Back to Basics: Effective Meetings
How to be an effective facilitator or participant in your next virtual, hybrid, or in-person meeting
Why aim for effective meetings?
With the shift to hybrid, all-remote/all-virtual workplaces, meetings become the main forum to collaborate with teammates in real-time.
Love them or hate them, meetings are here to stay.
Personally, I spend 15 to 20 hours in meetings every week, which is up to half of my work week. So it’s imperative for me to facilitate effective meetings when I am the organizer and share unique, valuable insights when I am a participant.
I’ve participated in effective meetings and in meetings where I left thinking, “Why did I just waste 30 minutes of my day in that?” Especially earlier on in my career, I’ve undoubtedly facilitated meetings that were wastes of time.
🗒️ As an organizer, how do I ensure that I facilitate an effective meeting?
Before organizing the meeting:
What are you aiming to accomplish? Common meeting objectives may be:
Making a decision
Ideating on a specific problem
Planning out a project or initiative
Getting a read on status updates
Have you asked yourself whether this needs to be a synchronous meeting?
For example, if you’re trying to drive multiple stakeholders to make a decision on a specific topic, what’s stopping you from starting an asynchronous discussion to solicit perspectives, or writing up documentation outlining options, along with benefits and drawbacks to each option?
As another example, what about written status reports that are shared asynchronously is currently not working for the team and their stakeholders?
What are you hoping for each participant to add to the meeting?
If you can’t think of a specific outcome that an individual will bring to the meeting, don’t invite them!
What context do active participants need to be aware of to contribute meaningfully to the meeting?
As part of the meeting agenda, write out important context, and provide links to reference documentation for reading before the meeting, as needed.
Before kicking off the meeting:
Reiterate the specific objective that you aim to lead everyone towards by the end of this meeting.
Reiterate the phases of the meeting that you will take participants through to meet the objective.
During the meeting:
Distribute airtime to share perspectives amongst all participants. If there are voices who are dominating the discussion, prompt other participants to contribute.
Document this information:
Key points of discussion,
Action items—including items to have follow-up conversations on, and
Before closing out the meeting:
Reiterate action items, and assign an owner to each, with a target date by which to complete it.
After the meeting:
Send the meeting notes to all participants.
Based on the target date on each action item, follow up with the respective owner.
💡 What are the principles that I’ve learned to instill in the meetings that I facilitate?
🤝 Mutual respect
I keep the meeting focused towards meeting its objective, to be respectful of participants taking time out of their busy days to join the discussion.
I want every participant to have a chance to share their perspective and everyone else to pay attention.
If I unintentionally speak up over someone, I apologize. If someone gets interrupted, I give the stage back to them.
I keep the meeting focused towards meeting its objective, whether it’s an alignment, decision-making, or brainstorming meeting.
When I hear a possible side tangent forming, I give the opportunity back to the audience to decide whether this is a detail they would rather explore now or later in a follow-up conversation.
The purpose of bringing in diverse perspectives is to make the optimal decisions on behalf of the company and customers, based on the available information.
I encourage spring boarding and building off of previous ideas or previous discussion points. I love hearing phrases, such as “Yes, and…”, “We could…”, “What about…?”, “What if we…?”
💬 As a participant, how do I contribute to make a meeting as effective as possible?
Before the meeting:
If you’re invited to a meeting without a clear objective, or your specific role in this meeting isn’t clear to you, ask the organizer for clarification.
If the organizer’s explanation still doesn’t explain your intended value add to the meeting, decline joining the meeting.
During the meeting:
Be fully present in the discussion.
Be mindful of how much you’re speaking (or not speaking).
If the facilitator passes the mic off to another participant, try not to take it personally. They’re trying to create space for everyone in the room to contribute meaningfully.
If something is unclear to you. Chances are that others have the same or similar questions—and aren’t asking about it out of the fear of looking silly in front of colleagues.
Before the facilitator closes out the meeting:
If the facilitator miscalls an action item or misses calling out action items, speak up. Get that alignment before everyone parts ways.
🤔 What are common anti-patterns in meetings?
👉 Select voices dominate the discussion.
To work through this, designate a strong facilitator, who knows how to balance being firm with being polite and when to ask others for their insights.
👉 The discussion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere or is getting repetitive.
Inspired from Robert’s Rules of Order, you may suggest using a hand signal or emoji reaction that any participant is free to use at any time when they feel as though the discussion is becoming circular.
The facilitator must also create a psychologically safe environment when participants feel empowered to speak up when discussion is getting repetitive or call on the facilitator to summarize action items for the group.
👉 There is an awkward silence after the facilitator asks the participants for their input.
This might a signal that participants don’t feel enough psychological safety and are scared of saying the “wrong” thing or looking silly in front of their colleagues.
Keep in mind that everyone is different. Some folks aren’t as comfortable with responding to questions ad-hoc compared with coming prepared with some speaking points beforehand. If this is the case, create and share out a specific agenda, with a clear ask to complete required pre-reads or to come prepared to the meeting with a couple of ideas in response to specific questions.
I hope this post was helpful! 💟
If you have a moment, let me know:
How much time do you spend in meetings per week?
What percentage of those meetings you’re in would you say are worth being in?
What were some observations about the most productive meetings you've taken part in?