Ways You can Improve the Efficiency of Your Meetings

Thaisa Fernandes
Apr 1, 2020 · 9 min read

Regarding meetings, I believe, the fewer the better. At the same time, I really value an important meeting, it can be a game changer. I know the situation we’re living in right now is not ideal, it’s scary, and it can be hard to adapt.

I’m going to share some thoughts that can help not only during this pandemic, but hopefully for a long time. The more space in your calendar, the better. We are overloaded with meetings, every day, every week, sometimes half listening, sometimes wondering what are the action items or even why you were invited, it’s insane.

I’m sharing in this post a set of good practices for running and attending meetings, which are especially important since many of us are working remotely. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself do I really need this meeting or could this be accomplished via a document such as an email or a memo? Secondly, be prepared even if that means delaying the meeting for a couple of days. The goal should always be to have less, but more productive meetings.

▪️ Send a Meeting Agenda

Every meeting should have an agenda. Every meeting should have a purpose and intended output that is communicated to all meeting invitees. Every internal meeting should have a clear agenda, purpose, and intended output, and every meeting invitee should understand that. Repeat this mantra.

Even if it’s a work session or a retrospective, people need to understand what to expect and how to prepare before participating in the meeting. If your meeting doesn’t have a purpose, you shouldn’t hold the meeting.

▪️ Plan Your Meeting

To be productive, meetings must be fully planned and prepared for. Ways to prepare include creating/revising documentation of the meeting agenda and expected output. You can also consider assigning roles in advance, for example the moderator and note taker. Setting the expectations ahead of time is always beneficial.

Make sure you’re sharing any documentation to be revised at least 24 hours before the meeting. To prepare for a meeting, any advance documentation should be read ahead of time. Keep that in mind and facilitate the participants’ understanding of the meeting expectations.

Don’t forget to check the time zones. If you need to include participants in multiple time zones, don’t forget to check with the team member(s) most affected by the schedule to ensure they’re comfortable with it.

▪️ Be a Leader

If you’re the meeting driver, your role is to guide the meeting towards the intended output, and to achieve that, the meeting should be well managed. There are different things you can do to achieve your meeting’s desired output, e.g., assigning roles to team members like meeting drivers and note taker.

Start the meeting and finish it on time. No excuses, if more time is needed, schedule another session with the necessary team members and set a clear desired output. In the event the meeting output is achieved earlier, don’t be afraid to finish the meeting early.

Don’t forget to check the audio and camera quality for virtual participants. It’s also important to make the appropriate introductions, if needed, and kick off the meeting reinforcing the expected meeting output and the agenda items.

It’s important to pay attention to your meeting participants, especially the remote ones. Ensure everyone can see and hear them and that they feel included and part of the meeting. Keep in mind we have both introverts and extroverts in the meetings, make sure to pause the conversation from time to time to check with participants on whether they have any comments to share.

Save at least 5 minutes before the end of the meeting to ensure the meeting goal was achieved and to reinforce the next steps and identify the next step owners. For the note takers, it’s a reminder to keep the notes tight and include in the meeting notes links to additional docs with more information.

Most importantly, don’t multitask. If you can’t avoid doing something else, reschedule the meeting or let the team know you can’t attend. Don’t forget to ask the team members for permission before recording a meeting.

▪️ Time Zones

Don’t forget to be aware of time zones! Always double check the location of your team members before scheduling meetings. If you have participants in different time zones for a recurring meeting, you may want to consider rotating the meeting time to be fair to everyone.

There’s a tool called world time buddy that will help you to make the necessary conversions to find a timing that works for everyone. You can also include a secondary time zone in your Google Calendar.

If you work with participants in different time zones, avoid filling your calendar with local-only team member meetings during those limited times that work for participants in other time zones. Save those spots for meetings with participants in different time zones.

Keep in mind that countries and regions don’t necessarily have only one time zone. For example, APAC (Asia-Pacific) has a 4.5 hour time difference across its countries. Your Friday can be your team member’s Saturday. In this case, you will likely want to avoid meetings on your Fridays if they involve participants from certain regions.

▪️ Best Practices

I’m going to reiterate all the meetings must-dos beginning from the moment you send or receive a new meeting invite. First, all meeting invites should include the title, meeting type, a clear agenda, and any relevant documentation link/attachment.

Recurring meetings can be great, but they can also be a nightmare. Consider including an expiration date in all your recurring meetings to prompt you to reevaluate if the meeting is really necessary.

  • Invite the right attendees.
  • Give 24 hours notice for cancellations and new meeting invites.
  • Always include relevant doc link(s) in the meeting invite.
  • Identify the expected meeting output using action verbs.
  • Assign roles (note taker/meeting driver) in advance.

