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Best practices for hosting effective meetings: A guide for people leaders
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Best practices for hosting effective meetings: A guide for people leaders

Discover 10 best practices for holding more effective meetings. Increase productivity, take back control of your calendar.

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Picture the scene: You're excited to get into flow state and work on a new project, but then you take a look at your calendar. The day's full of back-to-back meetings and distractions—which means engaging in deep work is close to impossible. 

Sometimes, the most effective meetings are the ones you cancel—so you can get meaningful work done. That's why you need to follow best practices for productive meetings, so you know which to cancel, which to keep, and how to ensure the ones you do have are effective.

In this article, you'll learn best practices for effective meetings so you can get right down to work without wasting time scheduling or attending unproductive meetings. You'll also learn how Switchboard helps collaborative teams stay productive, no matter where or when they work. 

Do more, in less time, in and between meetings.
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How to make your next meeting more productive 

People spend approximately 31 hours in unproductive meetings per month, which can negatively impact productivity and lead to overwhelm. Without time for meaningful focus work, it can be easier to experience burnout and disconnect from your team and projects. In fact, 45 percent of employees feel overwhelmed by the amount of meetings they attend. This means they're most likely not achieving a flow state or delivering their best work. 

Below, we explore how you can make meetings more productive—and move projects forward faster in and between meetings

1. Set clear goals 

Clearly defined goals provide a sense of direction, helping you focus your contributions and discussions toward specific outcomes. This makes sure everyone involved understands the purpose and expected results. 

Before the meeting, communicate what you aim to accomplish and your objectives to all participants. For example, if your goal is to run effective stand-up meetings, clearly outline the purpose of the standup meeting, emphasizing the need for concise, relevant updates. By articulating specific objectives beforehand, you establish a shared understanding with your product team, ensuring your next meeting is targeted and efficient. 

2. Create a meeting agenda

A well structured agenda helps keep the meeting on track. Clearly outline the topics to be discussed, allocate specific time slots for each, and communicate this agenda in advance. During the meeting, stick to the plan to make sure everyone stays focused and on-topic. 

If you're using Switchboard, you can create persistent project or meeting rooms and add your meeting objectives and agenda. With permanent access to meeting materials, everyone gets clarity on meeting expectations and can add their own notes or agenda items async beforehand. If the agenda isn't fully fleshed out, you can decide whether to cancel or postpone the meeting until you’re clear on what you want to discuss.  

Google Docs, sticky notes, PDFs, and recent apps and activity in a Switchboard room
Switchboard unifies teams, projects, and tools in one place, so everything's always organized and waiting for next time.  Source: Switchboard

3. Encourage everyone to come prepared 

Being "prepared" for a meeting means you and your team have taken the necessary steps to make sure everyone can actively and effectively contribute to meeting discussions or activities. According to Tim Green, COO at TeamUp, "Preparation sets the tone for the meeting and provides a roadmap for the discussion," meaning it's harder to go off-topic. 

This includes: 

  • Reviewing meeting objectives and the agenda in advance
  • Conducting pre-meeting research or tasks if necessary
  • Gathering and sharing necessary materials and information 
  • Being punctual and willing to contribute and listen
  • Opening apps and materials in your Switchboard room before the meeting 

When people show up with all the information, tools, materials, and context they need, you can move work forward without wasting time getting everyone up to speed. This means you can make the meetings you do have more productive while giving people more time back in their day. 

For example, a team of developers use Switchboard to share and review code async. They populate their persistent room with GitHub browsers, a virtual whiteboard, and kanban boards from Asana, and get down to work. Before their next status meeting, everyone knows where to go to get the latest information. They also get AI summaries of meeting notes, so they're always working in context—and saving time. 

Best of all, everything stays in the room after the meeting, so those who missed it can hop in and catch up async. Plus, there’s no need to repopulate the room again before the next meeting.

Switchboard AI options
Ask Switchboard AI to summarize meeting notes, go over the meeting agenda, or research a topic—and save time while keeping meetings on track. Source: Switchboard

4. Invite the right people

To keep engagement and productivity high, you need to make sure you invite the right people to your meetings. For instance, stakeholders that are directly involved and impacted in the decision-making possess and day-to-day strategy. Otherwise, you could be wasting valuable time scheduling meetings across departments or time zones, or affecting morale and productivity by inviting people to meetings that are irrelevant for them. 

For those who don't need to be there in person, you still need to make sure they have all the documentation to stay in the loop. This could include notes, summaries, and meeting recordings—or if you're using Switchboard, access to your dedicated project room and all its content.

Switchboard sidebar with dedicated rooms organized by project
Switchboard unifies all your people, tools, and projects—and is your single source of truth when collaborating async and in real time. Source: Switchboard

5. Set meeting ground rules

Just like asking people to turn their phones off during a movie, some ground rules make for better meetings. You need to clarify the behavior and expectations of participants to ensure it’s a good use of everyone’s time. For instance, rules such as "avoid interruptions" or "listen actively" can promote a culture of inclusivity where everyone feels valued and heard. 

Guidelines like "cameras on" during meetings can also increase engagement and the feeling of connection to your team, leading to more interesting conversations and outcomes. Green says that asking people to turn off notifications off during meetings and having a “no-devices” rule has made a big difference to productivity. "Everyone is fully present and engaged in the discussion, without the distractions of emails, messages, or notifications," according to Green.

