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How to lead team meetings in the most productive way

How to lead team meetings in the most productive way

Image by Maddy Price © The Balance 2019

Effective meetings are interesting, high-energy events where team members work together to make decisions or solve problems. Unfortunately, too many of the meetings we attend seem to be just the opposite. The worst meetings bring time to a crawl leaving everyone mentally and emotionally exhausted and more than a little bit frustrated. The difference is in how the meetings are planned and run.

The best managers understand the importance of these events, and they understand that producing a great meeting takes planning and deliberate effort. This article offers ten tips to help you take advantage of this valuable collaboration time with your team. Here are tips on how to strengthen your team meetings.

Have a Positive Attitude About Meetings

It is the single most important thing a manager can do as a leader to improve team meetings. It’s surprising how many managers are proud to proclaim their dislike of meetings, but to achieve significant results, solve problems, make decisions, inform, inspire, collaborate, and motivate, managers need to work with people.

That means occasionally getting those people together in a room or on a conference call and talking to them. Managing isn’t about sitting in the office with the door shut sending emails. As a leader, try looking at meetings as the manifestation of leadership. It’s leadership showtime, not something to dread like a trip to the dentist.

Remember, You Own the Meeting

Don’t delegate the agenda planning to an administrative assistant or another team member. As the leader, it’s your meeting to plan and run. To put yourself in the proper frame of mind, ask and answer the following question: “After this meeting, what will I want people to have learned, achieved or solved?”

Always Prepare an Agenda

Everything you will ever read about effective workplace meetings includes advice on preparing an agenda. Yet, we’ve all shown up to a meeting where there is no agenda to be found. The act of planning the agenda helps to focus and identify the priority topics for the meeting.

Ask for Input on the Agenda

Although it’s the manager’s primary responsibility to develop the agenda, team members can be invited to contribute agenda items. Send out a call for ideas a few days before the meeting.

Spice It Up

Put a little variety in the format. Here are a few things you can do to spice up your team meetings:

  • Invite guest speakers
  • Celebrate something
  • Conduct a “learning roundtable” — have team members take a turn teaching each other something
  • Watch a Ted Talk that’s relevant to the meeting agenda
  • Run a team-building activity
  • Change locations (consider taking the meeting off-site)
  • Bring in some fun or interesting food
  • Have a “single item agenda” meeting
  • Ask for lightning round updates
  • Engage the team in brainstorming
  • Switch chairs or change up anything to break up the monotony

Allow Some “White Space” for Spontaneous Creativity and Engagement

Don’t cram so many items on the agenda that you struggle to complete it. Instead, leave some room at the end for spontaneous discussion. If the meeting ends early, then let everyone go early. Everyone appreciates found time as well.

Use Team Meetings to Collaborate

Instead of just sharing information, try solving a problem or working with the group on arriving at a decision. Yes, it’s challenging and can be messy, but that’s where we get the most value from meetings.

Lighten Up

Being the leader of a meeting isn’t about flaunting authority or abusing power. Chastising someone for being late in front of the team is an example of doing this. Keep a sense of humor and your humility.

Follow-Up

Keep track of action items and make sure people do what they say they are going to do. It’s frustrating to show up at the next meeting and find out half the team didn’t bother doing what they committed to in the last meeting. Follow up before the meeting and hold individuals accountable for their commitments.

Be a Role Model Leader

Team meetings are not a time to let your guard down and kick back with your team. Hold yourself and your team to the highest standards of conduct, which means no off-color jokes, picking on team members, cynicism and sarcasm, or bashing other departments or management. Think about the kind of leader you want to be known as, and then show up to each and every meeting being that leader.

The Bottom Line

An opportunity to meet and work with your team is a horrible thing to waste. It is imperative that you develop the discipline to plan and lead meetings that people value and push initiatives forward.

It’s Thursday afternoon and it’s time for your staff’s weekly team meeting. Chances are team members aren’t overly enthusiastic about spending the next hour going over mindless details. Unfortunately, many of the meetings we attend are boring, lackluster, and inefficient and end up leaving everyone feeling emotionally exhausted and increasingly frustrated. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to lead an interesting, high-energy meeting where team members work together to make decisions and solve problems. It all comes down to how the meeting is planned and run. The best managers understand the importance of team meetings and they know that leading a productive and positive meeting takes planning and effort. Here are a few tips for how managers can make the most of this valuable time with their team.

Demonstrate a Positive Attitude about Meetings
It sounds a little obvious but you would actually be shocked at how many managers are quick to proclaim their dislike for meetings. If the manager has a negative opinion of meetings, how could you possibly expect the team to think otherwise? If managers want to achieve significant results, solve problems, collaborate with team members, inform, and motivate, they have to be willing to spend time meeting with everyone to discuss these issues. You can’t manage people from inside your office with the door shut. Rather, leadership requires meeting with people and actually talking to them. Therefore, meetings should be viewed in a positive light by managers and not something to be dreaded.