▪️ Synthesize the Discussion and Next Steps

The meeting owner should choose the expected meeting participants wisely and also flag optional participants. I’ll also help participants to prioritize. If it’s an urgent meeting and a key team member can’t participate, make sure to communicate the meeting notes and action items to them, and even schedule a followup meeting in case they have any questions.

The meeting driver should read the room during the meeting to make sure the comments are making sense, that the meeting agenda is being followed, and most importantly, that the meeting will achieve its expected outputs. It’s important to acknowledge that some discussions are interesting, but might be better moved to offline discussions.

The meeting rooms should be accessible to the team members. For example, if I schedule a meeting with folks in New York, San Francisco, and Tokyo, I need to book meeting rooms in all locations. This doesn’t take much time and will be a huge help for the team.

Double check to ensure the meeting room (or rooms) are adequate for the meeting purpose and number of participants. The discussions should be synthesized in a meeting doc that lists clear next steps, identifies step owners, and is shared immediately after the meeting or within 24 hours.

▪️ Fewer Meetings

Every time you’re sending a meeting invite, you should ask you some questions. The first one should be, what’s the goal of the meeting, what output am I expecting? Do I need to receive an input? How about a decision?

Now think again, do you really need a meeting? If you decide the meeting is the best way to achieve your desired outcome, let’s talk a little bit more and strategize better how you should organize this meeting.

▪️ Schedule at the :05 and :35

When scheduling a meeting, consider scheduling at the :05 and :35 time. For example instead of scheduling your meeting for 3pm, schedule it for 3:05pm. The reason for this is simple, let’s give each other 5 minutes to move between conference rooms, take care of their bodies, and to get settled before the meeting starts.

Don’t forget to schedule meetings during working hours and when participants have open time in their calendars. In case it’s not, ask before scheduling and explain why it’s important. Consider how much time you really need for your meeting If you only need 15 minutes, please don’t schedule a 30 minute meeting.

If in any meeting you accomplish the outcome before the scheduled end time, wrap up the meeting and give everybody the remaining time back in the calendar. They’ll really much appreciate you for that.

▪️ Meeting Template

Preparing a meeting template before scheduling the meeting can be a great help to ensure you don’t forget to share any important information with your team members. Below is a suggested template for your use.

  • Date: Month/ Day/ Year.
  • Meeting Type: Working session, 1:1s, decision making, status update, retrospective or review.
  • Agenda: List the agenda items. You can also list the expected duration for each agenda item.
  • Expected output: Identify the intended output from the meeting so the team can work together to achieve the overall goal.
  • Roles: Identify the meeting driver and note taker.
  • Next Steps: Document the next steps to be taken to be reviewed and updated during the meeting. Consider adding the owner of each item and approximately timing to resolve.
  • Notes: I typically include the Google Docs link to where the meeting notes will be stored so the team can have it open to follow during the meeting. The notes should be captured by the note taker, and other meeting participants can also contribute or comment in the document.

▪️ Meeting Types

Every team member invited to the meeting should understand the type of meeting to which they have been invited. Based on that, they’ll have a better understanding of what to expect and how they to prepare:

  • Working session: Mainly focused in co-building together and brainstorming to solve a problem.
  • 1:1s: Meetings held between managers and direct colleagues for open-ended and anticipated conversation. Keep in mind this is not a status meeting.
  • Decision making: The goal is to make a clear decision about a specific topic in a group meeting including sharing information, evaluating options, and voting.
  • Status update: The primary goal is to align and update the team regarding progress, challenges, blockers, and next steps.
  • Retrospective: Team members review what happened with a product, process and to brainstorm what they can do better and what they have learned.
  • Review: The team gathers to review a work that needs feedback and further live discussions.

✨BONUS

Our friend Nuritzi Sanchez shared additional tips to configure your Google Calendar and also another resource when deciding on timing for meetings so I’m including them to this article.

  • They do “speedy meetings” at GitLab where they end meetings 5 or 10 mins early, and they have 25 min and 50 min meetings as a company-wide standard to let people have a short break in between.

➡ You can enable this by default in your Google Calendar by doing the following: choose the “Speedy meetings” option in your calendar settings. Go to Settings > Event Settings and then click the checkbox for speedy meetings.

  • There’s also something called “Event Time Announcer” on time and date that’s super helpful to use when you have a set meeting. This functionality allows people to click on the link and see when the meeting is in their local time.

➡ You will need to enter the time and date and then link to it. Find more about the tool here.

  • Another tool Nuritzi uses often when scheduling meetings is Framadate that allows you to poll people for times that work for them to meet.

➡ It’s a free and open source tool, check them out!

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Thaisa Fernandes

Written by

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings

PM101

PM101

Sharing Product and Program Management content.

Thaisa Fernandes

Written by

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings

PM101

PM101

Sharing Product and Program Management content.

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