One-on-one meetings are one of the core foundations of effective people development. But, adding a 1:1 meeting with every member of your team into the schedule on top of department meetings, staff meetings, and project meetings, can pack your calendar quickly. Often this can feel like death by meetings rather than a productive use of time.
When your schedule begins to fill up this way, it is important to ask yourself: Are there too many meetings or are you in too many meetings? While these questions sound similar, there is an important distinction. If there are too many meetings, it’s an indication that your meetings are not effective and your organization may need to get creative with working through initiatives in a new way. But, if you are in too many meetings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the meetings are ineffective or pointless - it means you may be overly involved in too many initiatives. It might be time to delegate some tasks or responsibilities so that you can focus on being present only during necessary meetings.
Let’s say goodbye to death by meetings by understanding the elements of an effective meeting: a clear understanding of their purpose, an appropriate frequency for the meeting, preparation before the meeting, and helpful follow-up.
As you discern which meetings hold priority in your schedule, think about what only you can do and ensure you are always present for those meetings. When determining which meetings you can drop, ask yourself, “will attending this meeting further my organization’s mission and goals?” Hint: The answer should always be yes.There are three meetings that most organizations should prioritize.
One-to-one meetings are held between team members and their managers. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the one-on-one meeting is the most important tool a manager has. These meetings provide an opportunity to discuss personal career goals and workload. This is also the best time for two-way feedback about how these are going. The goal: growth, development, and empowerment for direct reports to do their job well. Having consistent 1:1 meetings is the key to employee engagement, motivation, and productivity. These are meetings you don’t want to skip.
Department meetings are an opportunity to review project and company goals, problem-solve collectively, and outline any next steps or action items as a group. Department meetings are critical for staying aligned as your team reflects on how their time is being spent and what they should focus on moving forward to meet their organizations overall goals. Without regular department meetings, it’s easy for individuals to become siloed and lose clarity on what projects are priority.
Staff meetings involve everyone in the organization. Many organizations struggle with staff meeting agendas. What is the most effective use of collective time? Alignment. This time is best spent aligning on goals, reiterating the organization’s mission and informing the staff of how each department is critical in contributing to the mission. Staff meetings should celebrate wins from the previous cycle, discuss areas for organizational growth, and provide clarity on what’s coming next.
Time is a precious commodity in the workplace. Understanding how often a specific type of meeting needs to be held can help to optimize your time. Each organization’s needs will vary, but here’s an outline that will work for most.
One-to-one meetings are most effective when you are able to meet with each team member for at least 30 minutes each week. If time is tight, meeting bi-weekly or for 20 minutes, using the 15:5 format, can help to maximize your time. Having a clear agenda when you walk into your 1:1s will help you maximize time to insure you’re hitting on the necessary topics to move the needle and continue developing your staff. Everyone's capacity is different, but if you find yourself with more than 5 or 6 1:1 meetings a week, it may be time to rethink how many direct reports you have. Is there someone else that could lead alongside you? Remember - as a leader, your most important job is empowering your team members. You can't do that well if you're spread too thin.
The frequency of department meetings will vary based on the size of your organization. You may have team meetings weekly or bi-weekly and department meetings monthly. When determining cadence, agenda is critical. Try making an agenda for your next meeting and see how long it takes to hit the critical points. Consider what you could cut out of the agenda next time. Maybe your weekly department meeting is only 20 minutes - enough time for each team member to provide a quick update. But once a month, you extend the time to an hour for a more robust agenda.
Staff meetings are typically a quarterly occurrence. This may vary depending on your organization, but having a regular cadence will ensure every member of your team is running in the same direction and is aligned with your mission.
The best way to run an effective meeting occurs before the meeting is even started. Taking time to plan meetings in the days leading up to it can help to ensure that time is well spent.
For a one-to-one meeting decide what kind of format you want to follow. Meetings should have a balance of project discussion, career development, and personal inquiry. Not every meeting will be a perfect balance of all three aspects. Some meetings may tend to focus on company culture while others are about current projects. Having an agenda ready, with a list of questions to ask to prompt feedback and discussion, will also help to ensure that your one-to-one meetings are effective. For even more alignment before your 1:1s, have a shared agenda in a tool like GoogleDocs or Leadr where each person can review the agenda ahead of time and come prepared or add additional notes before the meeting even begins.
As you add more people to the meeting, preparation becomes even more important. During both staff meetings and department meetings, having an agenda will help keep everyone focused and on track. As you prepare the agenda, ask your teams what problems or issues they have encountered that they would like to discuss. Or better yet, have a collaborative meeting agenda for each person to add their own thoughts. Adding these items to your agenda creates buy-in and also helps you to allot an appropriate amount of time for each item. It also allows you to see ahead of time which topics you may need to cut short or cut out altogether until a later time.
For these meetings, it is also important to prepare and communicate your expectations in advance. Know how you will respond to individuals who interrupt or talk over others. Consider tabling complex or highly-specific issues for further discussion.
Once any meeting is concluded, sending an effective recap will help to keep others focused and prevent the need for a follow-up meeting to the meeting. Whether it is a one-on-one, department, or staff meeting, sending bullet points about action steps, due dates, topics for later discussion, and any decisions that were made will help to ensure that tasks do not fall through the cracks.
Understanding the purpose and optimal frequency of each type of meeting can help you to clear up precious space in a busy calendar packed with meetings. Taking appropriate actions before and after each meeting can help make the best use of everyone’s time.
We’d love to know, what steps have you taken to ensure that your calendar doesn’t feel like one giant meeting?