Keeping Meetings On Time and On Track

Having regular team meetings is an essential part of building a strong team and ensuring that everyone is on the same page. However, poorly run meetings are a waste of everyone’s time and only lead to frustration. If you are responsible for chairing team meetings, keep in mind the following advice.

Have a Clear Purpose
Getting clear about the purpose of the meeting will help you make best use of your time together. Remember, team meetings are not just about sharing information or discussing issues, team meetings are also an opportunity to build trust and capability across your team. When planning your team meetings, it is important to consider what you are ultimately trying to achieve and then build your agenda around that.

Invite the Right People
If your meeting is a regular whole-team meeting, then make sure the whole team is present. If your meeting is for a specific project or different purpose, then it’s important to think carefully about who needs to be included.

It can be helpful to make a list of potential participants/attendees and ask yourself why they are being invited before you make the invitation. This helps to ensure that you aren’t inviting people unnecessarily. On the flipside, once you have completed your list, it’s a good idea to consider who you might have missed. It can be helpful to ask attendees to suggest others they think should be included.

Plan an Effective Agenda
When planning your agenda, carefully consider how each item will help you achieve your meeting purpose and clearly state whether the item is for information, discussion or decision. Give each item a time limit so that you can keep the meeting on track and finish on time.

Send the Agenda to Meeting Participants in Advance
Sending the agenda in advance allows meeting participants to come prepared and helps ensure positive contributions can be made. By identifying whether each agenda item is for information, discussion or decision, participants will have some idea as to how much pre-work or pre-thinking is required. If there are specific things you need people to do or consider ahead of time, let them know when the agenda is distributed.

Have Meeting Rules
Not everyone has the same expectations about how meetings should be run or how individuals need to behave. So, if you are meeting with a new group of people, or you are establishing new meeting standards, it’s important to make your expectations clear at the beginning. You might like to come up with meeting rules together or use your organisation’s values as a guide.

If you are using meetings as a forum to make decisions, you need to be clear about how decisions are made. Do you need to come to a consensus? Is it put to a majority vote? Does one person get to have the final say? It’s important that everyone understands the decision-making process from the start.

Stay Focussed
There is no point having an agenda, if you don’t stick to it. Be assertive and keep bringing the conversation back on track, as often as you need to. Some useful phrases include:

“Can I bring this conversation back to what we need to focus on right now?”
“That is an interesting discussion, and one I would be happy to come back to. For now, we need to focus on this agenda item.”
“We have only allowed 15 minutes to talk about this issue, so it’s important for us to stay on track.”

Being intentional about how long you discuss each item is the easiest way to keep your meeting to time. So, if you find that an agenda item is taking more time than you have allocated, it is important to stop the meeting and check-in about how people want to proceed.

Do they want to continue discussing the item, and if so, which other item would they like to take time from? Are they happy to wrap-up the discussion and simply needed a reminder that time was up? Do you need to appoint a sub-committee to explore the issue further and present back to the next meeting?

Take Meeting Minutes
Having a record of what was discussed and agreed upon at your meetings is essential. By taking minutes—and distributing them to meeting participants after the meeting—you can double-check that everyone left the meeting with the same understanding of what went on, and what is happening next. Having good minutes also helps minimise the need for repeat discussions at the next meeting.

Record Action Items
Including action items in your minutes is essential for ensuring that things get done. As a part of your minute taking, make sure you include what action has been agreed upon, who is responsible for actioning the item, and when that action will be complete. At the end of the meeting, run through each of the action items in order, and double-check for clarity before closing the meeting.

Over the years, meetings have been given a bad rap for being time wasters. However, well run meetings can help bring your team together, improve productivity, and ensure everyone is working on the same page. The power is in the preparation.