If you’ve ever sat through a too-long/boring/pointless meeting, you know a meeting is just as likely to be a total time suck as it is to be a productive gathering of the minds. According to a recent survey from the Harvard Business Review, 71% of senior managers said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
Meetings are an essential part of doing business. Yet with so many types of meetings—whether it’s an onboarding meeting, a brainstorming session, or a status update—figuring out which are actually productive and which aren’t can be challenging.
We asked two experts—David Chaudron, an organizational psychologist and the managing partner of consulting firm Organized Change, and Erin Baker, a psychologist, leadership coach, and former corporate leader for brands like Facebook—for their insights into which meetings are the most effective and how to make sure the time you spend in them makes you more productive, not less.
Here are six types of meetings you need to maximize employee productivity and get more done, along with three that you definitely don’t.
Types of meetings every team needs
Let’s start with the sit-downs that are going to give you the most meeting bang for your buck—the meetings you actually need to get things done.
When you hire someone new, that person has got a lot to learn if they want to become a go-to player on your team, and onboarding meetings are a solid place to facilitate that training.
“When an employee comes on board, there is a lot to learn about the company and their role,” says Baker. “Onboarding meetings can be great for helping people understand the organization’s structure, what projects are coming up, how their role and work will fit into the broader picture, and to set early expectations for what the person should do in their first few weeks and months.”
Not only do onboarding meetings help new team members learn how they fit into the big picture, they help to start the relationship with both their managers and the wider company on the right foot.
“[Onboarding meetings] signal to the new employee that the company cares about them and is invested in ensuring they have a smooth transition into the workplace,” says Baker. “It’s also a great place for a manager to share what will make their relationship effective over the long term.”
Getting new hires up to speed: The onboarding meetings that matter
Onboarding your new hires is a must—but chances are you’ll need more than one meeting to get them up to speed. Here are a few meetings you should plan to schedule for your new team members to make sure they have everything they need to succeed in their new role:
- 1-on-1s: On your new hires’ first day, schedule one-on-one meetings with any key team members they’ll be working with, including direct managers, team leaders, and internal subject-matter experts.
- Meet the team: Within the first few days, it’s also important to schedule a meeting for your new hires to meet and greet their new team. While any meeting format will work, a more casual environment, like a team lunch, can make your new team members feel more welcome.
- Tools training: Schedule a time to train your new team members on any tools, systems, or software they’ll need to know to do their job.
- HR, Operations, and Facilities: It’s important to get your new hires up to speed on the logistical side of your business as soon as possible, including human resources, operations, and facilities.
Businesses run on new ideas. If you want to keep the river of ideas flowing, brainstorming meetings are a must.
“Brainstorming meetings are designed to generate a lot of ideas over a short period of time—and they’re critical if you’re trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal,” says Chaudron.
The key to successful brainstorming meetings? Keeping the focus on ideas, not on the outcome.
Chaudron says brainstorming meetings should welcome ideas “without having to judge them right then. Figure out what works and doesn’t work after you do the brainstorming. It’s important you have a separate [meeting] just for the brainstorming itself.”
If you’re rolling out a new project or initiative, you need your team to know about it. A kickoff meeting is a great place to fill them in.
Kickoff meetings are effective for several reasons, says Chaudron. “People have to know what the long-term goals of the [project] are going to be so that they can align themselves properly. They really need to know their part in it, [and] you need to get their buy-in. The buy-in is particularly important so they can be enthusiastic about whatever is going on.”
Feedback and retrospective meetings
It’s important to have a kickoff meeting when you’re starting a project, but if you want your team to really learn from their experience, it’s just as important, if not more so, to have a retrospective meeting when that project wraps.
“No project ever goes perfectly,” says Baker. “Retrospective meetings are a great opportunity for people to come together to talk about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what will be changed for the next project.”
Budget and financial meetings
There can be a lot of communication issues around money, which is why it’s important to make financial meetings a regular part of your rotation.