Create an Agenda
The golden rule for leading meetings is preparing an agenda. If a manager walks into a meeting and tries to “wing” it, it is just about guaranteed to be chaotic and unproductive. Planning the agenda helps the manager to focus and identify the priority topics for the meeting. For team members, it gives them a clear understanding of the goals for the meeting. It keeps everyone on track and definitely leads to more productive results.

Get Everyone Involved
Many people would agree that meetings are boring and people are just “talked at.” If you want to lead a meeting that is interesting and engaging, you need to bring everyone into the discussion. You can do this a number of ways including group discussions, small group discussions, rotating the meeting leader, assigning jobs to each team member, or even playing a game to foster team building. No matter how you choose to do it, meetings are going to be more productive when everyone is engaged.

Develop a Less is More Attitude
There are certainly plenty of times when meetings are absolutely necessary, but it is should be noted that they are also breaking up productivity in the office. The solution is not to do away with meetings, but rather keep them short and sweet. Agendas are a helpful tool for staying on schedule and allow for a specific amount of time for each topic. The focus of team meetings should be reflective of the team as a whole. Anything more specific should be addressed in even smaller groups at a separate time. Brief meetings tend to be more productive because people remained focused for shorter periods of time. It is also an easy way to keep positive attitudes toward team meetings.

Spice it Up a Little
If you want your team to view meetings in a positive light then you need to add a little variety to the format. Consider inviting a guest speaker, conducting a learning roundtable, changing location, bringing in some food, engaging in a team building activity, or celebrating a special occasion. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but switching up the monotony will definitely lead to a more engaging and productive meeting.

Though they are intended to boost productivity and efficiency, team meetings often end up wasting companies’ time and money because they are run poorly. We have all sat through those late afternoon meetings that never seemed to end. These dysfunctional meetings cause frustration among employees and end up doing more harm than good. With the right tailoring, you can learn to lead effective meetings that are beneficial to you and your team. Here are nine tactics for ensuring you get the most out of your team meetings.

  1. Make a Plan

Before scheduling a meeting, you must first decide if the meeting is really necessary. Ask yourself, “Can I accomplish the same goals without holding a formal meeting?” Unnecessary meetings take up valuable time and can end up costing you money, so make sure it is important. Next, come up with a plan for your meeting and set clear objectives. Know the purpose of the meeting, what you want to accomplish, and how you plan to accomplish it.

  1. Choose the Right Audience

It’s great to include your entire team and share information with everyone, but consider the impact on productivity if the entire team is present. There are times when it just isn’t necessary to have every team member present. Decide who really needs to be there and plan on sharing the minutes of the meeting with the rest of the team via email. You can usually get more done and faster with fewer people involved.

  1. Have an Agenda

Meetings that don’t have a clear agenda are likely to get off track easily. Agendas keep everyone focused on the objectives and prevent the meeting from going awry because of some random topic. One of the best ways to conduct an efficient meeting is to carefully plan a detailed agenda and distribute it in advance to all attendees. This gives everyone an opportunity to see what will be discussed so they can prepare for the meeting ahead of time.

  1. Start and End on Time

Late arrivals can cost you 5-10 minutes of valuable meeting time or end up making the meeting last 10 minutes longer. Make it clear that the meeting will start promptly and don’t wait on late arrivals. One of the most effective meeting strategies is setting firm start and end times. Starting on time will keep your meeting on pace and allow you to end on time. Likewise, when it’s time for the meeting to end, don’t allow it to drag on. If there are issues that require more time, plan for those separately.

  1. Choose the Right Time

One often overlooked but highly effective tactic for leading a productive meeting is simply choosing the right time to schedule it. Some meetings are best to be held in the morning, so people can take action and discuss the objectives throughout the day. Also, people tend to be fresh and productive first thing in the morning. On the other hand, scheduling a meeting right before lunch might not be the best time. People are hungry and ready for a break. Late afternoon meetings can also be less productive, because people become tired and lethargic at the end of a long work day.

  1. Minimize Distractions

Checking emails, cell phones, and doing other tasks during a meeting are sure fire ways to kill productivity. The best way to avoid this is to request that attendees avoid using cell phones and laptops during the meeting.

  1. Encourage Participation

There should always be a meeting facilitator to keep you meeting moving in the right direction, but this person should control the entire meeting. Create an atmosphere where attendees are encouraged to ask questions, make comments, and engage in discussion. This keeps everyone engaged and allows people to freely express thoughts and ideas.

