When Meetings Can’t Be an Email

By | October 22, 2021

It’s practically an old jigsaw at this point: “That meeting could have been an email.” However, multiple meetings can’t be just one email, even if you’d like them to be separate.

Some topics and business problems only require face-to-face interaction so that decisions can be made or action plans can be drawn up. When this happens, it is up to the leaders to schedule meetings for everyone’s time.

In times when email won’t work, here are some tips to make in-person and virtual meetings more effective.

Create an agenda (and stick to it)

You probably schedule each meeting for a specific purpose. But if the meeting doesn’t stay on topic, your attendees may soon freak out or become annoyed.

That’s why the agenda of the meeting is important. A detailed agenda outlines the goal of the meeting and the topics you need to cover.

Remember, an agenda is effective only when you stick to it. All that the employee running the meeting needs to focus on. If an idea comes up that is outside the scope of the meeting, write it down to return at another time.

remove distractions

Effective meetings require everyone to be present and engaged. Unfortunately, employees may check email, glance at their phones, or do other things during meetings. These changes make the meeting less efficient. So do your best to eliminate distractions during your meetings.

If you’re in the office, you can ask everyone to leave their devices at their desks. Of course, it’s harder to control distractions during virtual meetings, but you can remind employees to be present throughout.

At the very least, insist that all attendees keep their cameras on to reduce the chance that, unseen, they may turn their attention elsewhere.

And, of course, lead by example. If employees see their managers doing this they will start checking Slack messages or drafting emails.

ask thoughtful questions
Strong communication is another tool to keep employees engaged during meetings.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to show employees that you value their contributions. Ask thoughtful questions about the topic, follow up if you need more information.

Asking the right questions can be especially effective during a virtual meeting. As employees experience Zoom fatigue, they will be slowly checking in.

Pull your team back by reminding them that their role matters. A simple, “What challenges are you facing?” can go a long way.

practice active listening

When it comes to impactful meetings, asking thoughtful and relevant questions is only half the battle. You have to listen too. Your team will be able to tell if you are asking questions to ask.

Plus, you may miss out on valuable insights.

Active listening doesn’t need to be complicated. Make eye contact, stay engaged, avoid interruptions, and ask for clarification if necessary.

For example, an employee may point to a resource they need or an obstacle they have encountered. If you can’t offer a solution at this time, commit to following that person.

When everyone is actively listening, you are turning the meeting into a conversation rather than a lecture.

take detailed notes
Your team can also have more effective meetings by making detailed notes. Of course, it can be difficult and often impossible to remember everything your team members said. But when you have notes, you can refer to the meeting as needed.

These notes will also keep absent employees in the loop, while helping the minimalist note taker stay more engaged. Just be sure to change the note-taking actions. No one wants to be put off typing in every meeting.

Another winning option? Consider an automated transcription service. This technique communicates the meeting word-by-word, so your team can focus on the conversation.

Assign action items
If you schedule meetings only when necessary, you’ll want to end each with clear next steps. This is why action items are necessary. As you move through the items on the agenda, assign the next steps as you progress. Then check the list of action items at the end to confirm these assignments.

As a manager, it may be appropriate to check in with employees about their actions in between meetings. You don’t have to micro-manage, but this extra check-in ensures your initiatives stay on track.

It is also helpful to consider whether you will need another meeting to take further steps. For example, this may be the case if you did not reach a decision in the last meeting. In this case, a half-hour call may be more efficient than dozens of short check-ins.

watch clock
Why do so many meetings seem like a waste of time? Because they just take too long. Many companies make the mistake of starting meetings late and leaving on time.

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