Coaching Your Team Toward More Productive Meetings

“Meetings should be like salt—a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.”

—Jason Fried

Everyone who attends meetings—both organizers and team members—wants them to be more productive; less time to exchange more information resulting in the more actionable pursuit of overall company goals. Meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions, but in many cases, the opposite happens: a lack of conclusive results and loss of valuable time.

With the proper coaching, however, managers and supervisors can train their teams to run better meetings and score big wins. It’s a skill as important as any in management, and if you manage your meetings proactively through proper planning, preparation, and prioritization, it will make these dreaded-but-necessary gatherings measurably more productive.

The value of pre-work

Nothing turns a meeting into a frustrating waste of time faster than going in without proper preparation. The more you can facilitate effective meeting “pre-work” for your team, the more outstanding the results. A few quick strategies can help:

  • Outline the overall goals for the meeting and determine who the key players will be.
  • Determine actionable goals in order to move a project forward.
  • List the areas to be covered and convey information in a manner that’s easily digestible.
  • Consult team members about the meeting agenda and solicit their input—they may have pertinent points that you hadn’t considered. A collaborative meeting agenda makes sure that participants are engaged and their concerns are addressed.
  • Assign a member to each key point, to take responsibility and be accountable.

Power tip: Use Evernote to create an agenda for each meeting, then share it with relevant team members so they can add their own discussion points. With your Evernote with Google Calendar connected, you can link the agenda to the calendar event and set a notification to open it before the meeting starts.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

“Meetings must be deliberate and intentional—your organizational rhythm should value purpose over habit.”

—Chris Fussell

One of the biggest challenges when planning a meeting is deciding which points are important and which are not. Without clear priorities, your meetings will quickly lose focus and end up buried in an avalanche of unimportant details. The key to an effective meeting is staying on point, and the best way to do that is by assessing and prioritizing topics for discussion.

Order agenda items according to their importance. This means taking care of the so-called big-ticket items first and working your way down. Should the meeting run long, less-important areas not covered can be easily picked up in post-meeting discussions.

As Chris Fussell of the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute aptly notes: “Meetings must be deliberate and intentional—your organizational rhythm should value purpose over habit.”

There are a number of different formal techniques designed to help managers identify and sort priorities, including the ABCDE, SCRUM, and MoSCoW methods. Most of them boil down to determining what must be acted on first, and what is contingent upon other things being completed. Depending on your company’s org, you might also allow managers to develop and use their own prioritization techniques, to best suit their team’s needs.

Power tip: Set meeting priorities early and properly with Tasks, and assign individual responsibilities to team members. This way, they get access before the meeting, allowing them to flag items for discussion. Create reminders for points that may not have priority status yet but must nevertheless be addressed—remember the ‘contingent upon other things being completed’ part we mentioned earlier!

Practice effective note-taking

It’s critical that all the information presented in the meeting be captured (ideally in real-time) to be accessed by team members who need it afterwards, and to ensure your detailed preparation efforts are not wasted.

Capturing information in real-time ensures that all discussion points are authentic and unified, and keeps everyone on the same page. Proper meeting minutes should focus on action items—the tasks that need to be executed in order to move the meeting’s stated goals forward. They should highlight the decisions made, the necessary action items to get there, and who is responsible.

Power tip: Use Evernote’s Meeting Minutes template to ensure nothing gets overlooked or lost in translation. Also, use the audio recording feature to capture conversations as they happen, and replay key exchanges later so that no detail is missed. Share meeting minutes instantly so everyone has access to all the information in one central place. Team members can then add their own notes and alert others, facilitating communication so everyone can get moving on their respective action items right away.

Behind every winner is a good coach

With hybrid schedules and remote employees, meetings have become more important than ever, to ensure everyone across the team, department, and entire organization is keyed into the same big picture goals. Assuming a leadership role is a taxing yet rewarding decision, and with the right techniques and platform in place, you can coach your team to meeting success.

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