Lead Artfully

How to run an effective meeting

October 5, 2020
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how to run an effective meeting

Did you know that there are more than 50 million meetings held daily all around the world?  There is a good chance you are reading this on your way to or from a meeting!  Do you find most meetings are dull or simply a waste of time?  For organisations, unproductive meetings result in unresolved problems and lost productivity.   The lost opportunity costs surely run in the billions, if not trillions.    How to run an effective meeting seems to be becoming a lost art.

And what of the hit to staff morale?  Employees feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of meetings that they are obliged to attend.  Meetings were once considered as a powerful coordination tool for success.   But nowadays most of us regard them as a necessary evil.  And usually a waste of time.  It's time we all asked ourselves, "how do I run an effective meeting?"

First, what are the signs of an ineffective meeting?

Too many teams have meetings for the sake of having a meeting.   The following are red flags indicating a meeting is likely to be a waste of time:

1. There is no meeting agenda

A big warning sign of a potentially unproductive meeting is the absence of an agenda.  Read out the agenda at the start.  Empower participants advise if things veer off track.

Therefore, the first step on how to run an effective meeting is the agenda.  Well-structured agendas are the best foundation.  Here is a few ABC's of how to create a winning agenda:

a) Agenda - needs to have bullet pointed items and include sources of supporting information (or links to the relevant documents).

b) Be clear - Explain the purpose of each item on the agenda.  For example, is the item for discussion, informational, or to decide something?  Also be clear on the starting on time and place.

c) Control items -  when important but unrelated topics come up for discussion, add them to a "parking lot".  This ensures they aren't lost, but don't create a meeting inside a meeting.  These should be covered off separately, offline to this meeting.  Any items that need further analysis are ‘parked’ there.  This helps you keep to the allocated meeting times and duration.

d) Discuss relevant topics - Only discuss topics that are relevant to the participants present.  Unrelated topics result in either disengagement, or wasted time.

2. Participants are disengaged or distracted

Quit the gadgets!  If attendees are texting, emailing, or having their own side-conversations during meetings this needs to be stopped.  As the leader, lay some ground rules before the meeting begins.  For example, you can request team members to put phones in silent mode, or take urgent calls by excusing themselves first.

Spot a yawn?  Try and make the meeting more interesting.  Involve everyone, avoid lengthy monologues, and engage in fun team building activities.  Allocate tasks evenly, rather than to a few individuals.

3. There are no meeting minutes or follow-ups

Meeting minutes are the summary of events that occurred during the meeting.  These should include what was agreed.  To keep the current meeting on track, read out the minutes of the last meeting, or get agreement that the last minutes captured were correct before you begin.

Minutes should include the venue, date and time, list of participants, topics discussed, and decisions made.  These are circulated after the meeting to all attendees.  Once the meeting is over, the summary of actions or follow-ups activities required.   The meeting minutes are an important way to review progress and identify unresolved issues.  They needs to be concise and to the point.  Follow-up actions also need to include who is responsible (action owners)  and when the activity is due.

4. Lack of Preparedness

How to run an effective meeting comes down to good preparation.  When you send out the agenda, advise how each person should prepare.  For example, if you need a report from someone as evidence for a meeting decision, let them know.  Ask participants to advise you of any problems a few days before the meeting.  Make sure you give them enough time to prepare.   You need to be well prepared yourself.

5. Long-winded discussions without clear decisions

Meetings often involve lengthy discussions about the items without producing any clear outcome.  Such meetings typically finish late, with people complaining about the waste of time.  Complex topics like strategy discussions, are often unstructured and involve numerous points of view.  These need to be run like decision-making exercises, with a clear objective.

So, how do you run effective, decision-making meetings?

> Stick to the agenda and discourage people from discussing "off track" topics.

> Allocate enough time so everyone can have their say. Allow no more than a few minutes each for closing remarks from participants.

> Insist on a decision before breaking up, unless there are pressing concerns that need to be resolved first.

6. Imbalance between passive and dominate participants

Dominant team members often monopolise meetings. This leads to other participants feeling bored, impatient, or frustrated.  As the leader, make sure you politely move the discussion along, and allow everyone to contribute their inputs.  Address passive (quiet) participants by name and encourage them to voice their opinion through direct questions.

As the leader make sure you are not the one dominating and doing all the talking!  This will cause your team to clam up if they think you have already made up your mind.  This will cause you to lose valuable inputs and insights from your team.

[Non-verbal cues are an important way to identify individuals who are open or closed to discussions.  See our related article on body language for more information.]

Once the meeting is over, monitor that the team moves on with follow-up actions and decisions.  This where the minutes come in useful, so everyone knows what is expected of them and things don't get lost.  Remember to circulate it soon after the meeting ends (typically within a day or two).

7. Wrong meeting participants

Only the people who need to be there, should be invited.  It may sound pretty basic, but this is often overlooked.  The other benefit of having a clear agenda is that it should be obvious who needs to attend.  You can make non-essential people 'optional attendees' if there is information being covered that they may be of interested. But you can also cover this off by simply including them on the meeting minutes circulation.


The art of how to run an effective meeting may have been lost by some, but you can rediscover it!  A well-structured, well-planned and well-executed meeting is powerful thing.  They promote new ideas, encourage feedback, strengthens relationships, resolves problems, and helps the organisation make timely and important decisions.   Now that is the sort of meeting I don't mind going to.  How about you?

Recommended reading:

Meetings Suck - C Herold (Audio Book)

The Surprising Science of Meetings - SG Rogelberg

Bad Meetings Happen to Good People - L Espy