  1. Meet Outside the Office

An off-site meeting can be a great way to avoid frustration and lack of energy. A change of scenery can be helpful for bringing energy and ideas to the table. Consider taking your team outside, to a nearby cafe, or a restaurant.

  1. Follow Up on the Meeting

Follow-up is an important strategy for ensuring you get the most out of your meetings. Check in with attendees in a timely fashion to see how the tasks are progressing and answer any questions that may have come up since the meeting.

Nobody likes awkward meetings.

Thing is, virtual meetings are becoming a reality for people in the workplace in all sorts of roles. Technology has cut the distance between business partners, while remote work calls for ways to keep all the team on the same page.

Unproductive meetings are already a plague that’s stealing away so much time on the workplace. Since virtual meetings and remote working are here to stay, here are a few tips on how to conduct virtual meetings like a pro (as in, “productive person”).

How to conduct productive virtual meetings

    1. Set up a date and time
    2. Make sure the tools are properly working
    3. Send the program in advance
    4. Stick to the agenda
    5. Write and share notes
    6. Send a follow up immediately

#1: Set up a date and time that work

First of all, make sure to set up in advance a date and time for the virtual meeting that works for everyone.

This should be like a no-brainer, but when you have to arrange a meeting for people in different locations, and sometimes in different timezones, things get complicated.

Personally, when I work with people on different timezones, I find Timezone Ninja and MyTimeZone useful. To send the actual invitations, you can use Google Calendar.

#2: Make sure the tools are properly working

Can you hear me?”
Hello, can you hear me now?”
The screen just froze

How many times have your virtual meetings gone unbearable due to technical difficulties?

To make things less embarrassing as possible, and to save you time, make sure to properly check the settings and equipment of your meeting.

Book a meeting room and verify it has a reliable internet connection, cables, and all the equipment you need for the meeting. Including, but not limited to a door that you can close to avoid background noise or unexpected interruptions.

There are several video apps and software for conference calls, like Skype Business or Zoom. Check out this article from Snack Nation to learn more about the conference call services available.

Lastly, use a computer that is reliable and keep an eye on battery life – I can’t begin to describe the embarrassment of having one of my calls cut off short because I forgot to plug in the power cable. *sighs*

#3: Send the meeting agenda in advance

Like any other productive meeting, a virtual meeting should be clearly planned out.

That is essential if you have attendees who are physically far away and don’t belong to your organization.

Make sure to share the agenda in advance, and prepare all the documents and files you need before the meeting. This will cut off the meeting’s duration and you won’t waste time shuffling around papers and looking for lost files in your computer.

#4: Stick to the Agenda

The most difficult part of any meeting: not letting it go off tracks.

It’s not enough to have a meeting agenda with the key points, you also have to make sure everybody sticks to it. It’s not to get over it as quickly as possible (OK, maybe just a little because of that), but mainly to avoid sitting through hours of people talking over one another, and completely go off track, making the meeting useless.

Conduct the meeting politely but firmly, and do not allow talking over one another.

To compel all parties involved in staying on topic, give the meeting a time limit and stick to it.

One way to do that is to start a timer at the beginning of the meeting. This is were a time tracking that integrates with Google Calendar and Outlook Calendar can be useful.

How to lead team meetings in the most productive way This meeting is already too long. Thanks, Timeneye!

#5: Write and share notes

It’s easy to forget all the points that are discussed and decided during the meeting, especially when there are many parties involved.

You can use note keeping apps to write down your notes as you go, so when the meeting ends, you can wrap up the conversation with a summary. Here’s a script for closing a virtual meeting:

Nice call, everyone.

We have decided to [list of the key points].
I’ll have [name of the person appointed] work on that by [estimated deadline], while I’ll [task you have for yourself].

Regarding [point of discussion that wasn’t solved] I’ll verify with [person]/dig in some research for you and get back to you with an answer by [deadline]. I’ll make sure to send you a the meeting notes with a summary of the key points by noon/this afternoon/ today.

We’ll adjourn on [date].”

#6: Send a follow up immediately

As shown in the script example above, it’s best to follow up immediately after the meeting with the parties involved via email. If the participants of the meeting are scattered around the country or the world, this point is even more crucial.

Make sure to send the notes and to repeat all the key points and decisions made.

Do it immediately, or the next day at the latest, or there will be a risk of you or the attendees forgetting what was decided. This could lead to misunderstandings (“No, but we said…” “I thought we agreed on…” “You didn’t mention that…” ) and tasks left behind, and you may need another meeting (oh, no!) to fix that.

Most workers hate meetings in the first place, and virtual meetings can definitely be awkward or a source of anxiety for some people. There are many ways to make meetings useful and productive, and virtual meetings are no exception. In the end, you can even laugh about them – like this hilarious conference call in real life video.

