhere world, online meetings are sometimes even more prevalent than in-person meetings. Here’s the main (if not obvious) difference: online meetings are technology dependent. And technology, for all its glorious perks, can still be imperfect at the worst time. And time is one thing few organizations have in abundance. 

To run an effective online meeting, we recommend the following tips:

  • smaller team meeting to be more productiveIron out any technical difficulties with the video conference software before the meeting begins, from audio and video settings to ensuring the internet connection is reliable enough for streaming content through the software.

  • Make sure all phones and other devices are silenced. Even the sound of an incoming text or phone call notification can disrupt a person’s cognitive performance. Or take it a step further, and consider banning phones altogether when meeting. 

  • Meeting size matters. Researchers have concluded that group size can influence the quality of a person’s response during any meeting, especially during video conferences. The most productive meetings contain only five to eight people, according to Harvard Business Review research.

  • Consider asking participants to enable video in addition to audio so they’re more likely to stay actively engaged.

  • Record online meetings to make them more accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities. The recording can be used to review the meeting afterward, to transcribe notes, or to serve as source material for company media presentations.


It’s Time to Make Running a Great Meeting Easier

Ninety provides intuitive tools for running effective meetings. The functionalities listed below are true game-changers that help everything run seamlessly:

  • Using the in-app timer — Stay on track and on time. This convenient automation allows you to keep an eye on the overall duration of your meeting, as well as each agenda item.

  • Easily making something an Issue — The easiest method that works with just about every item in a meeting is to right-click and select “Make it an Issue.” The “Create” button in the top right corner is for Issues that don’t originate from a pre-existing item in the meeting.

  • Quickly combining issues — During a meeting, participants often find multiple Issues that contain similarities. Merging those similar Issues allows you to save time and better prioritize the rest of the conversations.

  • Adjusting goals on the fly — Quickly make adjustments individually from the primary Scorecard view or adjust multiple Goals and Measurables using the Goal Forecasting tool.

  • Seeing next steps in a recap email — A meeting recap email is sent to all team members post-meeting and includes Issues solved, To-Dos created, headlines discussed, shared messages sent, and anything else that’s tracked during the meeting.

  • Getting instant feedback — At its conclusion, all participants can rate the meeting on a scale of 1 to 10 to address efficiency, topics covered, preparedness, or anything else.

Want to find out how Ninety can help you run an effective meeting and (finally) get more work done? Try it free for 30 days, and see how much your meetings can improve!


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