The meeting culture in smaller teams is often easy to fix. When teams get larger, it might be necessary to work out some ground rules for meetings.
This is the result of our efforts at Accounto to improve our meetings. It is changed to be more general to the one we use over there.
Setting up a meeting
Have an agenda
- What is the purpose of this meeting? Is it to make decisions, have a brainstorming on new ideas or share information? If the objective of a meeting is clear, it is much easier to get back to the original reason to have it as well as have the desired outcome.
- Provide a clear agenda for the meeting which can be followed and plan enough time for each item. Ideally, distribute this in advance to ensure others can also be prepared.
Invite fewer people
This may sound counter-intuitive, but having fewer attendees can drastically increase meeting productivity.
Only invite those whose presence is fruitful to delivering on your meeting objectives.
If you remove two people from a one-hour meeting you would otherwise invite, that is adding two hours of productive time available to the team or company in other areas.
We should always document our meeting outcome. If there is nothing to document, most likely the meeting was not necessary at all.
- Decisions/results: Depending on the type of meeting, at least take notes of decisions and the general results of the meeting.
- Setting deadlines: If there are action items to share as a result of the meeting, we should document who is responsible for it and when the work will be done.
- Tracking results: Considering we have actions defined, we should follow up on those results. This is especially important for repeating meetings like standups.
Share the roles
Depending on the meeting there might be more specific roles to be shared, these seem to be the most important ones.
- Meeting Lead: Help the team pass through the agenda and catch them again if they seem to drift off into not related topics.
- Note Taker: Discuss who will take meeting notes. This work can even be shared across the people in the meeting if you have live collaboration tools like Notion.
- Time Keeper: Everyone should be responsible to keep an eye on the timings and remind the team if things seem to take longer. Also, plan enough time to go to the next meeting. If the team does not take its responsibility, the team might want to select a dedicated candiate.
Limit meeting time
- Let’s spend enough time in meetings, but no more. Our meetings should be productive. Our meetings should be finished when our goals for the meeting are reached. Finishing a meeting after 45 minutes which was planned for 60 is good. It adds flexibility to have a quick break before the next slot if that was planned already.
- Reduce total meeting time. Let's try to limit the overall time we spend in meetings. Meetings are great to get things coordinated and discussed, but if there is not much time left to actually work on things, we have too much of those. Let's try to establish a maximum meeting time of 4h per day. Also we schedule meetings in the morning to keep the afternoons available to focus on bigger topics.
- Socialize: While we try to be on spot when it comes to meetings, starting them on time as well as having many people in the team, staying in the call after things have been discussed is a good time to catch up with people on other topics as an alternative to the usual coffee break.
- Have another meeting. If you need much more time, rather schedule a new meeting to follow up instead of extending the current one. Usually, the people have planned their time already and will likely overpromise and not deliver other things they have planned.
- Listen more, say less. Always ask yourself if the part you want to add is relevant for the whole group and adds to the topic which is being discussed.
Joining a meeting
Be on time
If you join a meeting, be on time. Always. Be respectful and don’t let other people wait for you.
You have all the meetings you have scheduled, you know those meetings in advance, there is usually no reason to come late or not to come at all.
When to come late or not at all
- You have scheduled a call with a client and that takes much longer than expected because of unforeseen issues. That means regular delays in calls should rather lead to longer meetings being scheduled upfront.
- You got hit by a car or your house burns down. It is not a reason to come late because you didn’t get a coffee before the meeting.
Be considerate of your colleagues
- Know who is available and when. Not everyone has the same work schedule, not everyone will be available during regular working hours in the same way. Make yourself familiar with the people's availability when scheduling meetings.
- Use your webcam! Keep sharing your video to allow non-verbal communication at least partially. But also allow yourself time off in longer meetings, switch off your webcam if you need to, walk around when having a video call.
(Video conferencing fatigue is real: https://ideas.ted.com/zoom-fatigue-is-real-heres-why-video-calls-are-so-draining/)