Master the Team Meeting

Business meetings aren't always enjoyable, but they are key to moving a team forward. Julia Austin offers tips for making the most of your meeting time.
by Julia Austin

No matter how much we hate going to meetings, there’s a generally accepted best practice that teams should meet with their managers on a regular cadence. More often than not, unfortunately, I hear leaders and their staffs dreading these get-togethers. Shouldn't these meetings be looked forward to? That we felt they were time well spent with our colleagues and added value to our roles in some meaningful way?

There’s no reason you have to suffer or make your teams suffer through another tortuous hour or more. A while back, I shared pro tips on mastering the 1:1. Now, here are my tips on mastering the team meeting.

Meeting Purpose

Set a clear purpose for your team meeting. What do you want your team to get out of the time spent together? Do you want them to stay informed about larger topics in the organization? Get to know each other and their respective work better? Talk with your team about what they want out of the session. This time is much more about their needs than yours, so align the purpose with their goals. A fun way to get this dialogue going is to ask each team member to complete this sentence: “My favorite meeting of the week is my manager’s team meeting because...” What would they say?


I believe that if a meeting is important enough to have, it should have a time-boxed agenda and always be followed up with notes and action items (AIs).

  • As the team leader, you should solicit one to two hot topics per meeting from your team. I recommend you do this no more and no less than 48 hours before it is scheduled so ideas are timely and content is fresh. Topics should not be tactical—that’s what stand-ups and 1:1s are for. Instead, focus on strategic discussions and information sharing. On the latter, do not make it a status reporting meeting. Information sharing could be a product demo or draft of a presentation someone is seeking feedback on before it goes out.
  • Always send the agenda for the meeting 24 hours in advance. This sets expectations and ensures no surprises and attendees are well prepared.
  • Prepping for the meeting should take less than 15 minutes. Solicit agenda items, prepare agenda, communicate agenda. Long slide decks and spreadsheets created just for the meeting is a total waste of time. If those materials already exist and can add value to the discussion, then owners of said content should A) share these materials as pre-reading ahead of the meeting and B) bring said materials with them to share.
  • Lead by example for your team and read all materials sent in advance before the meeting. If you have not read them, no one else will you'll be wasting people’s time. If you’re prepared, everyone else will be prepared.
  • Finally, always carve out 10 minutes at the end of the agenda to take the pulse of your team. My method is “share thumbs at one”. Count three, two, one. On one, everyone gives a thumbs up, down, or sideways. I do a quick read of the room and video screens to gauge if we’re trending in a particular direction and, if so, take time to discuss. People feeling really up? Share why! People feeling down? How can we work together to make things better? This simple, transparent way of sharing how the team is feeling is a great way for you to lead and for them to support each other. I also find doing this at the end versus the start of a meeting tends to give you a better read because no one is bringing the stress from a prior meeting into their pulse check.

Meeting Engagement

No one wants to listen to a monologue and no one wants to be in a meeting with other people who are checked out. Several pro tips can help to avoid this:

  • Ask one or two members of the team to take the lead on the hot topics in each meeting. They do not need to be subject matter experts, just the topic leader. This includes having them facilitate getting pre-reads to team members ahead of the meeting. The more they have ownership in a topic, the more engaged they’ll be.
  • The team’s leader should not speak more than one-third of the time throughout the meeting. Other than updating the team about broad company topics, your job is to guide the discussion and listen. If you’re a poor facilitator, and this is not every leader’s strong suit, then bring someone in who is. I’ve seen everyone from executive assistants to HR leaders to program managers facilitate meetings, keeping the group on topic, on time, and to pay attention to the room. I don’t recommend making a team membr the facilitator; they are there only as an engaged participant.
  • Read the room. Are people reading their email, checked out on a remote phone or video line, or rolling their eyes at each other (visibly or under the table on their cells via text)? Pay attention to what’s happening and pause if you see this kind of behavior. If you’re losing people, you’re wasting everyone’s time and you’re costing the company money. (Do the math. The average team meeting can cost a company thousands of dollars every week!). Tell people to put their phones or laptops away if they are checked out. Ask people called in remotely if they have anything to add to the conversation. If the topic is falling flat, be direct and ask why or solicit suggestions on how to make it more engaging. For example, budget discussions are rarely engaging so even a simple “bear with me as we get through this” can go a long way.
  • Have fun! It’s great to start a meeting with a funny anecdote or personal story to wake up the room. Maybe someone on your team has a good customer story or had someone on their team get a “win” worth sharing. Perhaps you have a fun personal story to share that shows your human side. Keep it light where you can, but serious during some of the tougher topics (budget, staffing, etc.). This fortifies the culture of your team both inside and outside of the meeting.

Tactical Stuff

The time of the meeting and who attends is just as important as the agenda and the content. Pro tips:

  • Timing: Is your team scattered across multiple time zones? Find a time that’s mutually convenient for all team members. Do you find the meetings always run over? Schedule them for an extra 30 minutes. If it ends early, you’re a hero. Do team members have family responsibilities in the morning or after work? Don’t schedule meetings that conflict with these obligations if it can be avoided. I also generally discourage team meetings on Mondays (holidays and long weekends often cause these to be rescheduled or skipped) or Fridays (long weekends, and not much time to debrief or process hard topics before the weekend).
  • Decision making: If a meeting has more than eight people attending, make it an “information sharing” session. Tee up decision topics for discussion and, unless it’s a layup, take the actual decision off line. Otherwise, there are too many cooks.
  • Assign and rotate note taker.. You and/or the facilitator cannot read the room and take notes at the same time. Further, by rotating the role across your team, you foster engagement and get fresh perspectives on the meetings each time. Notes should be distributed no later than 24 hours after the meeting while things are fresh. Always call out AIs with owners and deadlines in the notes.
  • Guests: An agenda should always build in intros for guests and should be time-boxed for cameos. For example, if the head of HR is a guest at your meeting to talk through the next review cycle, the team should know that person will be there and why. Further, unless there’s scheduling trickiness, have guests come at the start or end so as not to disrupt the meeting. My personal preference is guests at the start. Then we get into our regular routine.

Most important, don’t set it and forget it. If you do change things up, be clear on why you’re doing it and give it time to settle. Starting or overhauling your meeting process won’t necessarily show positive results the very next meeting, and changing it too often could cause unrest, and even distrust if the rules of engagement keep changing. Have at least four to six meetings for a new routine to set in and then evaluate whether the changes are effective and adjust as needed. Solicit feedback from your team regularly, too. After all, it’s their meeting!

Reprinted with permission from the author's blog post, Mastering the Team Meeting.

Related Reading:

Master the One-on-One Meeting
7 Effective Ways to Lead Teams
Pulpit Bullies: Why Dominating Leaders Kill Teams

What do you think?

Do you run a great team meeting? Do you have ideas on how to improve the team meetings you attend? Share your pro tips in the comments below.

Post A Comment

In order to be published, comments must be on-topic and civil in tone, with no name calling or personal attacks. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.