Meeting ground rules: 8 guidelines for better meetings (2024)

Ineffective meetings are your team’s worst enemy.

They drain energy, pull folks out of focus, stifle productivity, and lead to employee burnout. They also impact your bottom line—in fact, companies in the U.S. waste around $213 billion in ineffective meetings every single year.

We can’t abolish meetings altogether. But we can make them a whole lot better. In this article, we’ll cover eight ground rules to make every meeting on your calendar more effective.

1. Do your prep work

The first rule for more effective team meetings is to prepare ahead of time. Preparation is key, not just for the meeting facilitator or team lead, but for everyone attending.

When folks come prepared, meetings are more productive. Discussion can be more informed and you waste less time on things like giving background or reporting on project status because everyone’s aligned on that ahead of time.

Meeting preparation also makes discussion more inclusive. When everyone’s on the same page before the meeting starts, folks are more likely to speak up and participate.

“Preparation for meetings is a critical component of productivity. The average amount of time spent on preparation for a meeting characterized as "highly productive" is nearly one hour, which is twice as long as the preparation time for a meeting described as ‘not very or not at all’ productive.” —Meetings in America, InfoCom & Verizon Whitepaper

So what’s the best way to ensure everyone’s prepared ahead of time? Here are a few proven tactics used by highly effective teams.

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Tips to prepare for meetings

  • Start by sharing an agenda: Having set topics in place ahead of time will help teammates formulate ideas and prepare for an informed discussion. It’s also a great way to make meetings more inclusive—since some folks like to take time to process information before weighing in. (Try this stand-up agenda to get started.)
  • Align with a pre-read: Async pre-readings help teams get on the same page before getting in the same room (or Zoom). Pre-reads are used by companies like Amazon to prep folks for a fruitful discussion either before or during the first 15 minutes of a meeting. Jeff Bezos says this tactic can “set up the meeting for high-quality discussion”.
  • Build your meeting agenda with Range: To make agenda-setting even easier, try using a tool like Range.

With template agendas built-in (and proven effective by real teams), Range makes it easy to incorporate meeting best practices, prepare for an engaging discussion, and share it all out with your team in seconds.

Build your next meeting agenda in Range

2. Arrive 3-5 minutes early

Your team’s time is valuable and when it comes to meetings, every minute matters. This is why the most effective teams aim to arrive—not just on-time—but early.

Why does being early matter? Those 3-5 extra minutes make all the difference in helping you:

  • Get in the right headspace for the meeting
  • Get situated so everyone’s settled once the meeting begins
  • Ensure there’s no issues with your video or audio, which can often contribute to a late start

Lateness has a proven negative impact on meeting effectiveness too. When attendees show up late, it’s linked to overall disengagement and feeling like the meeting was a waste of time.

Tips for arriving to meetings early

  • Set a 10 minute reminder: Add a reminder to your calendar a few minutes ahead of to make sure you have ample time to wrap up what you’re doing, grab a coffee, hit the restroom, and gear up to meet.
  • Schedule built-in lag time: Many teams use this tactic to create a built-in buffer between meetings. For instance, instead of scheduling a meeting from 10:00-11:00, you might schedule it from 10:05-11:00. If you’re adopting this strategy across your org, you might try 25 and 50 minute meetings to ensure each has a buffer built in. So you’d schedule that same meeting from 10:00-10:50.

3. Practice being present

Being present during meetings can be challenging at times—especially when there’s a lot going on. But active participation, where all attendees are listening and engaged, is 100% necessary when it comes to meeting effectiveness. That goes for individual contributors and leaders alike.

A study from Bain & Company found that among 33 traits, the ability to be present (or “centeredness”) was actually the most important attribute in leading and inspiring teams.