Other ground rules like "stay on topic" and "contribute constructively" ensure you're respecting everyone's time and staying focused on the meeting's objectives

6. Respect participants' schedules 

Part of holding effective meetings is acknowledging people's time constraints: Your team has a busy schedule and you don't want to waste their time. This means starting and ending the meeting on time, and sticking closely to the agenda. 

Green says it's important to "ensure all meetings end five minutes before the hour or half-hour." This gives everyone time to clear their head before the next task or meeting and "encourages a culture of respect for everyone’s time within our team." 

Sometimes, though, the best way to respect people's time is knowing when to cancel the meeting altogether. If the meeting isn't adding value or moving projects forward, it's likely not going to be productive. When employees feel their time is being respected, it's more likely they'll show up ready to make the most out of the meeting time. It can also contribute to a company culture where people value and trust each other.

One method you can use is Asana's "meeting doomsday," where you clear your calendar of all meetings for 48 hours. Then, you repopulate it but only with the meetings that have a clear purpose and add value. This can help you spot the meetings you can shorten, reduce, or simply cancel. 

7. Do what you can async

Meeting in real time can be beneficial for quick decision-making, brainstorming, and team-building. However, you don't need to default to meetings for things like status updates, feedback, and non-urgent communication. Back-to-back meetings only create stress and the possibility of burnout—which can negatively affect productivity and morale. 

To make the meetings you do have more productive, consider conducting a meeting audit to spot bad meetings. This can help you understand which tasks and project steps can be done async. That’s because canceling meetings won't ruin your company's culture. In fact, it can improve it by giving you more time to connect with your projects and people. 

You can also follow our async-first framework: 

  • Share async—like docs, slides, or code
  • Review async—add comments or make video walkthroughs
  • Discuss and decide async or together—either converse in comments or meet to talk as a group

By doing more outside of meetings, you get back more time for focus work—and make the meetings you do have more productive. 

8. Define meeting takeaways and action points

During the meeting, you need to summarize key takeaways, highlighting crucial decisions and action items. This is where establishing specific objectives and a meeting agenda beforehand will come in handy: Everyone already understands the meeting's purpose and what they're expected to achieve. Plus, it's easier to circle back to previous agenda points and address any carryover. 

Then, based on your action plan, you'll need to assign responsibilities to individuals and specify deadlines and expectations. By the end of the meeting, everyone should have a comprehensive understanding of their roles and the next steps. When people leave feeling aligned and empowered, it can increase accountability and productivity—and enable you to build faster with fewer meetings. 

9. Keep everything in one place

Context switching between tasks, applications, and notifications can be a source of stress and negatively impact wellbeing. It can also cost you up to four hours per week. This means you could save a significant amount of time and energy by understanding which tools help teams collaborate, no matter where or when they work. 

If you're using Switchboard, you can cut down on unproductive context switching by keeping everything you need for your project in one place. Instead of sharing materials and information via Slack or email before and after every meeting, you can upload all your documents, images, meeting recordings, and tools in one meeting room. Then, access them whenever you want, make progress async, and pick up where you left off next time.

Sticky notes and documents in a Switchboard room
Switchboard lets you keep everything in one place so you can avoid context switching and make meetings more productive. Source: Switchboard

10. Ask for feedback

There are many reasons why meetings become ineffective, but if you don't ask your team members what's slowing you down, you'll never know. That's why you need to get input from employees on the quality and frequency of your meetings—and how it's impacting productivity. 

Collect anonymous feedback using Switchboard polls before, during, and after your meeting. Alternatively, share an anonymous Google Form in the room for people to fill out on their own time. Regardless of how you collect feedback, make sure you do it regularly so you can determine the best meeting cadence for your team and working style. 

Best practices for more effective meetings: Do more with less

If your days are filled with distractions and meetings that prevent you from really getting into meaningful work, you might want to reimagine your approach to meetings. 

Some best practices like those outlined here will help. For example, insisting on an agenda, encouraging everyone to come prepared, doing what you can async, keeping everything in one place, and minimizing distractions. A meeting audit will also help you sort productive meetings from unproductive ones so you can cancel more of them.

When you use an async-first collaboration platform like Switchboard, you get persistent rooms that save your work and make everything multiplayer. This lets you get more done async or in real time so you can cancel unproductive meetings and make the ones you do have more effective. 

Do more, in less time, in and between meetings.
Switchboard's persistent rooms let you move work forward asynchronously and in real time—and get back more time for focus work.
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about best practices for effective meetings

What are tools for effective meetings? 

There are plenty of tools for effective meetings. For example, Slack for quick huddles or Zoom for traditional video conferencing. However, the best tool for effective meetings is Switchboard. It lets you get work done in and in between meetings or even work async. This gives you back more time for focus work and makes the meetings you do have more productive. 

How do you conduct a meeting step by step? 

To know how to conduct a meeting step-by-step, you first need to understand: the type of meeting, the number of meeting participants, and the purpose of the meeting. This will help you make key decisions regarding how to structure it and make it a successful meeting. For example, for regular team meetings, you might start off with an icebreaker question, go over the daily agenda, and leave room for note-taking and questions or comments at the end. Then, you might follow-up by sharing information or the relevant time frame for project management.

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Do more in and between meetings.

Switchboard's dedicated rooms let you move work forward—and get back more time for focus work.