by Suparna Gharpure
Let’s face it — most of us hate meetings. Work meetings (especially internal team meetings) are a notorious time sink, and are usually approached with a mixture of helplessness and loathing. Meetings have the potential to foster true collaboration, generate ideas, and bring teams closer – but often, our experience is the polar opposite. Research  has shown that this is not a problem inherent to meetings itself, but is more about how meetings are run – one manager’s time-sink is another’s opportunity.
Worry not! We’ve pulled together a few tips to make your next meeting feel awesome. These best practices are used by business leaders like Jeff Bezos at Amazon, and The Elon relies on them to run … eight(?!) companies.
Smaller groups, shorter meetings
Break down long meetings into smaller topic-specific “sub-meetings”. Rather than holding 10 folks in the room for an hour while only 3 or 4 are actively needed at any point, divide the group into smaller “sub-meetings” of only really needed participants — smaller groups will result in a tighter, focused conversation, while letting the remaining team members go about their day. Many of us tend to think about meetings in half hour or one-hour chunks, an arbitrary choice of time. The most effective meeting managers quickly develop the habit of setting up 15–20 minute long “sub-meetings” with smaller groups, instead of a long 1 hour meeting with a supergroup of everyone who could be remotely needed.
Engage people with the agenda
Assign topic ownership before the meeting starts. Every item on the agenda needs an “owner”, who is responsible to drive the conversation when it comes to their topic. This person is not the moderator, nor the minutes-taker. The owner is responsible to come prepared to discuss their topic, take the conversation to a meaningful conclusion, and crucially — be prepared to answer questions. Assigning topic ownership also gives participants a reason to be in the room, apart from giving them a sense of responsibility toward the group’s time.
Get the conversation going before the meeting even begins
Topic owners should share pre-read and take questions before the meeting. Get the conversation going before you even actually meet — sometimes this might mean you don’t need to meet at all! We don’t recommend endless Slack threads or email chains either — however, agenda item owners should share pre-read material / talking points ahead of time, and give the other participants enough time to absorb the material. Participants should share their questions with the owner, and give the owner a chance to come prepared to actually have a meaningful conversation in the meeting itself (instead of “Good question. I’ll have to get back to you on that”). Do as much as possible offline — not on the other attendees’ time!
Stay loyal to time
Allocate time to each topic, and keep track: This is a biggie — how many times have we been in meetings where only the first half of the agenda was discussed — because time ran out!? To avoid this, pre-allocate time to each item on your agenda, and then keep track of time as the meeting progresses — so you don’t realize that you’re out of time when it’s already too late! Not that this pre-allocation is set in stone — during the meeting you might very well decide to spend more, or less time on something, but it does help to keep the conversation moving, remind the group when you’re going in circles, and ensure what needs to be discussed is covered.
Summary, action points, moving on
Summarise an agenda item before moving on to the next one. The topic owner should give a quick verbal summary— covering key decisions, next steps, and outstanding questions. This ensures the group is on the same page and will minimize confusion (“was I supposed to do that..?”). A recorded verbal summary can then be transcribed, analysed to pick out key takeaways, and assign action items.
Don’t leave it hanging
Park items if necessary & revisit them later: A great discussion may very well end without a conclusive decision — perhaps for a lack of time, or not enough information. In that case, it is perfectly okay to “move” the agenda item to a future meeting, and pick up the discussion where you left it. This outcome is significantly better than making a hasty decision & paying for it later, or not revisiting an important decision at all!
Do away with the ‘Minutes’
Ditch traditional “minutes of the meeting” emails — no one reads them. Instead, document takeaways in a structured, consistent, and actionable format (decisions, action items with owners & due dates).
At this point, you’re probably wondering — all this sounds good, but if only it were that simple to actually do! While it is undoubtedly a cultural shift that is required, and committing to these strategies is required – the rewards more than justify the effort. More efficient project teams, clear and consistent documentation of work, time & effort savings, and increased momentum at the workplace are just some of the after effects of an improved meeting culture. Your team deserves it.
Suparna Gharpure is the founder of Jifi — a team collaboration and communication platform built around meeting productivity.
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