Did you like this article? Share it with your colleagues before your next meeting!

This article was edited after publication. Last edit on April 2019

Updated on: September 26, 2011 / 9:47 AM / MoneyWatch

I hated meetings when I worked for big companies. Most meetings — even the ones you lead — are a waste How to lead team meetings in the most productive wayof time; that is, unless you take a different approach.

Here are nine unconventional but very effective steps to leading effective meetings. Good employees will love the difference.

  1. Never set a regular schedule. Consistency breeds complacency. After a while the “Monday meeting” becomes just another entry on a calendar, and attendees stop preparing and quit caring. If at all possible, set a different date and time even for consistently held per-time-period meetings. If you meet weekly, alternate days of the week, mornings and afternoons, and even go so far as to set unusual times (like really early or really late in the day.) The more “unusual” you can make the meeting, the more likely your team is to see the meeting as notable and worth preparing for. And speaking of preparation.
  2. Publish an agenda that only lists action items. Your agenda should never include the words “information,” “recap,” “review,” or “discussion.” In most cases the agenda can be one or two sentences, like, “Determine the product launch date,” or, “Select software developer for database redesign.” The goal of a good meeting is to decide or do something. “Review” is irrelevant because you should.
  3. Never use the meeting to “share information.” Information should be shared before the meeting. If I need to make a decision during a meeting, shouldn’t I have the information I need to make that decision ahead of time? Send documents, reports, etc. to participants in advance. Using meetings as a way to share information is unproductive, a waste of time and, well, lazy. If anyone in a meeting says, “I’m just thinking out loud. ” then you haven’t done your job — their thoughts should already be together.
  4. Never meet primarily to promote “team cohesion.” Team members do need to work well together. But we don’t need to hang out together in order to become a unit. Great business relationships are created when people can count on each other to do their part, meet commitments, get things done. in short, produce tangible outcomes. Otherwise the relationship is more interpersonal than productive.
  5. Allow digression. Tangents can be surprisingly useful, but it’s your job to decide whether to let a discussion go or cut it off. Here’s a simple guide: If a discussion involves ideas, solutions, or suggestions, let it run. If a discussion involves complaining or finger-pointing — without very quickly shifting to how a problem can be eliminated — cut it off. Be professional, but don’t worry too much about hurt feelings. Good employees appreciate a controlled, on-point, productive meeting, and poor employees quickly learn that whining isn’t welcome.
  6. Clearly identify decisions, takeaways, and action steps. Every meeting should result in tangible outcomes. Make sure everyone knows what was decided and what will be done — otherwise, all you did was talk. A discussion is never an outcome.
  7. Create accountability. Who is responsible for which actions? Make sure everyone knows. Never let ownership be fuzzy or unclear; an action item without a clear owner is an instant orphan.
  8. Publish a meeting recap, but only include action items. State what was decided, what will be done, who will do it — and nothing else. Never include statements like, “Discussed possibility of re-aligning department responsibilities.” If all you did was discuss realignment: 1) Shame on you; why didn’t you make a decision? and 2) Including “discussion” in a recap implies that discussions without decisions are worthwhile. Don’t give general discussions credibility by including them in the recap; team members might start to think general discussions do have value.
  9. Conduct initial follow-up offline. Establishing accountability places responsibility on individuals, not necessarily the team as a whole. If you need a follow-up meeting, fine — but do so after progress has been made and reported on offline. As the leader, you should follow up individually, and team members should send progress emails to the team. Only meet when additional decisions need to be made. Never meet just to share updates that could have been shared offline.

Note: Occasionally you may hold a meeting to discuss an idea or potential initiative because group input is important. Fine. The action item can be to brainstorm and then narrow down possibilities, to decide whether to investigate further. you should still plan to decide something. Then recap what you decide, even if all you determined was that one of three approaches makes sense and specific team members will flesh out and build a business case for each.

Related:

First published on September 26, 2011 / 9:00 AM

© 2011 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

In the UK alone, approximately 50% of adults in employment are working remotely. Although this number has skyrocketed this year due to social distancing, we can boldly say remote work is here to stay. A survey carried out at Buffer showed 99% of people would choose to work remotely for the rest of their careers, even if it was only part-time.

Therefore, if you are a team leader, you will have to master leading and managing remote teams in the most productive way. This article will show you five secrets you need to learn when working with remote teams.

Prepare an agenda for your meeting.

Firstly, before you call a remote team meeting, you need to prepare a meeting agenda. The reason is primarily that;

  • A program prepares meeting attendees for the meeting.
  • It will help attendees stay on track.
  • It will ensure everything is touched on.
  • A plan will reduce the time spent on non-essentials in the meeting.

