How to Run Effective Meetings (And Have Fewer of Them)

Run Better Meetings

Meetings. Love them or hate them, you can count on them to be a fixture in your weekly schedule.

And it seems you can always count on hearing creative ways to fix them, shorten them, and even eliminate them. This week, we dip our toes into the meeting mentality discussion to feature some thoughtful and provocative perspectives.

We offer a new way to think about crafting your meeting agenda, what to do immediately after your meeting is over — and, yes — an article that advocates ditching meetings for a better alternative. (And don’t forget to check out Redbooth’s weekly meeting agenda template.)

And because it’s getting around to being that time of year…we round out our links this week with advice on how to deal with the distractions of December — and how to write an out-of-office autoreply that’s worthy of the vacation you’re about to take.

Leading Meetings? Discover Your Superpower

You may think that meeting agendas are there to keep discussions on track or to keep meetings from running long. But according to Andrew Savikas CEO of Safari Books Online, agenda-setters should have a loftier goal in mind, such as “creating the context in which other people can think.”

Too esoteric? Think again, Savikas urges in Your Superpower for Building Better Meetings featured in Medium. To support his claim, he cites a framework developed by work psychologist David Rock for understanding projects (and their associated meetings).

Rock’s framework describes five levels — Vision, Planning, Details, Problems and Drama — for categorizing the type of agenda items your team routinely deals with. From this model, you can easily determine if your team is spending its time focusing on future choices, current details, or past issues.

It’s natural for teams to gravitate toward middle-level Details, which are ever-present (and worthy) short-term objectives. But spending too much time there can rob teams of spending quality time in discussions about their future.

Savikas acknowledges that it’s not always natural for teams to spend time in the future-oriented Vision category, but it’s up to meeting managers to set the context — the superpower ability he references in his title — to get everyone on the team in the right frame of mind to do so.

“Your job as a manager isn’t to do the work, it’s about creating and reinforcing the context in which the work is done,” he concludes. If you’re ready to gain a new superpower — and run better meetings — this is the place to start.

Meet Like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs knew how to work a meeting, says corporate trainer Paul Axtell. And Jobs also knew that the actions a leader took after a meeting were just as important as what transpired during it. In his article Two Things to Do After Every Meeting for Harvard Business Review, Axtell sheds light on two critical — but often neglected — components to productive meetings that the Apple founder excelled in.

In particular, Axtell highlights meeting notes — which are often assigned to assistants — as key drivers of action. Far from a simple housekeeping element, he argues that meeting notes are a “powerful way to influence others,”and should stay within the purview of the meeting manager. Fortunately, he advocates a stripped-down version where only the key points and decisions are captured — and disseminated quickly.

Axtell also emphasizes the importance of follow-up by managers on action steps in between meetings. While some managers feel that such close follow-up suggests a lack of trust in fellow team members, Axtell argues that persistence equals progress for all but the highest-performing teams.

How to balance that fine line between leadership and micromanagement? Axtell rounds out his article with some concrete advice on how to keep the balance.

Accountability and careful follow-up drove rapid progress at Apple, says Axtell. If you lead meetings, use these tips to supercharge and make the most of your team’s time.

Ditch Meetings Entirely

It’s true — many of us consider meetings to be intrusions into a productive day. Even when we can brave the logistics of getting the right people in the same room — or on a call — meetings aren’t necessarily the productive powerhouses you could wish for.

At least that’s how productivity expert Ann Diab sees it. In her article Don’t Interrupt Your Creative Groove: Collaborate Without Scheduling Meetings for Piktochart, she lists the ways that meetings can fail to produce the return on investment for the time spent.

At the top her list is the havoc meetings wreck on our ability to focus and concentrate. Quoting Y Combinator cofounder Paul Graham, “A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”

Her solution? Asynchronous collaboration. Using tools and processes to gather and share work, without requiring people to all be available at the same time.

There are plenty of tools to support this, she argues, from low-tech whiteboards to wikis and chat rooms. (Our favorite tool? Team chat that’s integrated into your project workspaces.) This allows for full collaboration — but also the chance for team members to work independently and without interruption when they need to.

Diab details nine different ways your team can take on asynchronous collaboration, with a neat infographic as a handy summary.

Finding it hard to corral your team for meetings? This article is full of advice to get you closer to discovering the right blend of collaboration and solitude where productivity can flourish.

’Tis the Season – for Distractions

Whether it’s online holiday shopping, hunting travel bargains, or videos of kittens in santa hats, December comes with some built-in distractions from our daily work. It’s even worse when end-of-year deadlines loom and colleagues leave early for hard-earned vacations.

Although they’re tempting in the moment, distractions can ravage productivity and make us unhappier at work. How to stay on-task when “flash sale” emails pile into your inbox? Mashable contributor Sarah McCord has some tips in her article How to Stay Focused at Work During the Stressful Holiday Season.”

First up: studies show that actually steeling yourself against interruptions is enough for most people to stay on task, McCord finds. Even better, the very anticipation of interruptions — even when they didn’t come — increased productivity by 43%. Although it sounds like a bit of a tall order in December, it’s gratifying to know that at least our efforts at staying focused are rewarded.

She rounds out her list with advice on which projects to take on when other coworkers are out of the office — including making a play for Inbox Zero — and which to avoid, and how to make the most of your own time-off plans so that your work hours stay productive.

There’s no miracle cure offered here — all the tips require discipline and willpower to carry them off. But they’re a handy list to have in our hip pockets heading into high season. With a little self-control, we can make December our most productive month ever.

Vacation-Bound? Optimize Your OOO

Oh, December! When a worker’s thought turns to vacation. As you get ready to “leave it all behind” for a few glorious days, spare a thought to something you and your cohorts are leaving behind for the rest of us: a veritable snowmageddon of automatic out-of-office emails.

Do you really need coaching on how to set up your vacation autoresponder? If you’ve ever been caught in a near-endless loop of them — or actually tried to mine one for some needed contact info — you know that most of us could use a brush-up.

Fortunately, Dmitri Leonov, the VP of Sanebox — who knows all about email deluges — gives us a few tips on how to make those auto-replies as helpful as possible in 5 Secrets for Writing the Perfect Out-of-Office Email in an interview with John Patrick Pullen for Time.

The essence? Be brief, resist the urge to lord the juicy details of your vacation over your readers, and direct traffic to someone who can truly help.

But most helpful of all, he’s got a special tip for for would-be vacationers — one that he himself has used both to decrease stress and impress people after he gets back (check out that tip here — it’s the second one in the article). That’s worth the read right there. And then bring on the vacation days!

Give your team the holiday gift of accountability, transparency…and the ability to delegate their tasks to colleagues before heading out on vacation! Find out more about Redbooth task management >>