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Running Effective Meetings

This page is maintained by

Maja Łukomska and
Jason Thillman

TLDR: It takes good preparation to ensure an effective meeting.

Introduction

As highlighted in the Art of Gathering (a Wonder classic book) - "gathering well isn't a chill activity".

A good meeting owner has a clear purpose for the gathering, understands that thoughtful exclusion is vital, and carefully thinks about how gathering size and other elements impact meeting dynamics.

What follows is a breakdown of the best research and industry practices that you can apply to increase the effectiveness of your meetings.

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Before meetings

1. Decide if the meeting is necessary

Only organise or attend a meeting if:

  • You 1) teach or learn something, 2) provide or require critical input (e.g. for brainstorming, taking decisions, solving a problem), or 3) want to make it a social experience
  • You cannot achieve the above through more efficient asynchronous means (e.g. brainstorm ideas in Notion/Miro, discuss in Slack or through comments on Notion before meeting, comments on designs in Miro)
  • You cannot achieve the above in an already-scheduled meeting: Your team likely has a set of recurring rituals for discussing different types of challenges. For example, if you work in sprints, consider discussing an upcoming challenging task during sprint planning meetings.
  • You cannot create a process that eliminates this type of meetings: Some meetings can be eliminated with the right process. For example, during a call with a designer, consider formalizing and structuring your briefs so they are clear and don’t require much – if any – follow-up.
2. Create a good Google Calendar meeting description

A typical invitation should include:

  • Description:
    • Meeting objective
    • Agenda with bullet points (time-boxed if you expect participants to get caught up on minutia or if you're asking for creative ideation input)
    • Preparation required by participants
    • (Optional) Note inviting participants to add agenda points
  • Participants: Only invite the people that need to be in the meeting (check out Commandment 4 and Commandment 5)
  • Meeting Location: For 15+ participants, open a new Wonder room or use Google Meets (until we design a better broadcast)
  • Date & Time
    • If feasible, check the meeting time preferences and constraints of the participants (don't hesitate to suggest an alternative date & time if you are invited to a meeting)
    • Use the Speedy meetings feature in Google Cal: It lets you change the default meeting duration from 30 to 25 minutes and from 60 to 50 minutes. This gives everyone much-needed breaks between meetings to get some water, collect their thoughts or just walk around the room (Settings→General→Event Settings→ Check Speedy Meetings).
3. Prepare and provide content before the meeting

Depending on the meeting, it makes sense to asynchronously prepare some (written) content before the meeting in order to structure your own thoughts, allow others to review content before the meeting, facilitate a discussion during the meeting, and share content with those who won't attend so that they can add input.

Some use cases are presented below:

  • A Miro board for a brainstorm-heavy meeting
  • A Notion page with clear written explanations (e.g. with advantages & disadvantages) for a meeting where a decision needs to be made
  • A Google Sheet for a meeting where a financial model or financial results are presented
4. Limit number of attendees

Think carefully how many people need to be in your meeting and be aware that numbers change meeting dynamics. In larger meetings people may have a tendency to reduce effort and inputs which is called social loafing. With 7+ participants, each additional person reduces decision making effectiveness by 10%.

Use the following rules of thumb based on research & industry best practices:

  • Decision-making: less than 7-8 people
  • Brainstorming: up to 15-18 people
  • Sharing information: 18+ people
5. Include necessary participants but don't exclude the rest

"Never forget the one thing people dislike more than meetings: not being invited to a meeting”. While we complain about too many meetings we don't like to be left out. To reduce the feeling of exclusion which may negatively impact motivation try the following:

  • Timed-agenda: invite people to specific chunks of the meeting that are relevant to them
  • Ordered agenda: invite more people for the start of the meeting where you share information relevant to all and then transition into a smaller meeting.
  • "Representative voices”: invite representatives responsible for contributing and collecting ideas and later sharing insights with their respective teams

During meetings

6. Start the meeting right
  • Check how people are doing at the beginning of meetings. E.g. ask for 2 adjectives that describe how people are feeling today - this can be shared verbally or in chat (e.g. I am feeling tired and excited). It's a practice often used by workshop facilitators and encouraged by Brené Brown (you can find more icebreakers here and here)
  • Share the objective and agenda items of the meeting
  • Assign roles to keep people engaged. Typical roles include: Facilitator, Note-taker, Time-keeper, Idea organiser
7. Beware of starting and running late

Both starting and running late have negative consequences (frustration, higher chance of interrupting one another, dissatisfaction, negatively affecting any activities post-meeting). Assign a time-keeper to remind participants of time (10 min before end, 5 min before end).

If you realise you won't cover all points during your meeting, don't run over time. Instead:

  • Set up a follow-up meeting if necessary
  • Discuss/Present/Brainstorm asynchronously
  • Time-box your agenda for future meeting and reflect on what went wrong
  • Only extend the meeting if everyone agrees
8. Take relevant meeting notes

Remember the note-taker shouldn't be the person who runs the meeting, so remember to assign this role to someone as the meeting owner. As the meeting owner distribute notes to attendees and relevant non-attendees. Below you'll find a few tips on taking relevant and clear notes:

  • Include the goal of the meeting
  • Focus on noting down relevant points (e.g. don't record small talk or info that is already written down on Notion, Miro, Pitch):
    • Key decisions reached
    • Action points and assigned task owners
    • Questions raised and their answers
    • Ideas provided
  • After the meeting, immediately review notes for clarity and errors and send notes to the meeting owner, participants and other stakeholders
9. Introduce breaks for lengthy meetings

If the meeting takes longer than 1h make sure you give participants a break. A good rule of thumb is a 5 min break for every 50-55 minutes of meeting time.