“Of all the elements, centeredness was the skill that employees most wanted to develop. Centeredness is a state of greater mindfulness, achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present. While a growing number of companies offer optional mindfulness programs to promote health and workplace satisfaction, our research shows that centeredness is fundamental to the ability to lead. It improves one’s ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others and listen more deeply.” — How Leaders Inspire, Bain & Company

Tips for helping everyone stay present

  • Get intentional with your invites: Don’t invite people just for the sake of it. Make sure everyone who’s attending the meeting serves a purpose and knows why they’re there. That makes it less likely that folks will check out.
  • Collaborate on the agenda: This will ensure the whole group is bought in and feels some ownerships around the discussion. (Pro-tip: Range makes it easy to build collaborative agendas on the fly — you can even add topics during the meeting as they come up.)
  • Minimize distractions: Sometimes technology that’s meant to make us more productive can actually hinder our ability to be present and focus. When you’re in a meeting, close out other tabs and turn off notifications (Slack and gmail pings can wait) so you’re not tempted to multi-task. Set your phone out of reach. If it’s an in-person meeting, shut your laptop so you can devote your full attention.

4. Kick things off with an icebreaker

It may feel counterintuitive to lead the meeting with something completely unrelated to it, but it’s actually super beneficial when it comes to group engagement because it pulls people out of “observer mode” and into “engagement mode”.

In meetings, participants are more likely to take on an observer role the larger the meeting gets. This is due to something that social psychologists call “diffusion of responsibility”—if everyone is responsible, then no one feels responsible. Icebreakers help teams avoid this problem by giving folks something they have to actively engage on from the get-go. It pulls them out of the role of observer and into the role of an engager.

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Tips to crack open icebreakers

  • Use these 67 questions as inspiration: We put together this list of team-building questions that are perfect for kicking off any team meeting. It includes questions for newer teams to help foster openness, questions for established teams to help maintain cohesion, and questions for tight-knit teams facing new challenges too.
  • Try our free Icebreaker tool: It includes 300+ questions to engage your team and help them to get to know each other better—plus, a spinner tool to keep the conversation moving effortlessly.
  • Mix it up with different topics and themes: Icebreakers are most effective when they include a range of topics—work style, personal interests, and more. We recommend mixing it up with fun and serious questions to get to know each other better in both realms.

Try our free icebreaker spinner

5. Assign a facilitator to keep things on track

If you feel like your meetings sometimes get derailed, you’re not alone.

According to one study, individuals say that getting derailed is one of the top three reasons they leave meetings feeling dissatisfied. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Meeting facilitation is a proven tactic to keep things running smoothly, which is one of the reasons why every great meeting starts with a great facilitator.

“Facilitation starts the moment attendees walk into the room,” explains Steven G. Rogelberg, author of The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review. “Because people often experience meetings as interruptions—taking them away from their “real work”—the leader’s first task is to promote a sense of presence among attendees.”

Some tips Rogelberg shares to achieve this:

  • Greet people at the door (or when they enter the Zoom)
  • Express gratitude for their time
  • Offer snacks or play music to set the vibe
  • Remind folks to minimize distractions by turning off phones, closing laptops, etc.
  • Start the meeting with a purposeful opening statement explaining why everyone’s gathered
  • Recognize group or individual accomplishments
  • Remind attendees of rules of meeting engagement

Each of Rogelberg’s tactics help to prime the group for a productive, engaging discussion. Once the meeting starts, use these facilitation tips to keep things on track.

Facilitation tips to keep meetings on track

  • Train your team: The key to being an effective facilitator is knowing what to say to get folks back on track without distracting or offending. Check out our meeting facilitation cheat sheet for some go-to responses you can use for different challenges.
  • Use a tool that helps with facilitation: Any teammate to facilitate like a pro using Range’s meeting templates. It keeps track of time for you and makes it easy to follow along with your agenda in real-time. Range helps you lead a more inclusive discussion tool, with tools that give everyone an equal voice, and integrates seamlessly with Zoom so you can facilitate and run your meeting all from one screen.
“[In meetings], some people will talk really loud and be excited and aggressive, not like aggressive in a bad way, but pushy. Other people will want to be quiet and not push. Their ideas are oftentimes equal, yet in typical meetings, what we found is that their ideas were not treated equally.” —Harper Reed, CEO of General Galactic

Facilitate your next meeting with Range

6. Focus on problem-solving, not just problem-identifying

Churn happens in meetings when we get so focused on talking about a problem that we forget to move towards a solution. If you want to run more effective meetings, it’s key to make progress towards tackling your problems every time.

