How to lead meetings your team actually wants to attend

Lauren Lazo

Do you ever feel too exhausted to cook dinner after a meeting-heavy work day? Or too stressed to sign off and spend time with loved ones? Unfortunately, this experience is all too common. 

Each day, an estimated 300 million meetings occur globally, but only around 50% of the time spent in meetings is effective, engaging, and inclusive. Having too many meetings, or running them poorly, negatively impacts team productivity and innovation. Bad meetings also steal precious time away from your employees, creating stress that persists well beyond the lost hour. This phenomenon, known as “meeting recovery syndrome,” forces attendees to take extra time to recover from a frustrating meeting.

Fortunately, Dr. Steven Rogelberg, a chancellor’s professor at UNC Charlotte, and author of The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, sat down with us at Humu to discuss how science charts the path towards better meetings. Beyond our time spent together, Dr. Rogelberg’s research has greatly informed Humu’s product.

According to Dr. Rogelberg’s research, the best meeting leaders have something in common: They view their role as a steward of other’s time. When leaders adopt a stewardship mindset, they improve meeting quality by being intentional about decisions. Similar to the iconic soccer coach Ted Lasso of Apple’s hit comedy series, meeting stewards take their roles, but not themselves, seriously.

How to become a meeting steward:

1. Set the lineup

  • Keep it small. Large meetings undermine inclusion. When a meeting has too many attendees, people feel anonymous and do not tend to engage as deeply. However, employees worry about being left out. To ease this stress, let your people know that the meeting is happening ahead of time, give an overview of the meeting objectives, leave room for their input, and keep them in the loop after the meeting happens. 
  • Perfect your agenda. Simply having an agenda is not enough. The relevance and importance of what’s on it, and how you facilitate discussion of the agenda items, is what matters. Set the stage for inclusion and effectiveness by asking attendees for input on the agenda ahead of time. You can also organize your agenda with a set of questions to be answered, instead of a list of topics to be covered. This can help you clarify who to invite and how long the meeting should be. Plus, if you can’t come up with questions, you probably don’t need a meeting. 
  • Add pressure. Meetings are more effective when they are tighter. According to Parkinson's law, work expands to fill the amount of time dedicated to it. In addition, groups work more optimally when they are under pressure, so don’t hesitate to make meetings 20, 25, or 45 minutes. Another idea is to have standing meetings start at “odd” times, such as 8 minutes after the hour. This naturally shortens meetings and helps folks arrive on time because they are more likely to remember the strange start time. In doing so, you give your team the greatest gift of all: time.
  • Use video. Asking attendees to turn their video on increases engagement. But, Zoom fatigue is real. By shrinking meeting times, holding fewer meetings, and making those that do happen more effective, you can combat meeting exhaustion. Another solution is to encourage your team to turn off self-view mode as research shows that looking at ourselves is mentally taxing. 

2. Inspire strong performances

  • Set the mood. As a meeting leader, your mood matters. It’s contagious for other members and greatly impacts the creation of a positive meeting environment. However, you do not need to be artificially positive. Even in difficult situations, you can genuinely display energy, appreciation, and gratitude. 
  • Actively facilitate. Embrace the role of facilitator. Bring attendees into the conversation. Instead of generically asking, “does anyone have comments,” speak directly to someone to gather their thoughts. Do not let an attendee go off topic, kindly interrupt so that others can engage. In a big meeting, bring in more voices by encouraging people to use the chat. You can assign someone to monitor the chat if it's too much on your plate as the meeting leader.
  • Keep it interesting. Diversifying how you run meetings increases engagement, creativity, and problem solving. One technique is to use silence. Research suggests that silence in meetings increases inclusivity by helping facilitators gather the ideas, insights, and perspectives of more attendees. For example, silent brainstorming (e.g., via a shared doc) sessions generate more than 2x the amount of ideas—and more creative ideas—than brainstorming verbally. 

3. Protect forward progress

  • Stay true to your word. Starting meetings late tends to increase stress, but research shows that ending late is also a tremendous source of stress for attendees. Stick to your word and end meetings on time. 
  • Chart the path forward. Meetings must have a defined ending period. With a few minutes left, record notes that clarify the key takeaways. For each takeaway, identify the directly responsible individual (DRI). The goal of the note is not to capture a play-by-play of the meeting, but rather provide a concise synopsis of key points and action items in a format that is accessible for everyone, even non-attendees. Making this summary globally available helps to alleviate the fear of missing out for those who did not attend.  

Bonus tip:

  • Continually improve. The best way to make meetings better is to ask attendees how they are going. Send out a quick survey every once in a while to ask what is going well, what could be improved, and ideas for how to get there. Let attendees know you are committed to learning, reflecting, and trying new things.

Build better meetings, one nudge at a time

Increasing the effectiveness and inclusivity of meetings is important to the success and happiness of your team. But how can you easily build these behaviors into your day-to-day work? With nudges.

Nudges are short, science backed suggestions that help you get to where you want to go. A nudge can remind you to create a compelling agenda, rotate who takes notes in meetings, or conclude meetings with clear, concise action items, all within the moments that matter.

Request a demo to prevent bad meetings from holding your team back.

Note: Learn more strategies for how to lead great meetings by purchasing Dr. Steven Rogelberg’s book The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance. Not only will you learn how to protect against groupthink, but all his profits are being donated to charity.