Meetings are an inevitable part of the job, often needed to inspire ideas, engage employees, and discuss ongoing projects, among many other things. However, a meeting isn’t always necessary and, when forced or conducted poorly, can take a toll on team productivity.

Research shows that unproductive meetings result in a collective loss of more than 20 billion hours every year. Employees aren’t big fans of them either — 47% say that meetings are the biggest waste of time. These eye-opening stats beg an important question: if the sentiments about business meetings are largely negative, why do we have them so often?

The problem isn’t with the idea of meetings but the way most managers plan, conduct, and evaluate them. The following strategies for effective meetings will help you conduct them more effectively, increase participation, and achieve your intended objectives.

1. Set a Meeting Agenda

A good meeting is like a well-planned project. And like any project, it needs a set of goals, an agenda that clearly defines what needs to be accomplished. An agenda tells the meeting participants what to expect in the discussion and how to prepare for it. It also keeps the conversation laser-focused and prevents everyone from straying from the meeting objective. Therefore, the meeting is more likely to conclude on time and make a meaningful impact.

Another reason to set an agenda is that it shows you early on whether or not you need to convene a meeting in the first place. Refrain from scheduling one if what you want to accomplish can be appropriately done through email or other team communication channels.

Start by thinking about the main items — the core topics or issues — that your team needs to go over. Then list important related questions or sub-topics under each to get more specific. For example, if one of your action items is “running a quarterly engagement survey,” a related question could be, “how can we improve the survey participation rate?” New related questions or sub-topics may arise during the conversation; however, thinking of a few ahead of the meeting gives you a good starting point.

Next, allocate time slots for discussing each agenda item — especially if you have many of them. This will ensure that every item is covered and the meeting time doesn’t exceed the usual window. Finally, once you have the agenda locked down, put everything into a message or a document and share it with all participants before the meeting.

2. Set Clear Expectations for the Participants

It’s important to be upfront about whether you’re looking for inputs (or anyone else is), issuing an order, or both in the team meeting. As a result, everyone understands where they stand and what’s expected of them — leading to a successful meeting that achieves its goals. These expectations can be shared in the meeting invite or the agenda.

For instance, if the purpose of the meeting is to give an order to other participants, you may say that they can ask questions about the new directive. That way, it’s clear that you’re not inviting input — because the decision has already been made — but only asking for something to be done.

3. Allow Everyone to Contribute and Ask Questions

An effective meeting flows like a discussion rather than a one-sided conversation. It encourages the participants to bring their unique takes and questions to the table. As a result, you make sure that everyone’s voice is heard. This helps improve employee engagement and may even give you new perspectives that’ll help drive better outcomes.

Create a safe space where all participants feel comfortable contributing to the conversation. Avoid bluntly shooting down ideas (no matter how unsuitable they may seem) and lead by example by gently pushing back. Otherwise, the rest of the participants may just agree with the manager/authority figure and feel hesitant to share their two cents.

4. Rotate the Meeting Leader

At least one person — known as the leader — should be responsible for planning, organizing, and conducting the meeting. They need to make sure that the agenda is in order, the invites go out on time, and the meeting runs as smoothly as an orchestral concert. Having a new person assume this responsibility every time will keep things fresh and make all the participants feel involved.

Participants can take turns assuming the role of the leader. Create a timetable with the list of all participants and the exact dates they’re supposed to lead to avoid any surprises. This should be shared in a location/drive accessible to everyone at all times.

Make sure that you’re clear about the responsibilities that come with this role. For instance, make it clear that any key decision-making will still fall on a manager’s shoulders.

5. Change the Location

Meetings, especially if conducted regularly, tend to get boring and may even stifle creativity. Changing the venue every now and then is a great way to keep things fresh.

Consult with the participants and pick a suitable venue that’s easily accessible for everyone. This change could be as simple as ditching the boardroom for the cafeteria or the coffee shop across the street. You may also offer a work retreat of some sort to your employees/clients/partners once or twice a year for meetings that are usually conducted virtually.

Inform the participants about the new venue at least a few days ahead of the meeting so they don’t show up at the wrong place. Remember to give them the option of joining remotely in case they’re not able to make it.

6. Engage in an Activity

Engaging in an activity is an effective meeting strategy to make things less boring and increase the participation rate. Plus, you get to kill two birds with one stone by achieving the meeting goal AND cultivating team camaraderie.

Get the opinions of your team members and pick an activity that’s doable and suitable for the type of meeting. For example, you can take your team out for a stroll or a brisk walk — an activity that’s known to boost creativity, perfect for brainstorming. Or the meeting can take place over lunch at a restaurant picked by the participants — more suited for focused discussions involving reporting, solving problems, or striking business deals.

7. Ask Participants to Rate the Meeting

Meetings can always be improved — even if they go according to plan, by your standards. It’s vital to ask the participants to highlight the good aspects and what could be done differently to improve the experience and outcomes in the future. This feedback can then be used to improve future meetings.

Create a quick survey and share it with all the participants at the end of the meeting so they can voice their concerns. Perhaps the agenda items didn’t warrant a meeting in the first place. Or there wasn’t enough time to entertain follow-up questions. There could be a number of things that the participants point out. Your job as the manager or the facilitator is to listen and take action.

Make Every Meeting Count!

A meeting presents an opportunity to achieve something great. Approach every single one with the same mindset, even if the outcome won’t have an immediate impact on the business.

However, remember that no strategy can fix something with a fundamental issue. Meetings cost time and money, so prioritize and remove what’s unnecessary from your calendar. Not only will it result in better productivity, but your team members will love you for it.

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