Are you tired of demotivating, lengthy, and purposeless meetings? So are your employees. Use these tips to make sure every meeting you lead is worth everyone’s time—including your own.

It’s a scenario that has happened to just about everyone: you sit in a meeting for thirty minutes to an hour, only to walk out of the room or hang up the call with zero valuable takeaways or an action plan for what to do next. While the amount of time Americans spend in meetings has been steadily increasing, productivity has not. In fact, according to a report from the project management company TeamStage, the majority of employees surveyed said that their meetings are a waste of time.

Meetings can be an enormously valuable way to connect with your people, solve problems, and set new goals—but they can also be a huge time suck and drain on resources if you’re not careful. As a leader, it’s up to you to ensure every meeting is a productive one and that you hold participants accountable for their level of engagement.

The tips that follow can help you identify and reduce common pain points in your meetings to make your teams and your business more efficient and successful.

Email vs. meeting

First things first. Before you hit send on your meeting invite, you need to ask yourself one simple question: could my goal be accomplished without a meeting? If the answer is yes, develop an agenda with action points and delivery dates, and send your team the details of the plan via email. It could be helpful to include a note at the bottom of your email explaining how team members should follow up with you or another point person regarding their questions.

If you deem that the meeting is necessary, you’ll want to follow a similar plan and establish an agenda before sending any invites. The purpose of an agenda is twofold: to set the stage and help participants prepare and to keep everyone on track toward the end goal. Here are some best practices for creating an effective agenda for your meetings:

  • Set clear expectations for the meeting. Include all necessary notes and information participants will need to prepare and spark valuable discussion.
  • If the meeting requires multiple facilitators, make sure everyone is aware of their role and the expectations you have of them beforehand.
  • Be flexible, leaving room for additional discussions (within reason). If a participant brings up a valuable point to add to the agenda that is within the scope of the project or goal, be sure to add it before the meeting.

Minutes matter

It’s important to be respectful of your people’s time. A meeting that begins five minutes after the set start time or lasts ten minutes longer than intended is guaranteed to put people off, increase distraction, and reduce productivity. Set a clear start time and end time, and stick to it as much as possible. As the host, you should plan to arrive at or sign on to the meeting a minute or even a few minutes in advance.

There’s also no reason why a well-planned meeting would need to last longer than an hour, and, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), the engagement of participants will start to dramatically decrease the longer the meeting goes on. Every minute of your meeting should be put to good use. Creating the aforementioned agenda can help with this but only if you stick to it. As the meeting leader, you should foster an inclusive environment by allowing participants to ask questions and encouraging those who don’t often speak up to do so. However, if the conversation moves away from the points outlined in your agenda, you’ll need to rein it in. The longer you allow the conversation to go off topic, the harder it will be to bring it back to the main talking points.

In short, the faster you can get through the agenda of the meeting, the better. Decision-making skills will start to wane and attention spans will suffer as time goes on, so keep idle chitchat to the first five minutes of the meeting, hit your talking points, develop necessary action items, and then let everyone move on about their business.

Actionable takeaways

Speaking of action, if you don’t give every person at your meeting an action item, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Every person at your meeting should come away with something to do, and it’s even better if you can give people an idea of their action item or items ahead of time.

Break down your meeting goals into smaller pieces that can be delegated. For example, if you’re meeting to discuss a sales target for the next quarter, ask yourself how each participant can contribute to that goal in a way that is actionable and measurable. Your marketing lead, for instance, should leave with a game plan for how many new leads they will need to acquire over the next few months to deliver to the sales team. A creative lead could have an action item to develop a set amount of new lead magnets to bring in those leads, while a sales lead would need to know how many calls their team needs to make to bring in the necessary number of sales per day to reach the quarterly goal.

Not every meeting will have a groundbreaking objective, and that’s OK. Regardless of the size and scope of your goal, everyone at your meeting should walk away with a clear understanding of exactly what they need to do next, how to follow up with you on their progress, and when they need to have it complete. Be sure to encourage participants to revisit their action items shortly after the meeting is over, perhaps even blocking out time immediately afterward to come up with their own game plan. Doing so allows everyone to think critically about the next steps while the meeting’s discussion is still fresh in their minds.

Tips for one-on-one meetings

We’ve reviewed how to improve group meetings; however, one-on-one meetings deserve arguably more attention because they tend to be less organized and goal driven than group discussions. It’s extremely important to meet with employees one-on-one so that you can check in with them on both a personal and professional level, ask about their family and interests, inquire about their goals, offer praise, and highlight areas for improvement. These meetings can also serve as a great opportunity for you to take valuable notes about what motivates your employee, be it a financial goal, their family, or peer recognition.

  • Keep the first five to ten minutes of your one-on-one meetings lighthearted and personal. Ask how your employee is doing both outside of work and at work and how they feel about their core responsibilities.
  • Take well-organized notes during every one-on-one meeting you have. Be sure to include any life updates your employee mentioned, such as an engagement, an upcoming birthday, or vacation plans.
  • Ask your employee to come prepared with any points they need to discuss. One-on-ones should never be one-sided. This is as much a chance for your employee to open up to you as it is for you to ask them questions.
  • One-on-ones need action items too. Spend a few minutes at the end of the meeting to recap and set clear expectations for the next time you meet.

Open-ended feedback

As a leader, it can be difficult to reflect on your own areas of weakness and opportunities for growth. So much of your focus is put toward helping your team members improve—but it is essential that you make time for self-reflection.

Ask your team members for feedback from recent meetings to see where you may have fallen short, what’s working, and what isn’t. This information can be invaluable to help you improve meetings in the future and ensure that everyone is working as focused and efficiently as possible. Also, don’t be afraid to make changes that rock the boat a little. If you’ve been holding the same meeting every week for three months and have very little progress to show for it, cancel it or switch up the format to occur less frequently or with different team members. You and your employees will be better off.

Running meetings is an essential component of being a leader. But, like all other aspects of your role, it might take some time to get it right. Implement these tips for your business as soon as possible to drive results, and make sure other leaders in your organization follow suit with their own meetings.

TAKE ACTION: Review the upcoming meetings on your calendar. Create agendas for each, and remove any meetings you no longer deem necessary.