The 7 Secrets of Productive Meetings


Productive meetings deliver useful outcomes within a set timeframe. They are purposeful spaces in which – 

  • people quickly connect and collaborate.
  • time and effort are well spent.
  • good decisions are made.

The best thing about productive meetings is that everyone seems to appreciate them. They tend to be a morale booster. People leave them with a shared sense of purpose and a greater connection to their team.

As much as we like them, productive meetings are less common than you’d expect. In fact, when Harvard Business School surveyed 182 senior managers about meetings, 71% said meetings were unproductive.

So why aren’t we getting the most out of our meetings?

Well, there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, meeting facilitation is a skill not everyone has. Then there is the constant change to the way we communicate in the workplace. A change that may not have been effectively shifted into the meeting space. Finally, productive meetings take preparation, which means time and effort. Let’s face it, both are often in short supply in most organizations.

Life’s too short to waste it sitting in unproductive meetings. So here are some of the tried and tested methods we use to deliver productive meetings.

1. A Meeting can Only be Productive if it’s Needed

The idea of simply not having a meeting isn’t considered often enough.

You wouldn’t water a garden if it’s been raining for three days straight. So why do we head into meetings when we have nothing to discuss? If a report that’s needed for a meeting isn’t ready. If key people aren’t available. If input, guidance, or approvals aren’t needed. Then don’t have a meeting.

Similarly, if an effective alternative to the meeting can be used, use it! 

While years ago it was simpler and cheaper to hand out copies of a report in person, that’s no longer the case. Information can be circulated in a number of faster, cheaper ways. 

If an issue only requires the input of one other person, it can be discussed without a meeting. There’s no need to have others sitting in the same room to witness it. 

Canceling a meeting is unlikely to upset people. Far from it! People will appreciate that you are considerate of their time and glad they can redirect their energies elsewhere.

2.  A Productive Meeting is an Organised Meeting

There are two things to consider when organizing a meeting – 

  • An agenda
  • A meeting space

First, let’s consider the agenda.

Agendas are a really helpful meeting tool that is important in all sorts of ways. They can help plan meetings. They can help facilitate meetings. They can help document meetings. Importantly, agendas increase meeting productivity. 

Agendas list what will be covered when and by whom. They can increase a meeting’s productivity by –

  • helping people get organized and prepared.
  • setting time limits. 
  • focussing discussions.

Sending out an agenda helps people organize their schedules. People can also prepare for the topics that the meeting will cover. This means the meeting time itself is more likely to be used productively.

Agendas can help people make the most of their time. They reduce the influence of Parkinson’s Law. This is when a task takes as long to finish as the time allocated to it. They also help the meeting facilitator monitor discussions. This helps to make sure conversations are focused, and therefore more likely to be productive.

Secondly, the meeting space.

If you’re running a face-to-face meeting you need a room. It needs to be big enough to hold the number of people who will be at the meeting and include any equipment that might be needed. Assuming a space will be available is a big mistake. Waiting for someone to find a room is not a great way to start a meeting.

Similarly, if you’re delivering an online meeting you need an online space. Everyone attending the meeting needs to be able to access the space. It also needs to be able to work alongside any online tools or templates needed to facilitate the meeting. This time, the productivity killer comes from assuming everyone knows how to engage in the online space. So it’s helpful to run a practice meeting to make sure everyone is comfortable with the technology that will be used.

Running a hybrid meeting? You’ll need to make sure you have both a physical and virtual space.

3. Ground Rules Provide a Solid Foundation

Just like the rules of the road, meeting ground rules ensure everyone knows –

  • the limits they need to stick to
  • what they can expect of others
  • what is expected of them

Meetings that have ground rules are more likely to run on time and achieve their purpose. Not only do ground rules create more productive meetings, but they also deliver other benefits. We discuss ground rules, including how to write them, in more detail here.

4. Productive Meetings Include Follow Through

Imagine you’ve just emerged from a fantastic meeting. It finished on time. You worked through everything on the agenda. Sure, there was dissent, but it was healthy dissent that led to an even better solution. Then, following the meeting, nothing progressed. Was that time really spent productively?

Nothing undermines a good meeting quite like a lack of follow-through. So to make the most of a meeting – 

  • ensure meeting notes are captured.
  • shape action points.

Make sure someone acts as the meeting’s scribe. They can capture the key outputs of the meeting that are then shared at its end. 

Shape action points as part of the meeting. Good action points – 

  • are clear, precise, and specific.
  • start with a verb.
  • include a due date.
  • are assigned to someone.
  • are reported at the next meeting.

Lastly, ensure people follow up on their actions before the next meeting. Send out a list of agreed action points a week before the next meeting. It’s a good way to remind people of what they were meant to do.

5. Keep an Eye on the Time

Time is a limited resource. Productive meetings make the most of the time allocated to them.

Align the meeting to a productive time of day. Some groups may work best in the mornings. Others may be more focused after lunch.  

Include an allocation of time for each topic on the agenda. This allows facilitators to shut down conversations that are off track or over time. The time allocations have given them permission to act. 

Make sure someone is given the job of timing each topic. They can give a warning bell a minute before people are to move on to the next topic. 

6. Many Hands Make Productive Work

We’ve already mentioned some of the roles that can increase a meeting’s productivity. A facilitator, a scribe, and a timekeeper. While it’s often very tempting to allocate them all to one person, don’t. Allocating them separately increases the likelihood that the jobs will be done well. It also means that meetings aren’t overly burdensome for one person.

Similarly, ensure the action points are as evenly spread as possible. Asking one person to deliver on all of the action points could be problematic.

Finally, consider including one last role that we’ll go into detail about below.

7. Commit to Productivity

Having people mindful of and committing to meeting productivity will improve it. 

One way of doing this is by having someone observe and report back on the meeting.

The observer must be objective. They will look at how well people stick to the meeting rules. They will look at how well people keep to time limits. Importantly, they can watch to see what impact these things may have on the productivity of the meeting.

Additionally, the observer can keep a watch out for anything that happens during the meeting that increases productivity. If someone suggests a subgroup further explores a particular topic. If someone offers to email information rather than running through it in the meeting. If someone suggests putting a contentious issue to a vote. These sorts of things can be noted. 

While meeting blocks can also be noted, it may not be helpful to dwell on them. If the information hasn’t been made available to everyone. If no one has a timer. If the meeting starts late. These will have a negative effect but so might focussing on them.

Importantly, the observer will report back on their observations at the end of the meeting. They can help positively reinforce the productive behavior they observed. 

Include this opportunity for feedback as a part of the agenda. It will keep participants mindful of the importance of productivity and support a positive wave of improvement.

Start your Next Meeting with GroupMap

Don’t worry, these aren’t secrets you need to keep. They will help improve just about any type of meeting you can think of. Feel free to share them with anyone you want to help.

GroupMap was designed to help people think better together. Our online meeting templates are a great tool that supports your meeting process so you can focus on the people in the room.

Check out our plans today!

Have more questions or would like a demo?