Ensure that when preparing your team meeting agenda, you use questions rather than statements. By doing this, your meeting will be more of a conversation than a speech. Also, this prepares your team with ideas and solutions to the question asked on the list.

With the preparation aspect of this secret, it merely has to do with making sure the technology you are using for your meeting runs smoothly. This includes your remote communication tools, slides you might, etc. However, if this isn’t your forte, there are many custom writing service reviews like Online Writers Rating and Best Writers Online you can go to get this professionally created.

Video is a must

While this may seem like a no-brainer to you, about 22% of people rely more on conference calls using their mobile device. You must use video in your remote communication. The reason is this;

  • Video conferencing will help you read your team’s body language and facial expression.
  • Team members’ engagement increases when using video communication.
  • Teams get stronger as video communication mimics actual face-to-face meetings, which are in themselves great for building relationships.

Assign a virtual meeting facilitator

When working with remote teams, there needs to be a meeting facilitator for every virtual meeting you have. A meeting facilitator will help manage and guide the discussions in the virtual meeting. They will also help ensure that all team members get to speak on the points listed on the agenda.

Lastly, a virtual meeting facilitator should be someone who can fix simple technological questions.

Curate virtual team meetings

Curating virtual team meetings means setting basic rules for a team meeting. It encompasses setting rules for when to have a meeting, what to happen during your session, and so on.

For example, if you were to curate a virtual meeting, here are some points to consider;

  • If an email or a Slack message can suffice, don’t have a meeting.
  • If a time-bound plan wasn’t sent to attendees at least 24 hours before the meeting, there shouldn’t be a meeting.
  • Strictly follow the time set for the start and end of the meeting. So, if your meeting is to start by 8 AM, attendees should have set up and be seated at least 15 minutes prior.

By curating your remote communication, this will ensure that your virtual meeting is fast-paced and highly engaging for all members of the team.

Be intentional about your remote communication.

Finally, every virtual meeting you set needs to be intentional to keep people on track. For this kind of meeting, you should:

  • Leave space for silence. You shouldn’t expect your virtual meeting to be the same as a face to face meeting. Please note that there could be connectivity issues, and it is way easier to talk over people when you have a virtual meeting. So, by leaving space for silence when you say something or asking a question, allows other attendees to talk once they can.
  • Call attendees by name. Another essential thing to do in an intentional virtual meeting is to call attendees by name. By calling team members by name on your virtual meeting, you prompt them to speak out.
  • Be alert for nonverbal responses. During a face to face meeting, it is easy to spot non-verbal responses, but that’s not the case with virtual meetings. Depending on the platform you use, video quality may not be apparent, or there could be a delay in communication. However, by watching for non-verbal responses, which are a considerable part of our conversation, you can better understand attendees. For example, You can point out that team member A nodded his head, and ask them to confirm that they agree. This will help other attendees in the meeting understand what is going on.
  • Have an exit phrase. Having an exit phrase like ‘Let’s revisit that point,’ ‘Let’s continue the talk at another time,’ or even ‘that’s an interesting point, let’s get back to it later’ is an excellent way to keep meetings on track and on time. An exit phrase is necessary for every session you have because not everyone might agree on a course of action, and it’s not wise to drag a meeting on for longer so that people can agree on something. The more efficient way to go about this is to review the points with the various team members on a separate video chat afterward.

The Bottom Line

The truth of the matter is that there are different ways to lead any remote team meetings. And, with virtual meetings becoming the new normal for a lot of people, there is much to be said about adapting and conforming.

So, making use of all the above-listed secrets will help you run a successful remote meeting. It will also ensure that virtual meetings within your team don’t become something your team members dread, but instead something they look forward to.

Look at your virtual meetings as an avenue to connect, strategise, collaborate, and even celebrate team progress.

How to lead team meetings in the most productive way

Why do meetings have such a bad rap? Because too many of them are poorly organized, overly long, and rudderless–drifting this way and that according to the moods of the dominant personalities in the room.

Even managerial and executive meetings, which should be more effective based on the amount of experience the attendees have collectively logged, are often more painful than productive. And these are meeting professionals. They (we) should know better.

Having both facilitated and participated in thousands of meetings in my career, with countless more looming in my future, I’d like to share my seven best tips for leading your meetings out of meeting hell and into–well, nirvana may be aiming too high. Let’s just start with keeping your weekly budget huddle out of the everlasting abyss and then go from there.

1. State the Objective Clearly

Are you generating ideas? Trying to reach a decision? Making plans? Reporting status updates? A bit of each? No matter what the underlying goal of your meeting is, make sure it’s clearly stated up front to all participants.

It’s not easy to facilitate a productive conversation when half the room thinks they’re brainstorming and the other half is trying to make decisions. The brainstormers will feel frustrated and shut down by the judgmental comments, and the decision makers will become impatient with the seemingly irrelevant ideas that are distracting from forward progress.

