How to Set Up and Run a Productive Meeting

Igor K
June 14, 2024

“You have a meeting to make a decision, not to decide on a question”.

Bill Gates

Meetings can easily become an onerous element of any leader. When they’re scheduled back-to-back, they a) consume more time than you thought they would and b) don’t solve a thing.

With this article, we want to ensure that, if a meeting is needed, you have the exact tools to make it productive, engaging and, finally, get the work done while the meeting is on.

The Key Learning Points

  1. How to prevent cognitive overload and improve information retention.
  2. Ensuring inclusiveness.
  3. Creating an engaging environment.
  4. Asynchronous work and the mindset needed for productive teamwork.

The Harvard Business Review found it’s too hard for humans to say no to a meeting invite. Some of the reasons are the now infamous FOMO and the false belief that everything is urgent.

Now, we all know that extroverts enjoy interaction while introverts would rather avoid meetings altogether. In both instances, however, the event can cause cognitive overload.

Preventing Cognitive Overload and Improving Retention of Information

It happens when a meeting triggers stress and anxiety. For example, a technical meeting that requires extra concentration from attendees.

The key here is to avoid overwhelming people with too much, too quickly.

Always remember that some people in the meeting don’t have a technical background so go easy with the tech jargon.

Never assume knowledge. Never make it harder than it needs to be for the people in the room. Instead, use metaphors and analogies to bridge that gap.

Next, be clear about the structure and agenda of the meeting so people know what to expect.

During the meeting, pay close attention to the speed at which you deliver points. In other words, give people the necessary time to digest and process information so they can better retain it.

And, whenever possible, deliver content with a hands-on activity because it improves learning and personal connections between the people.

Also, debrief during and at the end of every topic (and meeting) to ensure that everybody is a) engaged and b) understands. Ask open-ended questions like, “What particularly excites you from today’s meeting and is there something that worries you?”

What to do if an attendee zoned out?

  • Throw in a fun question to distract people or bring attention back.
  • Make them move.
  • Change the tempo.

Inclusiveness

Our brains register exclusion the same way they register physical pain. And without that sense of belonging, fear and anxiety kick in. Consequently, we shut down.

So, to increase inclusions in meetings, allow all participants an equal opportunity to participate and contribute.

But for that to happen, you must create a safe environment where everybody feels comfortable to speak and be heard.

There is, however, a slight problem with this. You see, what extroverts perceive as a safe environment, introverts may not.

Timothy Clark, founder and CEO of Leader Factor and a recognised expert in psychological safety found that introverts, particularly women, have the worst time during meetings.

Unlike extroverts, introverts need time to absorb information and reflect on questions. To tackle this, distribute the meeting agendas in advance.

Introverts also shy away from verbal processing and prefer to crystallise their thinking before vocalising it. In other words, they like a finished product.

And since they experience fatigue rather quickly, you should hold shorter meetings.

Creating an Engaging Environment

  • Use tools.
  • Run a creative sprint, different from daily stand-ups or retros.
  • Do one-on-one walking
  • Use specialised apps (eg, SpatialChat, Gather…)

Asynchronous Work and Required Mindset

“The longer the meeting, the less is accomplished”.

Tim Cook

Lately, a lot of workplaces are adopting asynchronous work. A good example is GitLab. According to them, the easiest way to enter into an asynchronous mindset is to ask this simple question:

How would I deliver this message, present this work or move this project forward right now if no one else on my team or in my company were awake?

If the answer is, “I must wake everybody up”, then it’s fair to call a meeting.

Maintaining a Productive Meeting

  • Leave as much as possible for asynchronous collaboration outside the meeting.
  • Assign duties at the end of it (if you fail to do it, the meeting is pointless).
  • Assign a supervisor (to track and report deliveries).
  • Follow up on items you didn’t cover and revisit each in the next meeting.
  • You don’t have to lead every meeting (remember inclusiveness).

In Module 1 of our Digital MBA for Technology Leaders (Leadership and Team Building), expert lecturers break down the meeting issues in detail and provide actionable solutions to each problem. We briefly went over a few of them here, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. For example, how to identify introverts/extroverts or how to assign specific tasks and to whom.

Remember, meetings are, effectively, problem-solving sessions, and it is imperative to understand every aspect of them to, ultimately, make them productive.

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