10. Invite silence to your meetings

When asking for ideas, reflections, retrospectives or discussion in meetings with more than 2 attendees introduce moments of silence. Studies show that people who interact verbally during brainstorm meetings produce fewer and lower quality ideas than non-talking participants. That's because some people are more wiling to contribute verbally and because it's easier to hide behind the group. Think of doing one of the following:

  1. Brainwriting (for brainstorm meetings)
  2. People write ideas on separate stickies (timed). Facilitator(s) sort responses into themes / buckets. Can take this further by doing a round of written discussion (e.g. comments on stickies)

  3. Silent reading (for any meetings)
  4. All participants read a prepared document / summary together in silence at the beginning of a meeting. This ensures a common experience, is faster than presenting and gives people control over knowledge acquisition.

  5. Voting (for decision-making meetings)
  6. Instead of discussing ideas or asking for verbal / non-verbal agreement, ask participants to vote. Use live polls (Mentimeter, Slido) or Miro's voting option for quick feedback, follow up with a prioritised discussion.

11. Own your meetings

Every meeting has an owner, i.e. someone who calls the meeting, defines its purpose and is responsible for running it effectively.

  • Listen actively - keep clarifying and summarising what you hear and read, look out for underlying concerns
  • Encourage conflict around ideas e.g. by asking "any concerns with this idea?"
  • Ensure active participation: call out people who haven't contributed, use polls and voting to gather feedback from all participants
  • Don't be afraid to interrupt if the discussion is going off-track or taking too long
12. Engage participants during the meeting

Multiple distractors fight for our attention during online meetings. Your role as the meeting owner is to make your meetings engaging for participants by inviting moments of interaction.

Try one of the following:

  • Start with an ice-breaker where everyone is asked to contribute. If there are multiple participants (10+), consider asking for answers to the ice-breaker questions in the chat or through a live poll and read them out as they come.
  • Use interactive live polls to engage participants (e.g. Mentimeter, Slido). Ask an open-ended question, run a quiz, ask for main takeaways.
  • If you ask for input in the chat, take time to comment on it and bring it to the attention of the group. This way you make participants feel included in the meeting.
13. Be an active participant
  • Let the meeting owner play their role - follow their lead and wait for your turn to speak
  • Pay attention and don't get distracted by notifications, emails and other apps
  • Be careful with overpoliteness a.k.a. "you go", "no, no, you go" - say what you have to say instead of playing the politeness game :)
14. Use non-verbal signals

Because it's hard to express anything without interrupting the flow of the conversation, we use non-verbal signals at Wonder. Feel free to appoint someone else (e.g. time-keeper) to watch out for people's reactions

  • Wanting to speak: physically raise your hand. Yep, just like in school! (when using Wonder - go physical, on Google meets - raise hand button and remember to unraise / ask the time-keeper to unraise hands)
  • Signalling agreement: "jazz hands".
  • Signalling hesitation: "so so" wobbly hand gesture
  • Showing problem: time-out gesture
  • Disagreement: thumbs down
15. End the meeting right

Summarising helps with closure and fostering accountability. Set the last 5 minutes aside for summarising your meetings and aligning on next action steps. Ask the timekeeper to remind of 10 min left and then use the last 5 min for summary only.

  • Summarise the main topics and ideas discussed and align on any action steps to be taken after the meeting (including owners of action steps), if possible, let everyone summarise their main action points for themselves - repetition works wonders.
  • Don't end with logistics - ask for the main takeaways from the meeting to help people reflect, again verbally or not.
  • Mark a clear ending and close loops - once you've summarised and asked for takeaways, say the meeting is over. This is not a time for questions and opening new loops.
  • (Optional) ask whether there's any concerns that have not been addressed
  • (Optional) ask for feedback about the meeting (see next section)

After meetings

16. Beware of own biases and gather feedback

Better-than-average bias exists. Meeting owners are shown to rate their meetings as more effective and satisfying than participants. Hence, we need feedback to realise where our meetings fall short. Run a standardised post-meeting survey at the end of your meetings. You can post a link just as the meeting is ending - that will ensure the highest chance of completion. Please find an example template here:

17. Share results with relevant stakeholders

Sometimes it is good or necessary to update stakeholders about what has been discussed during a meeting.

  • Direct-message them on Slack or post a message in a channel if all the stakeholders are in that channel
  • Make the message short and concise (e.g. with bullet points) and link to any relevant documents (e.g. Notion page, Miro board, Google Sheet)
18. Take enough time to review

Depending on the meeting, it is useful to set aside some time to revise the meeting. Depending on the required amount, you can block some time in your calendar after the meeting to process it.

Extra reading

You can check out these documents for additional context, insight and knowledge:

Books
Articles