Brainstorming versus decision-making conflicts are a fairly common meeting hazard, even if you previously announced the meeting’s objective. Keep an eye out for this kind of exchange, and steer the conversation as needed. Try, “Those are great ideas, but the brainstorming phase has passed. We’re here to make decisions now.” Or, “When we’re brainstorming, all ideas are good enough to make it onto the whiteboard. For the next 30-minutes, this is a no-judgment zone. Decision making comes later.”

2. Respect the Ritual of Recurring Meetings

I’m a big believer that there’s a certain amount of ritual to meetings, and that the routine itself serves an important purpose. As much as people complain about being overly scheduled, with too little time for their “real jobs,” they do appreciate the chance to sync up on the same issues in the same way on a predictable basis.

Once you’ve established the protocols of a particular meeting type, you can quickly dive in to the real issues, rather than wasting time orienting everyone to a new agenda. Following a routine does not mean that equal time must be allotted for all topics every week, or that everyone present needs to report progress or provide updates. I advise following a repeatable structure for recurring meetings, while also allowing for slight variations–like skipping stagnant topics and rotating who goes first–in order to prioritize the most relevant and important issues.

3. Ask for Input a Day Ahead

Ask meeting attendees what’s top of mind for them at least a day ahead, before you complete the agenda. This not only encourages team members to start mentally preparing, it also gives you advance notice of what issues might be percolating inside the different individuals, departments, or teams.

Just remember that everyone has different and often competing priorities. As the meeting leader or facilitator, you get to rank those priorities for the team at large. Distinguish between the issues that can be handled by a smaller group offline and those that need the full attention of everyone present.

4. Plan for Structure and Flexibility

I always plan for a structured portion of the meeting and a more flexible portion toward the end. Depending on the meeting type, I’m willing for half or more of the allotted time to be open-ended. Personally, I’d rather follow the energy of the people in the room than rigidly adhere to an agenda just because it’s been typed and distributed. A sheet of universal, white, 20-lb. paper does not equal a stone tablet.

I don’t have any problem vamping on an idea or shifting gears if that’s where the enthusiasm is heading. I realize that this mindset can be frustrating to people who are more rigid in their style (see item No. 6), and I also realize that it’s impossible to please everyone (see No. 7). However, the willingness to shut down rat-hole discussions that stray too far from the central purpose of the meeting–no matter how much energy they inspire–is also essential.

5. You’re the Leader, So Try Leading

You know how frustrating it is to sit through a meeting without a proactive, engaged leader. When you’re in charge, think of yourself as the meeting’s cruise director. It’s your job to keep everyone apprised of where you’re going and when. If there’s a printed agenda, you need to both steer everyone toward the docket and clearly announce any departures from it. “Oh, it looks like we’ll be skipping right past X and moving on to Y. Jennifer, you’re up.”

If the conversation is flowing in a different–and more productive–direction than your agenda allows for, don’t be afraid to toss it overboard (see No. 4). Just tell everyone that’s what’s happening. Otherwise, you’ll lose people in the incongruity between the expectations you’ve set for them and the reality around them.

6. Don’t End Prematurely

No one likes a meeting that drags on and on, far beyond the point of productivity and team engagement. But I believe it can be equally frustrating to end prematurely just because time is up. “Yeah, we almost solved world hunger, but Bill has an 11:00, so let’s pack it up.”

If there’s great momentum in the room, I’m OK with letting a meeting go over by 10 minutes or so, as long as it doesn’t happen every week. If Bill really can’t miss that 11:00, I’ll do a time-check at 10:55 and excuse those who have to jet, keeping the relevant parties until they either wrap up the discussion or schedule a follow-up while everyone is still present and able to compare their calendars.

7. Don’t Try to Please Everyone

Your attendees often have competing priorities and points of view, and there’s no way to please everyone, all the time. You can’t ensure that all parties get equal time, equal treatment, and equal accolades, so don’t even try. You have your own leadership style and meeting preferences. Own them. If Bill doesn’t like it, he can do things differently when he is in charge.

Leading productive meetings is an overlooked skill, but it doesn’t have to be a thankless job. These seven tips may not result in gushing compliments over how pleasurable your latest executive meeting was. But if you can use them to steer your team out of meeting purgatory for an hour every other Wednesday, that’s still something to be proud of.

How to lead team meetings in the most productive way

In a virtual setting, working hard may come with playing hard.

With more companies adopting flexible work-from-home policies, virtual meetings are quickly becoming a norm.

  • Leaders and team members alike should consider ways to make virtual meetings more meaningful and engaging.
  • Here are seven simple ideas to make your next video call more fun.

