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How to hold brilliant meetings

One of our roles as people managers is to facilitate meetings by bringing people, with vested interest in a topic, together to provide a valuable forum to share ideas, collaborate, make decisions, or build team relationships.

But occasionally, meetings can cause more problems than they solve (e.g. disengagement, frustration, and the feeling of wasting precious time).

It’s hardly a surprise that managers in one survey reported that 83% of the meetings on their calendars were unproductive, or that US-based professionals rated meetings as the “number one productivity killer in the workplace.”

Reasons why meetings are a challenge for leaders and managers

There are various reasons why meetings are not delivering the results they should:

  • Meeting length / frequency – It could be that the meetings are too long or too frequent.
  • Lack of preparation or ill-considered agendas often covering too many topics.
  • Meeting too structured / fluid – It could be that the balance between having a structure to keep us on track (and focused on the agenda) and having enough space for people to contribute is not quite right.
  • Conflicting priorities or ‘selfish urgency’ – the meeting suiting the organiser but perhaps not considering the needs of the rest of the attendees.
  • Not having the right people or too many people present at the meeting.
  • Lack of clarity or purpose – it may be that people are not sure why they are invited to the meeting or what their role should be.

  • Lack of participation.
  • Different preferences which can lead to a contribution bias towards more extrovert people. For example, if you are somebody who likes to do your thinking in a more reflective way, perhaps you may feel a little bit overpowered by people who are extroverts, so you don’t get a chance to contribute.
  • Poor punctuality.
  • Off-topic discussions – conversations that tend to drift away from the real issues / challenges.
  • No actions being taken or no follow-ups (e.g. someone not doing what they said they would do)
  • Issues with remote meetings not set up to enable people joining to actively engage and contribute to the meeting.

Facilitating meetings can be a daunting task, especially if we don’t have a clear understanding of the purpose of the meeting. Understanding the intent of the meeting is crucial because it helps us to stay on track and focus on what really matters.

The two main problems about meetings

Lots of people have written about meetings! There is one book by Patrick Lencioni that it is written in a way that we can all relate to.

It is called ‘Death by Meeting’, where he talks about the two main problems about meetings:

  • The lack of drama

Meetings should not be dull. They are a dynamic interaction between groups of people who are talking about topics that matter to them. The reason why they are often dull is because human beings, by nature, tend to avoid conflict and areas of challenge – rather than really understanding them – and skim over the things that really matter, which leads to frustration.

  • The lack of contextual structure

Meetings are often randomly focused discussions about a whole host of topics – strategic and tactical – leading to a real lack of clarity around objectives, roles and how the meeting contributes to the success of the organisation. That’s why it is important to be clear about the purpose of the meeting, what is at stake and how it fits within the organisation and the team.

How to run effective meetings

Meetings can be an effective way to share information, make decisions and collaborate with others. However, they can bring challenges if they are not well-planned and executed. To ensure that your meetings are productive, there are several things to consider before, during, and after the meeting:

Before the meeting

  1. Things to consider – Does this need to be a meeting? Do we need to bring people together to do something? And if a meeting is not needed, what do we do instead? Ask the main stakeholders for their input.
  2. Be clear on the purpose – Bring people together to make a decision so the time invested is used effectively.
  3. Take time to prepare – Prepare the agenda, be clear on expectations, who needs to attend and who owns the agenda items. Make sure you assign roles for every attendee in the meeting (e.g. who does what?). This is to make sure that everything is done during the time allocated and that everyone is more engaged because they all have a role to play.

During the meeting

  1. Set the context – Re-iterate the purpose and the context – what is at stake and why it matters – at the start of the meeting. Agree ground rules. Confirm what is going to be covered and be clear on how you are going to work together.
  2. Actively include – Be aware of cues for people (when they are about to speak) and draw people in the conversation to avoid presence disparity (by taking into account different preferences as a facilitator).
  3. Tackle issues head on – Work on what the real issue is. Avoid side conversations and scheming over things. Tackle the most important issues/challenges.

After the meeting

  1. Be clear on actions and ensure owners are assigned and timescales agreed.
  2. Have a process to monitor progress of actions. Ensure that everyone takes accountability.
  3. Seek feedback on the meeting – what went well or what could have made it even better – and implement.

What about remote meetings?

A lot of the principles above apply for remote meetings as well, but there are few things we need to consider:

  • Be intentional about asking people if they want to contribute. Engage in proactive facilitation and make sure everyone feels included – even if they don’t have anything to add.
  • Consider using smaller virtual break-out rooms.
  • Consider time zones if working with different countries (e.g. avoid setting a meeting during someone’s lunchtime break).
  • Consider the length of the meetings – It is harder to stay engaged for long period of times in a remote environment. Keep the meetings short and have more breaks.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • There many emerging AI tools out there to support meetings and get input about how people are engaging – real-time sentiment or engagement analysis taken from people’s facial expressions, body language, or contribution – so you would know who to bring in the conversation.

Creating an environment that people feel comfortable in is crucial when it comes to encouraging engagement and contribution. While we cannot force anyone to participate or engage, we can create a welcoming and inclusive space that makes people feel valued and heard.

Please do contact us if you would like to dive into things a bit deeper or if you would like some other resources around this subject.  

CAPE Coaching & Development equip, empower, and enable brilliant People Managers through development programmes, workshops and 1-2-1 coaching. Learn more by visiting  

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