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5 ways to make meetings work for you and your team

6 min read


Do your people love your meetings?

Hint: if you’re not sure, the answer is “no.” You’ll know people love a meeting when they say something like, “Wow, this was a really great meeting!”

If you’re rolling your eyes and think that your team would never say such a thing, read on. It is possible to hold meetings that people love to attend, but it does require you to shift your meeting-mindset and use a few practical tools.

Foundations for meetings people love

There are two elements to a meeting-mindset that will make meetings work for you and your team.

First, the meeting must be the most productive use of time for everyone you’ve invited to the meeting. Yes, I said “the most productive use of time.” If people could be doing something else to better advance the mission, why on earth would you take them away from that and into a meeting?

This is a high standard, but it’s vital to make meetings work because of the second meeting-mindset: the purpose of every meeting is to achieve results AND build relationships.

These are not mutually exclusive goals. Effective leaders simultaneously focus on relationships and results. Effective meetings build relationships and results.

With these foundations in place (this is the most productive use of people’s time and the meeting will both build relationships and achieve business results), it’s time to hold the meeting.

How to make meetings work

Here are five ways to make your meetings efficient and effective:

  1. Be clear about who owns the decision (or how the decisions will be made).

There are four ways to make a decision:

  • A single person decides (e.g. a leader solicits input and then makes the decision)
  • A team makes the decision through a majority vote.
  • A team makes the decision through consensus.
  • Fate decides (e.g. flip a coin, draw straws, or random-number generator)

Those are the only four ways to make a decision. Your task to be clear at the beginning of the meeting and before discussion as to how the decision will be made. This avoids hurt feelings and gives people clarity about how they should present relevant information.

  1. Be clear about the decision to be made.

There are two decisions worth discussing in a business meeting:

  • Where are we going?
  • How are we going to get there?

Leaders get in trouble and hold unproductive meetings when they are unclear about the decision being discussed or they allow these two decisions to get mixed up.

For example, if your team is discussing whether to travel to the moon, to mine a nearby asteroid, or send an expedition to Mars, that is a separate discussion from how to do it.

Inexperienced leaders, however, will allow the team to drift into fuzzy discussions about where to land on the moon, how much freeze-dried food you would need to survive on Mars, and whether you need diamond-tipped drill bits for asteroid mining. These discussions frustrate everybody and waste incredible amounts of time.

Be clear about the decision in front of you. Is it a “where” or a “how” decision?

  1. Stay on track

People will inevitably get distracted and want to go off topic. To ensure your meetings are the most productive use of everyone’s time, you need to limit tangents.

Use the PAPR method to stay focused:

  • P – Parking lot. You’ve probably been in meetings where the leader or facilitator used a “parking lot.” This is a place to record new ideas and discussion items that are off-topic.
  • A – Affirm. Acknowledge the value of the idea. E.g: “Mike, your idea does sound like it can improve efficiency.”
  • P – Park it. E.g.: “I also recognize we have 15 minutes let to make the decision in front of us. Joe, will you please record Bob’s efficiency idea in the parking lot.”
  • R – Refocus. E.g.: “We have 15 minutes left. What other input do you have for the decision in front of us?”

Now, your team is not the U.S. Congress. The parking lot is not a polite way to say, “Your idea stinks and we’ll never discuss it.” You do want to assign responsibility (or take it yourself) to make sure parking lot ideas are revisited and placed on future agendas if their originator feels they are valuable.

  1. Meetings produce a team agreement

Effective meetings produce a team agreement that spells out: WHO does WHAT by WHEN, and HOW the team will KNOW the responsibility has been fulfilled.

This step ensures accountability and that you’ll never again discuss something only to get back together in three weeks and wonder what happened. The magic is in the “how will we know” step. When someone completes their task, who are they responsible to tell? Will they contact the leader? Send their information to the team? Or share it with a teammate? Regardless of the method, bake accountability into your team agreement.

No meeting ends without a team agreement!

  1. Be intentional about relationships

Effective and efficient doesn’t mean you neglect relationships. Celebrate victories. Acknowledge individual and team accomplishments. Create time for affirmations, connection and laughter. If this is difficult for you, ask a more people-oriented colleague to facilitate these activities.

<Your turn

When you ensure meetings are the most productive use of people’s time and use these five tips to build relationships and achieve results, you will vastly increase your team’s productivity — and one day you’ll overhear: “I just loved that meeting!”

Leave us a comment and let us know how you make sure your meetings produce results and build relationships.

Be the leader you want your boss to be!

David M. Dye works with leaders who want to build teams that care and get more done. He is the author of The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say, is President of Trailblaze, Inc, tweets from @davidmdye, and welcomes your LinkedIn invitation.

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