The expectation isn’t that you close out or solve every issue presented in a one hour session. But it is possible to move closer to a solution and feel a sense of productivity and progress when the meeting ends.

Tips to make progress with problem-solving

  • Define measurable outcomes for each agenda topic: Pairing each meeting agenda item with a specific, measurable outcome can keep conversation focused and productive, and improve the team’s ability to problem-solve as a group.
  • Provide different ideation formats: Try mixing on-the-fly brainstorming with opportunities for silent reflection and ideation. Research shows that the latter can often yield more creative thinking than brainstorming, because folks are less influenced by the group.
  • Run better brainstorming meetings: To keep the ideas flowing and everyone’s voice heard, try using this brainstorming meeting template agenda.

7. Share meeting notes and actions

Meeting notes are a simple practice with a big pay-off. They make teams more effective by improving transparency and making meetings more actionable. By capturing and sharing meeting notes, meeting attendees can look back on what happened, follow up on action items, and keep other teammates in the loop.

According to McKinsey & Company, meeting attendees should consist of four types of stakeholders:

  1. Decision maker(s): The ones who make the final call
  2. Advisers: The ones who give input and shape the decision
  3. Recommenders: The ones who conduct analyses, explore alternatives, illuminate the pros and cons, and ultimately recommend a course of action
  4. Execution partners: The ones who are deeply involved in implementing the decision
“Many of your colleagues will want to be in the loop and will even need to be involved downstream eventually—but if they have no role in the decision-making process, they shouldn’t be in today’s meeting.” — Want a Better Decision? Plan a Better Meeting, McKinsey & Co

Note-taking is a great way to equalize information and keep folks in the loop on what’s happening when they aren’t in the meeting room.

Tips for better note-taking

  • Keep it organized: If you’re discussing something on a regular basis—like a product launch—create a system that groups all the related content and makes it easy to find later on. (We like using #tags.)
  • Share right away: Share notes immediately after the meeting—it helps with transparency and ensures you won’t forget to do it later on. If your team uses Slack, share your notes there. If email is more your thing, send notes over email instead. That way, there’s no barrier for people to follow along.
  • Consider an action item and notes tool: Many teams use Range for notetaking and because it streamlines the whole process. Assign your notetaker, capture action items in real time, use #tags and flags to group related items, and then automatically share everything over Slack or email as soon as the meeting ends.

Try Range for seamless meeting notes

8. End on time

The last meeting ground rule is to always stick to your schedule and end on time. Even if folks “don’t have a hard stop”—running even a few minutes over can be disruptive to your team’s time and workflow, pulling them out of deep work. So as tempting as it may be, it’s important to stay on track.

If you’ve set aside 30 minutes for your meeting and continuously find you’re going over or not getting to everything on the agenda, ask yourself the following.

  • Are we trying to do too much in this meeting?
  • Has the meeting gotten too large? Do all attendees need to be here?
  • Can we handle some of these topics asynchronously instead?
  • Are we doing our best to facilitate effectively?
  • And (only as a last resort)… Do we need to schedule more time for ourselves in the future?