In a virtual setting, working hard may come with playing hard.

Job and life advice for young professionals. See more from Ascend here.

With companies like Google extending working from home until as late as 2021, and others like Twitter giving employees the option to continue working remotely indefinitely, virtual meetings are more likely to become the norm than the exception. With this new reality comes the need to start making these meetups more meaningful and fun. How can groups quickly identify easy ways to make their meetings more engaging?

Below are seven simple ideas from my new book where I discuss more than 75 team building activities for remote teams.

Regardless if you are the team lead or an individual contributor, try one of the following activities in one of your next meetings. All the activities below require no preparation and take less than 10 minutes to run.

1) Freeze! It is hard to have a video call go without someone’s screen freezing in an awkward position. Turn this sad reality into a game by trying to fool each other into thinking you’re frozen. Stop mid-sentence in an awkward position and hold it. If someone says, “Looks like John is frozen”— that is a point for you! Did your coworker’s screen freeze in an awkward position? Take a screen capture or a photo and keep a team collection of Best Awkward Freezes!

2) Word of the day. At the start of each meeting, pick a word of the day such as “cucumber.” See who can slip the word into the conversation without others noticing: “I really think that if we cucumber the system with a little extra investment, everything will work much faster.” If you catch someone using the word… yell, “word of the day!” (Bonus: It might also keep the team more focused on what is being said.)

3) Home office scavenger hunt. If all your people are working from home, organize a rapid-fire home office scavenger hunt. Come up with a list of three to five items using the list below for ideas. Tell everyone you are about to run a home scavenger hunt. Next mention an item and see who can get back to their computer with it the fastest. Reward one point for having an item and a bonus point for getting back first. Possible items:

  • Rosemary
  • Piece of athletic equipment
  • T-shirt of a band/from a concert
  • Baby picture
  • Old piece of tech (phone, Walkman, etc.)
  • An expired item of food from your pantry (bonus to the person with the most expired item.)
  • Currency from another country
  • Your favorite book

Quick Variation: Ask people to only find one item. If this is the case, it’s best to pick something that will spark conversation and sharing like a baby picture or a unique T-shirt. Afterwards, ask people to do a one-minute explanation of the item and the story behind it.

4) Moving troll. Have everyone on your team pick an object like a little troll or book they have in their home office. Before each call, have people move the object to a different location within the camera’s view. See who can spot the change. Another version is to have people turn off their cameras for 30 seconds and change one thing in their office. After, ask people to guess what change was made.

5) Have you ever (remote work themed). With a few tweaks, this typical party game can be a great way to trigger laughs on your virtual team. If you have never played Have You Ever, it’s pretty simple. One person asks a question to the group, for example, “Have you ever faked a bad connection to get off a conference call?”

Everyone who has done that thing has to hold up their hand in front of the camera! It is best if you have people create their own questions, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Gone to the bathroom while on a call?
  • Stopped paying attention then got asked a question and faked your answer?
  • Piled things under your desk and out of sight to look like your office was cleaner than it was?
  • Forgotten a call completely until the host called you?
  • Fallen asleep while others were talking?
  • Watched a full show on YouTube or Netflix while on a call?
  • Lied about having a bad signal to justify not using video because you were somewhere you were not supposed to be?
  • Done laundry or cooked a meal while on a call?

Pro Tip: If your platform allows you to turn cameras off and on easily, make this more visual by having people turn off their cameras, and then turn them back on if they have done that thing!

6) Tuned in. Have everyone write “Tuned In” on a piece of paper and keep on their desk. When you feel like people are not paying attention, hold the “Tuned In” sign up to your web cam. Last person to get their sign up is “it” and has to either answer a question about themselves or another challenge of your choosing! Not only will it bring attention but laughs as well!

7) Dress up day. Try Sunglasses Day, Fancy Hat, Black Tie, or Band T-Shirt Day. Bring out a few laughs by picking a fun dress code for your next meeting!

Pro Tip: Surprise your team by randomly showing up to a video call in costume!

When it comes to building relationships with your team, a little fun goes a long way.

How to lead team meetings in the most productive way

Why do meetings have such a bad rap? Because too many of them are poorly organized, overly long, and rudderless–drifting this way and that according to the moods of the dominant personalities in the room.

Even managerial and executive meetings, which should be more effective based on the amount of experience the attendees have collectively logged, are often more painful than productive. And these are meeting professionals. They (we) should know better.

Having both facilitated and participated in thousands of meetings in my career, with countless more looming in my future, I’d like to share my seven best tips for leading your meetings out of meeting hell and into–well, nirvana may be aiming too high. Let’s just start with keeping your weekly budget huddle out of the everlasting abyss and then go from there.

