How to Lead Effective Meetings

Published on
October 23, 2023

Throughout my project management career, I’ve seen it all when it comes to meetings, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I always tell aspiring leaders: never underestimate the value that a good meeting can bring, or the frustration of a bad or pointless meeting. They're two sides of the same coin (and you want to try to land on heads every time). 

Leading effective meetings is essential for an efficient and collaborative workflow within a team. And yet, it’s kind of a rare skill. We’ve all been to our share of aimless or unproductive meetings, even in the world of software development where so much emphasis is put on Agile and Scrum methodologies, specifically built for efficiency. 

Why is it so hard to lead an effective meeting? I think a lot of it comes down to two things, preparation and follow-through. That’s why I’m sharing this set of strategies and tips that I have honed over the years, leading hundreds (thousands?) of meetings. These best practices have proven instrumental in streamlining communication and fostering an environment conducive to innovation and productivity. Once you understand the nuances of effective meeting preparation and management, you can unlock the full potential of your team and take your productivity to new heights.  

One thing I’ll be sure to touch on throughout this article is how you can leverage technology to make all your meetings more productive. Spinach is your AI Project Manager and meeting assistant, capable of handling all the details, from agenda to action items, so no detail falls through the cracks. 

Before the meeting

As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Before you get everyone in that conference room (or Zoom room) it’s essential to establish a clear sense of direction and purpose. Here are my four essential steps to prepare for any meeting:

  1. Have a goal for the meeting - This way your meeting has a clear purpose.
  2. Create an agenda - List out everything you want to cover in the meeting.
  3. Invite the right people to the meeting - You don’t want to leave any important contributors out, but you also don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen. Find the right balance. 
  4. Get input beforehand - Asking for input before the meeting ensures there won’t be any surprise detours. 

Setting the Stage for Success

Give the conversation purpose and direction by having a clear goal for the meeting, and making sure everyone is aware of exactly what the meeting is about. Clear communication around this is key, so I always include the purpose in the meeting invite. I also recommend that whoever is leading the meeting states the purpose of the meeting at the beginning of the call. That way you can make sure all your bases are covered and no one is left wondering “what, what is this about?” When everyone knows the purpose of the meeting they can fully engage and bring their best to the table. By ensuring that everyone is well-informed about the meeting's purpose, both in the initial invite and at the outset of the call, the team gains a collective understanding of the overarching objectives.

Assemble your team

Another important prep step that happens before the meeting begins is selecting the right participants. It’s up to you to identify and invite the relevant team members who can contribute meaningfully to the meeting's objectives. Having the right mix of perspectives and expertise ensures a well-rounded discussion. It takes a good sense of judgment and leadership to be able to identify and invite the key players whose unique skills and insights can elevate the discussion. Plus, because everyone’s time is valuable, you don’t want to invite anyone who doesn’t need to be at the table. We’ve all been sitting in a meeting thinking, “I know what this is about, but why am I here?” Assembling the right people for the meeting is an important skill every leader should have. This ensures a productive and dynamic conversation that sparks innovation, and delivers results.

Gather input beforehand

Leveraging the collective wisdom of the team prior to the meeting can help things go smoothly. Be sure to actively collect input from team members to address any information gaps and ensure everyone is well-informed. By soliciting insights and input from team members ahead of time, you can be sure that the agenda is tailored to accommodate the diverse needs and expectations of the participants. This way you don’t have any surprise topics brought up for discussion that could derail the meeting. Plus, by incorporating pertinent information and updates, the meeting becomes a dynamic platform for the exchange of ideas and collaboration.

You can use Spinach to facilitate pre-meeting communication, gathering input for your agenda, and aligning everyone for collaboration. Spinach tracks all the notes before, during, and after your meetings, so nothing gets lost in the shuffle and everyone's thoughts and perspectives are accounted for. Smooth pre-meeting communication and distribution of information ensures everyone's in sync and ready to roll when the meeting starts.

Share an agenda and stick to it

Setting clear objectives and having an agenda that covers all your goals will help your meeting run smoothly. Sticking to the genda steers the conversation toward actionable outcomes. Setting a clear direction with specific objectives ensures everyone stays on track and engaged. If items come up that are not on the agenda, you can make a note of them and circle back at another time. 

Spinach is a great solution in this situation because it listens to your meetings, takes notes, and curates action items that need to be addressed after the meeting. When you invite Spinach to your meetings, you don't have to worry about taking notes, you can stay engaged in the conversation, knowing anything you need to come back to will be curated in the meeting summary and shared with everyone who needs to see it. 

By following these meeting preparation steps, you can lay a solid foundation for a purpose-driven and effective meeting, maximizing the potential for meaningful collaboration and actionable outcomes.

During the meeting

If you’ve done the right prep work, you’ll begin to see positive results as soon as your team assembles for the meeting. Everyone will know what the meeting is about, so they can come prepared with information or ideas for the topics at hand. But as the meeting leader, your work is far from done! There are several key things you need to keep the meeting on track. 

Cultivating Collaboration

Establishing a positive and inclusive atmosphere is key to getting your meeting off the right start. Consider starting with an icebreaker or something fun to lighten the mood and get people engaged. Setting a positive and inclusive tone can encourage active participation, and creating a welcoming environment sets the stage for open dialogue and collaboration.