Tips to help you end on time

  • Always stick to your agenda: Before the meeting, allocate time limits for each topic and try projecting your agenda in the room or on the screen so everyone can see what’s up next.
  • Use conversation cues: Establish a few key phrases your team can use with each other when conversation starts to off track or you’re churning for too long on one thing.
“Try having a set of phrases that you keep in your back pocket that everyone can use. Something like ‘We have 20 minutes left and I know we wanted to get to 3 more topics. Are those still things we want to cover today?’ It makes it easier when there’s a power dynamic too, because it feels less personal and more like a team norm.” — Jean Hsu, VP of Engineering, Range

Put these ground rules to work with Range

Ready to make these ground rules a reality on your team? Range makes it dead simple—with intuitive tools for agenda building, sharing pre-reads, facilitating engaging discussions, taking and organizing notes, and more.

With meetings in Range, you can:

  • Keep everyone included and on track with much less effort.
  • Build agendas, record actions, and share notes automatically
  • Create a recurring agenda for all the topics your team discusses every week from metrics to project updates.
  • Empower discussion by building a collaborative agenda & spinning to select others to speak
  • Easily document notes from each topic to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Share notes via Slack & email

When you run your meetings with Range, icebreakers and suggested agenda topics are built in to get the most out of your time together. Plus, Range keeps track of time for you to keep the whole team running on schedule.

Try Meetings in Range for free

As a seasoned expert in organizational effectiveness and meeting optimization, I bring to the table a wealth of knowledge and practical experience in transforming inefficient meetings into productive and engaging sessions. My expertise is grounded in extensive research, hands-on implementation, and a deep understanding of the dynamics that contribute to successful team collaboration.

The article on ineffective meetings resonates with my expertise, and I'll delve into the concepts presented, offering insights and additional strategies to enhance the effectiveness of team meetings:

  1. Preparation for Meetings:

    • The article emphasizes the importance of preparation for productive meetings. This aligns with studies, such as the "Meetings in America, InfoCom & Verizon Whitepaper," highlighting that highly productive meetings involve nearly twice the preparation time compared to less productive ones.
    • Additional recommendation: Encourage team members to not only review the agenda but also come prepared with thoughts or contributions related to the meeting topics.
  2. Arriving Early:

    • The significance of arriving 3-5 minutes early is stressed, linking it to the value of respecting everyone's time and ensuring a smooth start.
    • Additional recommendation: Consider implementing a "meeting debrief" at the end to summarize key points and action items, reinforcing the meeting's purpose and outcomes.
  3. Being Present:

    • Active participation is deemed crucial for meeting effectiveness, supported by research from Bain & Company highlighting the importance of "centeredness" in leading and inspiring teams.
    • Additional recommendation: Introduce mindfulness techniques, such as brief breathing exercises, to help attendees stay focused and centered during meetings.
  4. Icebreakers:

    • The use of icebreakers is advocated to engage participants and shift them from "observer mode" to "engagement mode."
    • Additional recommendation: Customize icebreakers based on team dynamics, ensuring they align with the meeting's tone and objectives.
  5. Facilitator Role:

    • The role of a facilitator is highlighted as essential for maintaining meeting flow and engagement.
    • Additional recommendation: Rotate facilitator roles among team members to promote a sense of shared responsibility and leadership development.
  6. Focus on Problem-Solving:

    • The article emphasizes the need to move from problem identification to problem-solving during meetings.
    • Additional recommendation: Implement a "parking lot" system for tabling non-urgent issues, allowing the team to concentrate on immediate problem-solving without derailing the agenda.
  7. Sharing Meeting Notes:

    • The practice of sharing meeting notes is presented as a means to enhance transparency and make meetings more actionable.
    • Additional recommendation: Utilize collaboration tools that allow real-time co-editing of notes during meetings, fostering immediate input and alignment.
  8. Ending on Time:

    • The importance of adhering to meeting schedules is highlighted to respect team members' time and workflow.
    • Additional recommendation: Conduct periodic retrospectives to assess meeting effectiveness and gather feedback for continuous improvement.

In applying these concepts, my goal is to empower teams to not only recognize the pitfalls of ineffective meetings but also implement practical strategies that lead to more efficient and rewarding collaborative sessions.

Meeting ground rules: 8 guidelines for better meetings (2024)
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