How to Have a Successful Meeting

Eric Stutzman

We made a big mistake last week at one of our meetings, and we should have known better. On Friday, we met about a significant workflow problem, spent time problem solving, but failed to take meeting minutes. Several people took notes, but no one was officially designated as the minutes taker. When we tried to reconstruct what we had talked about, we had difficulty putting together all the pieces. This wasted time and created frustration for all of us.

In an interconnected world, meetings are often critical to our functioning and even thriving in the workplace. Successful meetings help us find focus, solve problems, and plan our work. However, meetings can also waste our time and resources if we miss one of the following best practices for meetings.

3 Best Practices for Meetings

Harness the Power of an Agenda

If you want to get the most out of your meetings, start by asking yourself the following three questions to build your agenda:

  1. What is the purpose of the meeting? Make sure there is a compelling reason to meet. Note that habit is not a good reason to meet.
  2. Who should be at the meeting? Who doesn’t need to be there? Make sure that you are including the right people to have a full discussion or make decisions.
  3. What is our actual agenda? Consider which possible agenda items are most important and place those at the top. Also consider whether certain agenda items would be better dealt with through a smaller group conversation, email, or memo.

Remember, agendas work best when they are built on a foundation of purpose, and when the right people are at the table.

Pay Attention to Time

Meetings are a big investment when you consider the time and pay of each person in the room. This is why it’s important to think about how to use this resource wisely. Here’s what I have found helpful in this regard:

  1. As a meeting leader, get there early to set up.
  2. Start on time, even if some people are late. Set a precedent that will motivate people to get there on time in the future.
  3. Monitor the amount of time the group is taking on each agenda item. If the discussion is going long, mention that time is passing and ask the group how the conversation can be focused so that it can be finished.
  4. End on time. If you are not done with your agenda, decide when you will meet next to finish the discussion. If you have placed the important items first on the agenda, you may find you can deal with remaining items by an email exchange or a short follow-up meeting.

When you pay attention to the way time is used, you honor the investment that people are making to be there. More than that, you also help people stay focused.

When you pay attention to the way time is used in a meeting, you honor the investment that people are making to be there.
Get the Most out of Your Minutes

Minutes prevent waste. Synonyms for minutes include: records, actions, summaries, and follow-ups. Although we may think we have sharp memories, reality will teach us something different. Over time, our memories change. What seems clear in a meeting often becomes unclear when discussed later with others who were there. The solution to this dilemma lies in taking minutes.

Here are a few things I have learned about minutes:

  1. In most cases, minutes do not need to record who said what – so don’t waste time doing that. When a summary of the discussion may be helpful for the future, the minute taker can ask the group what needs to be summarized.
  2. Minutes need to record decisions. It’s incredibly deflating to revisit a meeting topic after a week or two and realize that no one recorded the actual decision in detail.
  3. Minutes need to record actions to be taken, who will do them, and by when. Each person who attended the meeting needs to know what they committed to doing, and by when. This helps hold people accountable, especially when the action items from the minutes are revisited at the next meeting.
  4. Send the minutes to everyone in attendance within 24 to 48 hours of the meeting. People need to see the minutes while they are still fresh, especially if they are required to do something.

Sample Meeting Minutes and Meeting Guide

A number of years ago, I came across a method of taking minutes that uses a table to create clarity. Here’s a link to sample meeting minutes that I created. You can download and use them, or adapt them for your own purposes. For longer meetings, it can be helpful to add a section to the minutes that summarizes action items along with who is going to do what. This summary section can be placed either first or last in the document.

Here is a link to a one-page handout on effective meetings that I helped create. This handout goes into some detail that I have not touched on here.

Further Reading

Here are three short articles that I found helpful as I prepared for writing this one:

I hope you find these tips useful for running more successful meetings. Let’s all make the most of our time and make our meetings count.


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The Author

Eric Stutzman is the Managing Director of ACHIEVE and co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. The book is available on our website.

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