1. State the Objective Clearly

Are you generating ideas? Trying to reach a decision? Making plans? Reporting status updates? A bit of each? No matter what the underlying goal of your meeting is, make sure it’s clearly stated up front to all participants.

It’s not easy to facilitate a productive conversation when half the room thinks they’re brainstorming and the other half is trying to make decisions. The brainstormers will feel frustrated and shut down by the judgmental comments, and the decision makers will become impatient with the seemingly irrelevant ideas that are distracting from forward progress.

Brainstorming versus decision-making conflicts are a fairly common meeting hazard, even if you previously announced the meeting’s objective. Keep an eye out for this kind of exchange, and steer the conversation as needed. Try, “Those are great ideas, but the brainstorming phase has passed. We’re here to make decisions now.” Or, “When we’re brainstorming, all ideas are good enough to make it onto the whiteboard. For the next 30-minutes, this is a no-judgment zone. Decision making comes later.”

2. Respect the Ritual of Recurring Meetings

I’m a big believer that there’s a certain amount of ritual to meetings, and that the routine itself serves an important purpose. As much as people complain about being overly scheduled, with too little time for their “real jobs,” they do appreciate the chance to sync up on the same issues in the same way on a predictable basis.

Once you’ve established the protocols of a particular meeting type, you can quickly dive in to the real issues, rather than wasting time orienting everyone to a new agenda. Following a routine does not mean that equal time must be allotted for all topics every week, or that everyone present needs to report progress or provide updates. I advise following a repeatable structure for recurring meetings, while also allowing for slight variations–like skipping stagnant topics and rotating who goes first–in order to prioritize the most relevant and important issues.

3. Ask for Input a Day Ahead

Ask meeting attendees what’s top of mind for them at least a day ahead, before you complete the agenda. This not only encourages team members to start mentally preparing, it also gives you advance notice of what issues might be percolating inside the different individuals, departments, or teams.

Just remember that everyone has different and often competing priorities. As the meeting leader or facilitator, you get to rank those priorities for the team at large. Distinguish between the issues that can be handled by a smaller group offline and those that need the full attention of everyone present.

4. Plan for Structure and Flexibility

I always plan for a structured portion of the meeting and a more flexible portion toward the end. Depending on the meeting type, I’m willing for half or more of the allotted time to be open-ended. Personally, I’d rather follow the energy of the people in the room than rigidly adhere to an agenda just because it’s been typed and distributed. A sheet of universal, white, 20-lb. paper does not equal a stone tablet.

I don’t have any problem vamping on an idea or shifting gears if that’s where the enthusiasm is heading. I realize that this mindset can be frustrating to people who are more rigid in their style (see item No. 6), and I also realize that it’s impossible to please everyone (see No. 7). However, the willingness to shut down rat-hole discussions that stray too far from the central purpose of the meeting–no matter how much energy they inspire–is also essential.

5. You’re the Leader, So Try Leading

You know how frustrating it is to sit through a meeting without a proactive, engaged leader. When you’re in charge, think of yourself as the meeting’s cruise director. It’s your job to keep everyone apprised of where you’re going and when. If there’s a printed agenda, you need to both steer everyone toward the docket and clearly announce any departures from it. “Oh, it looks like we’ll be skipping right past X and moving on to Y. Jennifer, you’re up.”

If the conversation is flowing in a different–and more productive–direction than your agenda allows for, don’t be afraid to toss it overboard (see No. 4). Just tell everyone that’s what’s happening. Otherwise, you’ll lose people in the incongruity between the expectations you’ve set for them and the reality around them.

6. Don’t End Prematurely

No one likes a meeting that drags on and on, far beyond the point of productivity and team engagement. But I believe it can be equally frustrating to end prematurely just because time is up. “Yeah, we almost solved world hunger, but Bill has an 11:00, so let’s pack it up.”

If there’s great momentum in the room, I’m OK with letting a meeting go over by 10 minutes or so, as long as it doesn’t happen every week. If Bill really can’t miss that 11:00, I’ll do a time-check at 10:55 and excuse those who have to jet, keeping the relevant parties until they either wrap up the discussion or schedule a follow-up while everyone is still present and able to compare their calendars.

7. Don’t Try to Please Everyone

Your attendees often have competing priorities and points of view, and there’s no way to please everyone, all the time. You can’t ensure that all parties get equal time, equal treatment, and equal accolades, so don’t even try. You have your own leadership style and meeting preferences. Own them. If Bill doesn’t like it, he can do things differently when he is in charge.

Leading productive meetings is an overlooked skill, but it doesn’t have to be a thankless job. These seven tips may not result in gushing compliments over how pleasurable your latest executive meeting was. But if you can use them to steer your team out of meeting purgatory for an hour every other Wednesday, that’s still something to be proud of.