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Team meetings no one will dread

Tips for making meetings worth the time

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Meeples creating schedules

We’ve all heard the griping about meetings. They’re unproductive. They take over our calendars. They’re tedious, and they take us away from the things we should be working on. 

Yet, one survey found that professionals spend 21% of their working time in meetings. What’s even worse? Those same respondents think that at least a quarter of that meeting time is totally wasted. It’s no wonder that most of us groan when we see yet another one dropped on our already-packed calendars.

Here’s the thing: team meetings are a necessary part of the working world. When you plan and manage them right, you can bolster your team to generate ideas, solve problems, and achieve goals.

So that all begs the question: how do you run an effective meeting so that magic can actually happen? How can you ensure that this get-together is a productive use of your team’s time - and not yet another cringe-worthy chunk out of their workday?

This guide shares what you need to know to make the absolute most of your team meetings (and, when in doubt, bringing donuts never hurts).

What is the purpose of team meetings?

By definition, a team meeting is a scheduled conversation when employees discuss a particular topic or list of topics, which should be outlined on a pre-planned agenda created by the meeting leader. 

While meetings have developed a dreadful reputation in the modern workplace, we can all agree that you can only accomplish so much via emails and instant messages. Sometimes a live, face-to-face conversation is necessary – and even more productive and efficient.

That’s where team meetings come in. They provide an opportunity for employees to accomplish numerous things, including: 

  • Planning future projects and initiatives
  • Brainstorming new ideas
  • Working on shared tasks
  • Pre-empting and overcoming challenges
  • Improving communication

Ultimately, a team meeting is an outlet for collaboration, which is an important piece of the puzzle for employers and employees alike. In one survey, 75% of employers rated teamwork and collaboration as “very important.” Yet, 39% of employees indicated that people in their own organization don’t collaborate enough.

These meetings give teams the chance to work closely together, and when done well, can lead to big results. A separate survey found that 83% of respondents think that team meetings have a positive impact on their projects

When you need a team meeting and when you don’t

Directional signs

We’ve all walked out of meetings and thought, “Well, that could’ve been in an email!”

One way to sidestep complaints about your own meetings is to make sure you’re actually ready to drop something on the calendar – and not just because you feel like you’re due for a chat. 

How can you tell where on that spectrum you fall? Use the signs below to diagnose your own situation and determine whether or not a team meeting is really necessary.

Schedule that meeting if . . .

1. You have a clear goal.

Every meeting needs a clear mission or objective, otherwise there’s really no point in getting together. What are you hoping to achieve? Do you want to solve a problem? Plan a timeline? Discuss a challenge? Brainstorm an idea? Make sure that you can point to a clear takeaway before you put a meeting on the calendar. If you can? Book it. 

2. You’ve created an agenda.

Once you’ve settled on your mission, it shouldn’t be a secret – loop in the rest of the team on what you’ll discuss and what you’re trying to get done. The biggest trap that meeting organizers fall into is working backwards. They book a meeting slot, and then try to figure out how they’ll fill it. Instead, it’s smarter to plan your agenda first and then book your meeting time to match it. Have your agenda in hand? Schedule your meeting. 

3. You know exactly who you need to invite. 

There’s nothing worse than being forced to sit through a meeting that has absolutely nothing to do with you. This is another reason why a pre-planned agenda is helpful – knowing what you want to discuss gives you a good grasp of who you need to invite. So, if you know exactly who deserves a seat at that table, then you probably have a solid understanding of all of the other nuts and bolts. You’re justified in scheduling a time.

Skip that meeting if . . .

1. You’re just sharing information.

Do you just need to give a project update or let everyone know that you’ve switched up the team outing menu from pizza to tacos? Have a brief update or fact-based information that likely won’t lead to an ongoing discussion? That’s what email or an instant messaging platform is for. It’s a lot quicker than rounding everybody up, and plus people then have something to refer back to should they forget. There are a few exceptions to this rule: think company all-hands and executive meetings. 

2. You’re hosting it just to host it.

This might sound painfully obvious when you read it in writing, but it happens more often than you think – especially with regularly scheduled or recurring meetings. These consistent slots on the calendar have a way of turning into glorified catch-up sessions or status updates, rather than productive conversations. So, if you have a recurring meeting on your team’s calendar, make sure that you’re re-evaluating it frequently to ensure it’s really worth the time.  