“[Finances are] usually where the real tension is,” says Chaudron. “You’ve already agreed upon what has to be done—now you’ve got to figure out who is going to pay for it and when.”
For budget and financial meetings to be effective, it’s important to get everyone crystal clear on:
- How much money you’re going to spend
- What the money is being spent on
- What kind of return you can expect on your investment
Having everyone on the same financial page will minimize conflict in the future, keep spending under control, and help keep surprises to a minimum.
Types of meetings your team definitely doesn’t need
OK, so now that you know which meetings are going to produce results, let’s talk about meetings that might do the opposite—and have you spinning your wheels without actually getting anywhere.
Status update meetings
In order for teams to succeed, it’s important for everyone to be in the loop on what everyone else (and the team as a whole) is working on. Thanks to technology, though, there’s zero reason to gather everyone in the same room at the same time to talk about it.
Status updates are ineffective meetings, says Baker. “A round-robin of what people are working on can be handled over email or a collaboration tool.”
Because status updates can deliver key insights on where projects stand, where they’re headed, and any potential issues that need to be addressed, they are an important part of any team’s workflow—but instead of spending the time and energy getting everyone together to share updates in person, it’s much more effective to set up a digital channel for periodic check-ins.
Meetings without an agenda
“Oftentimes people will schedule meetings but not be clear [on] what they want to get out of it,” says Baker. Scheduling a meeting without a clear agenda or expectations is a surefire way to waste your and everyone else’s time.
If you want to have an effective meeting, you need to know exactly what you’re going to cover during the meeting and what you want to get out of it when it wraps. Ideally, meeting outcomes should be tangible and measurable; so, for example, if a meeting’s agenda is to discuss possible ideas for a new product launch, the outcomes (or, in other words, what you want to get out of the meeting) could be:
- A list of the top 10 potential product ideas;
- A list of research assignments for each of those product ideas (and who on the team is responsible for each); and
- Deadlines for when the research assignments are due
And this holds true for all meetings. Being clear on your agenda and expectations is equally important when you’re headed into a 50-person brainstorming session or having a one-on-one sit-down with your manager or the CEO.
In-person meetings as a default
When most people think of meetings, they picture a bunch of people sitting around a table in a conference room. While face-to-face meetings still have their place in a productive meeting rotation, the truth is, a lot of meetings don’t actually need to happen in person.
Instead of defaulting to in-person gatherings, look for opportunities to go virtual with meetings. Not only do virtual meetings typically take less time and energy to set up, but they also make it more accessible and inclusive for team members who can’t be physically there, like remote workers or team members who work from other offices.
Going virtual also allows the entire meeting to be recorded, which can be helpful in a number of situations, such as if a key team member can’t make the meeting in real time or if the meeting includes a training you want to share with new team members in the future.
The right types of meetings save time
Meetings can be a waste of time, but as long as you stick to the meetings you actually need, you can keep time-wasting to a minimum and get more out of your meetings as a result. To make sure your meeting falls under the productive umbrella, it’s best to:
- Set a clear agenda for the meeting—and make sure everyone is on board. What are the key talking points? What are you planning to discuss? Is there any prep work the team needs to do beforehand? Knowing what you’re going to cover in the meeting ahead of time can help to ensure that everyone is prepared and that you use your time efficiently and don’t get off track.
- Know your desired outcome. Are you looking to gather ideas? Do you need to get a budget approved? Do you need to assign out a month’s worth of projects to key team members? Get clear on what you want to get out of the meeting—and then make sure you don’t leave the meeting without it.
- Find the right medium for your meeting. Determine if the meeting needs to happen in person or if you can manage all (or most) of the meeting virtually.
- Define clear next steps and owners. Soon after the meeting, circulate a tidy summary that clearly outlines the next steps and who is responsible for them, with details on what they have to do, when they have to do it by, and how it contributes to the overall project.
May these tips help you meet more purposefully and inspire more productivity in your day-to-day work.
Deanna deBara has spent at least 1,000 hours in unproductive meetings—which is one of the reasons she now writes for a living. Writers don’t usually get roped into too many meetings.
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