Sustaining Structure and Momentum

Now it’s time to jump right into the agenda, laying out the order of events for your meeting so everyone is aligned. Pro tip: Make sure your agenda is visible to everyone on the call, not just the person leading the meeting. This lets people see what the speaking order will be, or which topics are getting covered, enabling participants to visualize the discussion flow. Providing a clear roadmap ensures that everyone stays on the same page and helps maintain focus throughout the meeting. And using tools that offer visibility into the speaking order and the topics slated for discussion fosters a transparent and organized environment. This transparency not only nurtures a sense of inclusivity but also encourages active engagement and participation.

Next, use a timer to keep your meeting running on time. I suggest incorporating a smart meeting tool (like Spinach) that shows how long you’ve been on a single topic. This helps ensure you get to everything, and makes it clear if someone is draining the clock. Time management and sticking to the agenda are crucial for running an efficient and effective meeting. Whether it's a Zoom meeting or a Google Meet call, Spinach's meeting timer keeps track of the amount of time each speaker has the floor. By using a meeting timer, you’re ensuring that every agenda item is thoroughly addressed within the allocated time frame. Plus, this practice underscores the importance of respecting each participant's time and perspective, fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and efficiency.

After the meeting

As your meeting wraps up, this is the time to seal your success with some post-meeting actions and follow-ups, to make sure everyone stays aligned and on track going forward. You’ve done great work so far, and you don’t want any of those details to get lost in the post-meeting shuffle. Having managed numerous post-meeting processes throughout my career, I understand the crucial role of effective follow-up actions. Keep reading for an expert guide on how to ensure a seamless transition from the meeting room to actionable results.

Encouraging action

The last few minutes of your meeting should be used for recapping the purpose of the meeting, along with next steps. Make sure to summarize key points and action items, so that everyone leaves on the same page. By reiterating the meeting's purpose and summarizing the actionable items, participants have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities. This is an opportunity to use a smart software tool (like Spinach) to assign and track the progress of follow-up actions assigned during the meeting. By holding everyone accountable for their respective tasks, you foster a culture of responsibility and commitment, guaranteeing that the meeting's outcomes translate into tangible results. This practice not only solidifies the commitments made during the meeting but also fosters a sense of accountability and ownership within the team. Assigning specific responsibilities and setting realistic deadlines ensures that the discussed initiatives don't lose momentum post-meeting.

Keep time on your side

One of the greatest gifts you can give your team is to end the meeting 5 minutes early. By ending the meeting just a few minutes early, your team has time to regroup before the next thing. No one likes to be in back-to-back meetings, so be courteous and give everyone a little time buffer for a quick break.I always suggest ending your meeting 5 minutes before the hour or half hour to help give everyone's schedule some breathing room. This intentional buffer time promotes a seamless transition into subsequent tasks and fosters a culture of punctuality and efficiency within the team.

Share information quickly

By providing instant access to crucial information and insights, team members remain well-informed and equipped to execute their tasks seamlessly. That’s why it’s so important to share notes immediately after a meeting. Making people wait for meeting notes hurts productivity, plus, it’s annoying to have to ask “hey can I get the meeting notes?” Spinach uses AI to instantly distribute the notes immediately in the channel where your team works. Inviting Spinach to your meetings saves you time and effort of taking manual meeting notes. Leveraging AI to share and distribute meeting notes fosters transparency and accessibility. Plus, getting meeting notes delivered right in the team's communication channel ensures that every team member has immediate access to the key discussion points and action items, promoting transparency and accountability. 

Still taking notes manually in your meetings? Spinach is the AI note taker you need to track all the details, curating action items and saving you time and effort. No more long meeting transcripts or recordings, Spinach gives you just the key takeaways you need to deliver results.

Leverage technology for optimal efficiency

Gathering data about your meeting can help you improve outcomes going forward. You can use an AI-powered meeting tool to discover who speaks the most, the team sentiment, and tips to shorten your meetings or get better results. Using advanced tools that provide comprehensive statistics on meeting dynamics empowers the Product Manager to continuously refine and improve their approach to team meetings. These insights not only facilitate the optimization of meeting structures but also enable the customization of strategies tailored to the team's dynamics and preferences. Leveraging data can help your future meetings to be more concise and yield better results.

By implementing these practices in your post-meeting strategy, you can effectively translate discussions into tangible actions, foster accountability, and propel your team toward achieving the outlined goals.

Use Spinach to make all your meetings better

By now you have a better understanding of how good meeting leadership can help your team collaborate and innovate more effectively. Regularly holding productive meetings is pretty much a cornerstone of successful product management. And having successful meetings boosts team productivity, morale, and success. 

We covered a lot of best practices in this article, from setting clear goals, soliciting input, maintaining a visible agenda, and leveraging time efficiently.  That’s a long list, and we know Product Managers already have a lot on their plate. This is where Spinach can help. Spinach is your AI Project Manager and meeting assistant that joins meetings, takes notes and captures action items to accelerate your team. All you have to do is focus on leading a great discussion and listening to your team. Spinach is there to document the key decisions and takeaways, so nothing falls through the cracks. Plus, Spinach connects to all the tools you already use, so you get an instant boost in productivity, without any added complexity. If you're looking to elevate all your team's meetings and simplify your workflow, you may want to give Spinach a try.

Ready to use AI to make all your meetings more productive? Get started with Spinach today!

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