12 Ground Rules for Conducting Effective Meetings

American companies hold an estimated 11 million meetings per day. It’s predicted that the unproductive portion of these cost the country a whopping $37 billion yearly. To ensure your meetings are, in fact, conducted productively, there are a few simple rules that you can follow. Here are our 12 ground rules for conducting effective meetings:

In brief, our 12 ground rules for conducting effective meetings are:

  1. Determine whether the meeting is necessary
  2. Assign a meeting organizer and facilitator
  3. Limit attendance to people who can make valuable contributions and decisions
  4. Share a calendar invite including all information required to join the meeting
  5. Ensure the availability of materials and/or equipment needed in advance
  6. Share an agenda in advance, stating the aim of the meeting and discussion questions
  7. Ask all attendees to speak slowly and clearly, particularly if meeting online
  8. Ask all attendees to practice active listening and avoid distractions
  9. Limit the discussion time of each item to reach the end of the agenda
  10. Give everyone the opportunity to participate with inclusive practices
  11. Assign an attendee to take meeting notes
  12. Recap agreed on points and assign tasks to the relevant people, before sharing via email.

Let’s start at the top:

1. Determine Whether the Meeting is Really Necessary

In his Harvard Business Review Facebook Live, Michael Mankins, co-author of Time, Talent, Energy, shared that the amount of organizational time lost to meetings on a weekly basis far exceeds the amount of time wasted on email. According to Mankins, a large degree of this comes down to the fact that team members feel they don’t have the authority to turn down meeting invitations, particularly from higher managers, even if they feel it would be unproductive. Therefore, the responsibility sits with the meeting organizer to determine whether a meeting is truly necessary and who would bring real value and decision-making power to that meeting, before sending out the invitations.

Tip: If you’re invited to a meeting that you feel could be an unproductive use of time, check out these 5 simple strategies for going to fewer meetings.

2. Assign a meeting facilitator to ensure that everyone sticks to the rules

To run effective meetings, someone needs to be facilitating. This person’s role is to ensure that the meeting runs on time, covers the agenda and the meeting ground rules are stuck to.

The role might involve kicking the meeting off with a round of introductions or ensuring that everyone is asked for their opinion. The key responsibility of a facilitator is to create a group dynamic in which attendees can together reach an effective solution or conclusion, within the designated time.

3. Limit attendance to people who can make valuable contributions

As mentioned, attendance should be limited by both attendee number and decision-making authority. This means the meeting should only involve attendees who can make a valuable contribution and actionable decisions.

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezo, who famously meets with Amazon’s investors for just six hours per year, has a ‘two pizza rule’. The rule states that no meeting should be held with more people than can be fed with two pizzas. By restricting meeting sizes, Bezo claims the meetings move faster and that the conversation is purely between people with decision-making power.

4. Share a calendar invite with all the information required to join the meeting

Once a date and location have been set for the meeting, whether in-person or online (or a combination of the two), ensure that a calendar invite is sent out in good time. This should include all the necessary information to attend the meeting at the designated date, time and location.

Have a conference room booked for the meeting? Make sure to include the address and room number. Or perhaps you’re holding the meeting via a virtual meeting tool? Include the link to join within the invite and agenda, so attendees are able to join on time, without spending 10 minutes trying to connect.

5. Ensure the availability of all materials and/or equipment needed in advance

To make sure meetings get off to an efficient start, make sure that all required materials and/or equipment are prepared in advance. If holding an in-person meeting, this means booking a meeting room and any equipment necessary to hold an effective meeting. This might include supplies such as a projector and screen, or notepaper and pens.

If you’re holding your meeting online, to avoid that famous BBC interruption ensure your space is clear and that everyone has a link to join the call at the designated time. Additionally, if you’re using any shared online meeting aids, such as products for taking effective meeting notes, make sure that everyone has access to these solutions in advance.

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6. Share an agenda in advance stating the aim of the meeting and discussion questions

Within your agenda, ensure that the aim of the meeting is clear. For example, if the aim is to answer a specific question, such as how to provide proactive customer support, include this question centrally on your shared meeting agenda. This will prompt attendees to consider the necessary questions in advance.

Just like the calendar invite, the agenda should include all the information required to attend the meeting at the designated time, date and location.

7. Ask all attendees to speak slowly and clearly, particularly if meeting online

When speaking publicly, Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED, advises speaking at a rate of 190 words per minute. If you speak much faster, Carmine explains that you can end up sounding nervous, and as if you’re trying to get it over with as soon as possible.

