5 Simple Guidelines We Use to Plan and Run Productive Meetings

Sara Taylor posted this in
Inside Rocket Media
on June 3rd, 2015

We recently sent out a poll to our staff asking about our meetings. A few questions we asked included:

  • Do we have too many meetings? 

  • Do you feel like meetings take up your day? 

  • Are agendas left off the meeting invitation? 

“Yes!” came the responses.

We were shocked and surprised.

OK, so apparently we became a little lax on office meeting etiquette.

To get our team back on track, we put forth these 5 simple guidelines for planning and running productive meetings.

1) First ask, “Does this actually need to be a meeting?

In Al Pittampalli’s book Read This Before Our Next Meeting, he mentions a few different types of meetings:

  • Convenience meetings: Which are called in place of a conversation.

  • Formality meetings: Which are meetings called by managers., these are sometimes recurring, usually cover policies, procedures, etc.

  • Social meetings: Meetings for the purpose of connection.

These types of meetings rarely are worth the interruption and attendance should be optional (or shouldn’t even be meetings at all).

A meeting should only be called if:

  • There is a decision to be made or 

  • A decision has already been made and you are looking for objective feedback from select team members. 

If you are holding a meeting to help make a decision, only invite those that are really needed to weigh in on the decision.

Also, in this type of meeting it is important to make a decision and move on. Too much time debating an issue will cause the conversation to go round and round, and overturn any progress you made.

2) Meet at times that work for the majority

Every person has a preference for when’s the best time of day to have a meeting.

So send a simple poll to everyone in the office asking, “Do you prefer to have meetings in the morning or afternoon?”

Our meeting guidelines say “Internal meetings, if needed, should be held before 11AM.


Why? Because right after 11AM is around lunch, and no one wants to meet around lunch (unless you want grouchy attendees).

Also, past 11AM is when most people here are most productive, and we don’t want meetings to zap productivity.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the ‘always after 11’ rule, but we voted, and that’s what the majority wanted.

You’ll never please everyone, but you should at least try to please the majority.

3) Always create an agenda with a goal

The backbone of the meeting is the agenda.

Not having an agenda is the best way to have your meeting derail and the attendees looking at you like you are wasting their time.

I know this from experience.

Anything not on the agenda doesn’t belong in the meeting. Period.

Things that belong on an agenda include:

  • Goals and success factors of the meeting

  • Time needed (see our next point)

  • Who needs to be included and each person’s role in the meeting.

A few meeting roles include:

  • Leader — The person who called the meeting and who is in charge of getting the outcome/decision they need.

  • Facilitator — Makes sure everyone has a chance to speak and no single person dominates the conversation

  • Recorder — Takes notes and records any decisions that were made

  • Timekeeper – Makes sure that the meeting keeps moving and stays within the time constraints. 

Note: One person can have multiple roles.

“But what if someone goes against the grain and does not send an agenda?”

Allow people in your organization to choose the “maybe” status if they receive a meeting invite with no agenda. This gives the organizer an incentive to provide more information.

Of course, not every meeting needs a set agenda, including:

  • Brainstorms

  • Conversations

  • Group working sessions

4) Keep meetings to 30 min or less

If you don’t timebox your meetings, they’ll go on forever.

But give people too much time and they’ll take up the time needlessly. Keep in mind Parkinson’s law, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

But why timebox for 30 minutes or less?

People can only pay attention for so long. That’s why Ted Talks are 18 minutes or less.

But, unlike a Ted Talk, some meetings have some back and forth banter.

So we suggest capping meetings at 30 minutes—and strive to make it shorter. Doing so will force people to cut non-essentials from their presentations and get to the point.

To learn how to have briefer meetings, read Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

5) Identify action items and send out an action plan

Don’t just limp out of the meeting with an ambiguous sense of what’s happening next.

At the end of the meeting, you should list:

  • What actions we’re committing to

  • Who is responsible for what

  • When things are due at specific dates

Then post meeting, send out an action plan to all the attendees. This can be tedious, but it’s worth it when everyone in the meeting forgets what they agreed to from last week’s meeting.

Your action plan

These guideline will hopefully clear up your schedule a bit more so your team can—you know—work.

So how do you get this change going in your organization?

First, do what we did: Use Polldaddy to send a poll about what your organization thinks about your meetings. (You may want to not have open-ended questions to keep things PG-13.)

Here’s the poll we used.

  1. Do you feel your day is consumed with meetings, preventing you from getting work accomplished?

  2. Which part of your day would you prefer to have meetings?

  3. How long do you think a typical meeting should run?

  4. Do you agree that all meetings should have a defined agenda?

  5. How many meetings currently do you attend that have a clear agenda set before you attend?

  6. If given the option, would you decline attending a meeting that did not have a clear agenda?

  7. If given the option, would you decline a meeting that you did not feel you should attend?

  8. Do you feel we have enough team meetings for company-wide discussions?

  9. Should we allow clients to set meetings outside our preferred meeting time (morning or evening)?

The poll will help you:

  • Raise awareness of current problems

  • Build a consensus of what needs to change

  • Understand what meeting times work for the majority

After analyzing the poll results, talk over the issues with your owner or CEO to help establish meeting guidelines.

The last part should be easy: you read 5 good ones just now.

Sara Taylor

Project Manager

Sara has been at Rocket Media for almost as long as there has been a Rocket Media. And if you’ve worked with us, you already know her. Sara is our Project Manager, which basically means she keeps the rest of us on task and lets our customers (you!) know how the project is moving along. It’s been theorized that without her, Rocket Media would descend into chaos.