3. You don’t have your ducks in a row.

Do you have your supporting materials – like a creative brief, slide deck, or whatever else you need to make your point – all set and ready to go? Do you have your agenda planned out and ready to be shared? If not, it’s too early to book that meeting. Sure, you might have some spare time to pull these things together after you schedule a time. But it often takes longer for those things to come together than you anticipate, and you’d hate for your meeting time to roll around while you’re still missing half of what you need.

How to run a team meeting that gets things done

Clipboard with list

Ok, so you’ve got a goal, an agenda, and your invite list and you’re confident that your meeting is a must-have. Now, how can you ensure it runs smoothly? Put these strategies into play.

1. Frame it around your agenda.

We hate to sound like a broken record, and by now you’re probably picking up on the importance of an agenda for a successful team meeting. However, a reported 63% of meetings have no pre-planned agenda.

Don’t be part of that statistic. An agenda is surprisingly simple to pull together (and well worth the time). In its most basic form, it’s a short write-up that will list the following:

  • Meeting date and time
  • Meeting goal
  • Departments or people in attendance
  • Topics to be discussed
  • Who will lead the discussion of each topic
  • How much time will be allotted to each topic

And that’s really all you need. Getting just that down and shared ahead of your conversation will bring some much-needed structure (not to mention time management) to your meeting.

2. Send out supporting docs ahead of time.

You don’t want to waste any of your valuable meeting time, yet it’s easy to do – especially if you spend the first 10 minutes getting everybody up to speed on what you’ll be talking about.

Skip that by sharing the agenda and any other supporting documents (like creative briefs, timelines, slide decks, graphs, reports, etc.) with all attendees at least one full workday before your scheduled meeting.

This way, everyone has time to review and process the gist of the meeting and can come to the table with their best questions and suggestions.

3. Rein in the random.

What can throw your meeting off the rails? Random topics and tangents that have nothing to do with the goal of the meeting. Do you really need to be debating how to pronounce that client’s last name right now? 

Cover up that rabbit hole before the whole team falls in it. Instead of engaging in the conversation, tell the team that you’ll note the concern so you can return to it at a separate time.

You’ll sometimes hear this referred to as the “parking lot” method, because you put that topic away for a bit while you continue to drive (wink) your agenda.

4. Set this rule: No screens allowed.

For a meeting to be productive, everyone needs to be focused and engaged. That’s impossible if all of your attendees have their noses pressed to their own screens while responding to emails or scrolling through Instagram.

Unless your attendees need their devices for the discussion or any activities you have planned, ask them to leave them at their desks. You might even consider setting up a collection bin outside the meeting room to remind people of your new rule. That way, you can all stay focused on what matters most: the conversation.

5. Watch the clock.

For starters, it’s super important that you start and end your meeting on time. Not only does this show respect for everybody’s schedules, it also means you’ll make the most of the minutes you have. Think about it this way: if you start five minutes late for a half hour meeting, you’ve already missed out on 17% of your time together. Yikes! 

But beyond your start and end time, it’s easy to lose track of the minutes when the conversation really gets going. Having designated time slots on your agenda certainly helps, but you actually need to watch the clock and stick with that plan.

Worried you can’t do that while you’re leading the discussion? At the start of your meeting, assign a timekeeper to who can give you friendly nudges when you’re approaching the end of your allotted time slot.

6. Summarize and share.

Your agenda is important but so is your meeting summary. After your conversation, recap the key points in a doc or email and send it to all meeting attendees (and anybody else who might need to be in the know). Your meeting summary should include:

  • Brief notes about the topics covered
  • Action items and who they’re assigned to (with due dates!)
  • Any “parking lot” items that you’ll circle back on later

Putting this all in writing ensures that everybody is clear on next steps and there’s no question of what you all talked about and agreed to do. The summary also gives you a record you can go back to at the next meeting to make sure nothing falls off the radar.

Team meetings should be time well spent

The sight of yet another meeting dropped on the calendar might inspire groans from your team (and let’s be honest, even you). But, while they have a bad rap in the office, meetings can actually be valuable and (dare we say it?) enjoyable.

To recap, begin by recognizing if the meeting is actually necessary before you take up anybody’s time. After that, work your way down the list below: 

  • Frame it around your agenda
  • Send out supporting docs ahead of time
  • Rein in the random
  • Set this rule: no screens allowed 
  • Watch the clock
  • Summarize and share

Check those off and you’re well on your way to shifting the reaction to team meetings from “Ugh” to “Let’s do this.” Hey, they might even become something your team looks forward to (again, especially if there’s donuts).

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