When holding a meeting online, this is even more important. “Video-conference meetings should actually move at a slightly slower pace than a typical meeting due to a two to three-second delay for most systems to communicate,” claims Susan Colaris, assistant vice president for Instructional Technology at Saint Leo University in Florida. “If you’re leading the meeting, make sure there are sufficient pauses after asking a question. If you are a participant, bring attention to yourself before addressing the group by signaling with your hand or saying ‘question’ or ‘comment’ and then waiting a couple of seconds before continuing.”

8. Encourage active, distraction-free listening to conduct a respectful discussion

To make your meetings faster and more effective, ensure team members remain engaged and pay respect to other meeting attendees by actively listening. It’s a fact that it’s much harder to listen when you’re multitasking, for example by responding to a quick email, while in a meeting.

If you’re meeting in-person, ask for all attendees to stay off their phones and laptops, unless taking meeting notes. When attending a meeting online, it can much be easier to fall into this trap of multitasking, especially if your camera is off. As a result, begin by encouraging all attendees to be better listeners, by minimizing distractions and remaining focused on the meeting at hand. Asking all attendees to keep their cameras on can also help with this.

Additionally, it is the role of the meeting facilitator to ensure that everyone is treated with respect when contributing, so if someone is regularly interrupting, calmly explain “I don’t think [name of the interrupted attendee] was finished”, before returning to the previous speaker.

Tip: If you feel someone is rambling, you can also say “that’s a good point [name] and I’m glad you brought it up. Let’s talk about that further outside of the meeting.” If the person really does have more to say, they can then approach you following the meeting to reopen the discussion.

9. Limit the discussion time of each item to reach the end of the agenda on time

If you want to make it through the agenda, make sure to limit the amount of time you spend on each agenda item. If some items are more important than others, make sure to list the most important items high up on the agenda, so they’re covered first. You can also designate time accordingly, allowing more time for the more important items. All of these factors should be taken into consideration when writing your timed agenda.

Meetings should be no longer than an hour, as sixty minutes is generally the longest time workers can remain truly engaged. To this end, it’s important that the meeting finishes on time and the agenda is stuck to. If you gain the reputation for being someone who starts and ends promptly, team members will appreciate that you value their time. They’ll also make more effort to attend your meetings in the future.

10. Give everyone the opportunity to participate via inclusive meeting practices

In a typical eight-person team meeting, on average only three people do 70 percent of the talking. This can be due to a number of reasons, but in order to give everyone the opportunity to participate, there are a few steps you can take to ensure everyone feels prepared and confident in the meeting.

This can be done via sharing key questions to solve in advance that spark preparatory thoughts. For example, if you’d like to talk about “customer hold times”, you could instead write “How do we shorten our customer service hold times and improve our brand experience?” As mentioned, remember to share this at least a couple of days in advance, so that attendees have adequate time to consider the issues.

Then, during the meeting, it’s the role of the facilitator to ensure that the meeting isn’t dominated by one or two “meeting tyrants”. This can be done by actively asking less assertive attendees their opinion, during the meeting. After all, not everyone is comfortable fighting for the floor, but they will happily speak up if you offer the opportunity to them. If you’ve shared the questions in advance and asked attendees to prepare their ideas, there’s also less of a risk that you’re putting them on the spot.

11. Assign an attendee to take meeting notes and make sure to share them after the meeting

The best team meetings result in a clear, shared understanding of what’s needed next, including actionable, assigned tasks. It’s the role of the note taker to ensure that these discussions, actionable items, and shared conclusions are noted and shared with all attendees after the meeting.

When taking notes in meetings, note takers should focus on:

  • Facts: For example, “Jenna is the creative lead on this project”
  • Issues: For example, “There is too much work to get done by the deadline”
  • Decisions: For example, “We will break this project up into smaller, more manageable chunks”
  • Action plans: For example, “The project manager and creative lead will determine how to break this project up, then the project manager will decide how to distribute that work”
  • Questions and answers: Take note of questions team members bring up during the meeting and the answers that are given.

Tip: For further information on taking effective meeting notes, take a look at our guide to running effective meetings with mind maps!

12. Recap agreed on points and assign tasks to the relevant people, then share via email

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When the meeting’s about to end, have everyone recap the action items that they’re responsible for, or the meeting facilitator can do this on behalf of all attendees. This way, you can be sure that everyone understands who’s tackling what and ensure accountability. If working with an online task management tool, the actionable items can be tasked up within the meeting to the relevant people, including details such as the task deadline.

Following the meeting, ensure the meeting notes are shared with all meeting attendees, for instance via email, including the clear actionable points and who’s accountable for each item.

So those are our 12 ground rules for conducting effective meetings. If you have any questions or ground rules of your own, be sure to share them with us in the comments below!

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