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My imperfect guide to successful meetings
How to stop wasting time on useless gatherings
Meetings are the most expensive activity you have in your day-to-day work.
The last thing we want is people not paying attention, forcing the gathering to last longer than it should, and wasting everybody’s time.
Being stuck in a meeting can be frustrating. You repeat things again and again. You go over facts and figures. Then, you notice people's eyes wandering. They are either daydreaming or openly doing other tasks.
What can you do to keep people focused in the conversation?
Here are three things you should avoid and three things you should do. Try them out. Share your experiences in the comments.
❌ Don’t run fake meetings
We can effectively transform most of what we label as "meetings" into other options.
Is it just one person speaking while everyone else is expected to listen? - Record a video presentation.
Did you waste two hours on status updates? - Build an async written discipline.
Do you force meetings so “we all see each other in person”? - Go for a social gathering instead. Lunch or dinner would do.
❌ No agenda, no meeting
Every meeting should have an agenda shared upfront so that people can prepare.
Agenda items should be organized into four categories: things to review, news, things to discuss, and decisions.
Don’t allow improvised topics, and stop being driven by urgency. Prioritize properly.
❌ No follow-up actions, no meeting
If a meeting does not end with a list of follow-up actions, each one assigned to a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual), your meeting should not happen.
Use meetings to get everyone on the same page about work. However, work must come after. Only a list built in such a manner can fulfill this duty.
Ask people to check in at the beginning of every meeting:
🟢 Green: I’m present and focused on this meeting.
🟡 Yellow: I’m present, but something is distracting me.
🔴 Red: I’m here with my body but somewhere else with my mind.
Allowing people a moment to check their current status will help them understand their feelings. Most importantly, it will give you the chance to feel the status of the room and adapt to the different levels of attention.
There's no way you can make people focus if they're distracted. However, by understanding the atmosphere in the room, you can adjust your communication style, intensity, and effectiveness. If you're unaware, it's like driving without seeing.
✅ Build trust, not fear
Let’s say someone in your team is distracted during the meeting. How do you bring them back into the room?
Don’t call them out. - I REPEAT: Don’t call them out.
You can be tempted to ask a tricky question followed by their name. Don’t do it.
Do this instead: call their name, followed by the context of the current conversation, give them extra context, and then ask them the question.
I label the first method as "the backstabber," which can only result in two scenarios. In one, the other person must confess their distraction. You must then repeat your question. In the other, they respond vaguely as they frantically try to understand the context by observing the room.
In both cases, nobody wins. And to be honest, you lose.
Yes, you lose their trust because you shamed them in front of others.
In the latter scenario, where you provide the context after getting their attention, you’ll get an informed answer, and they’ll know they can trust you. Everyone wins.
If you need to address the distraction as a behavioral issue, do it after the meeting, eventually.
✅ Keep it tight
Most meetings are a waste of time for a single reason: poor time management.
They allow people to arrive late, so they start late. They run over time, and there is always an excuse to sidetrack the agenda.
Get some basic discipline in your meetings, and wonders will happen:
Start on time. If people are late, fix their behavior, but the meeting is sacred.
End on time. Forse people to prioritize properly and cut things off when they drag.
Don’t sidetrack. Build discipline around the agenda, be strict, and work effectively.
This is all, folks!
No, that's not all. A hundred other elements could enhance meeting effectiveness. However, what works in one situation may not work in another, so you must try and iterate often.
Let me know in the comments if you have further advice on enhancing your meetings; I’d love to hear from you!