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Meeting Hygiene: How to Hold The Most Productive Meetings

Meeting hygiene is how effective and productive a meeting is. Double check for these seven elements and make sure you’re following these eight tips!

There are only so many hours in a workday that you can dedicate to meetings.

At some point, you’re going to need to put your head down and tackle the items on your to-do list. Because of this, the meetings in your calendar must be an effective, productive, and good use of your time.

To ensure this is the case, take a look at the hygiene of each meeting.

What is meeting hygiene? 

The hygiene of every meeting directly pertains to the effectiveness of the conversation, how the meeting is organized and executed, and if it’s worth the attendees’ time. Meeting hygiene can also include how the attendees interact with one another during conversation. If the meeting comes to a close and you feel like it was a productive use of everyone’s time, this signifies good meeting hygiene. If not, the meeting hygiene needs to be improved.

Delightful meetings

Incorporate a meeting tool like Fellow to host productive, engaging conversations that ensure clear next steps and alignment for everyone.

Signs of poor meeting hygiene

There are specific signs to look out for that will tell you that your meeting hygiene needs a refresh. The next time you have a meeting with your team members or direct reports, watch out for these warning signs:

  • Meetings consistently start late, which then causes them to run over the allotted time.
  • Casual chit-chat goes on for too long, leaving less time for important discussion points.
  • There are constant interruptions, and attendees talk over one another.
  • The agenda isn’t followed, and the conversation goes off the rails.
  • There are no clear next steps for attendees to follow when the meeting comes to a close.

Elements of effective meetings 

Effective meetings have specific elements every time. Before holding another team meeting, double-check it has all of these seven elements. 

1 Meeting agenda

A sure sign of a meeting with good hygiene is the presence of a comprehensive meeting agenda. A meeting agenda is a list of topics, talking points, action items, and activities you’re looking to discuss during the meeting. This outline should let attendees know what will take place once everyone comes together, who the owner of each item is, and how long each point will be discussed.

If you want the meeting to be a success, it’s absolutely necessary to organize and send this information to the attendees ahead of time. Doing so gives the meeting its best chance to be productive.

Don’t just take our word for it. When asked about meeting hygiene in our Supermanagers podcast, Amanda Goetz shared,

 “Meeting hygiene is so important. Have an agenda, check and recheck who needs to be there. Who are the decision-makers? What was the decision coming out of that meeting? And who’s in charge of pushing it forward?” 

2 Clear start and end times

Meetings with good hygiene have structure, including predetermined start and end times. And while it’s one thing to include these details in the agenda, it’s another thing to actually stick to them.

To do this, consider the following:

  • Let everyone know as the meeting starts what the run time is. 
  • Don’t wait for late attendees to arrive before getting started.
  • Keep small talk to a minimum.
  • Watch the clock as the discussion gets underway. 
  • End on time for people who have meetings right after.

3 Engaging materials

Being prepared for a meeting can take a lot of time and energy, but it sets the meeting up for success. In addition to preparing the agenda, make sure materials are ready to go. These materials could include engaging powerpoint slides, an icebreaker question (if there’s time!), and questions for the attendees.

4 Accessible materials and agenda

Once everything is good to go, send the materials and the agenda out to attendees ahead of time. This gives your team the chance to go over these materials before the meeting starts so they can prepare any questions or discussion points on their own time, instead of on the spot.

This element is easy when your team uses meeting software like Fellow, since materials can be sent in just a few clicks by tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, or via email. 

5 Moderated discussion

No one likes a conversation that goes off the rails or becomes wildly off topic, so make sure to have a moderated discussion. Don’t be afraid to stop a conversation or side discussion that doesn’t pertain to the meeting or should be saved to discuss at a different time. 

6 Decisions and action items

Productive conversations should lead to decisions being made and attendees getting assigned action items to complete after the meeting. If this isn’t the case, chances are the conversation didn’t stick to the agenda, and there may have to be another meeting scheduled to come to the necessary conclusions.

7 Meeting ground rules

Some rules are meant to be broken, but not meeting ground rules. These rules should be consistent amongst every meeting your team holds; that way, nothing is a surprise and no one accidentally breaks a rule. 

Examples of meeting ground rules are:

  • Giving everyone a chance to speak
  • Being open to new ideas
  • Starting things off on a positive note
  • Coming prepared with questions and things to share

8 tips for meeting hygiene 

Ready to clean up your meeting hygiene? Implement these eight tips no matter what type of meeting is about to start.

1 Consider who NEEDS to be on the call

Have you ever scrolled through the attendee list of a call on your calendar only to be shocked by how many people got invited? Remember that the fewer people in a meeting (especially in a virtual meeting), the better. The more people you invite, the fewer people will listen to what’s being said. 

A great way to limit who’s in attendance is to send out the meeting notes to people who were kept off the invite list, but who could still find the information helpful.

2 Stick to your agenda

You spent time and effort creating the agenda for a reason — it should be adhered to. Stay within the boundaries of the outline you created so there’s time for all points to be discussed and for questions to be asked at the end. You don’t want to feel like key points were rushed through, or like action items fell through the cracks and were forgotten about.

3 Have a clear purpose for meeting

You don’t want attendees to leave the meeting thinking, “that could have been an email.” Avoid this by having a clear purpose for meeting, whether you’re meeting virtually or in person. Ask yourself what attendees will gain from coming together as a group to have a conversation. There should always be a goal or purpose for every meeting on your calendar.

4 Assign a meeting facilitator

There are a lot of essential meeting roles that should be assigned, and a crucial one that should never be forgotten is the meeting facilitator. This is someone who joins the meeting to help all participants have an efficient and thorough meeting. The facilitator may not be an expert in what’s being discussed, but they lead the conversation, help participants get involved, and identify problems as they arise.

5 Practice active listening 

No matter what subject is being discussed, it’s important for all attendees to practice active listening so the meeting can be a success. Actively listening means giving undivided attention to the individual speaking, refraining from interrupting others, providing nonverbal cues that you’re dialed into the conversation, and asking questions that further the discussion.

6 Conduct quick meetings

Long meetings tend to drain attendees’ energy. When possible, keep meetings short and concise. You can even start initiating meetings that are standing room only. Since no one wants to stand for 45 minutes, holding this kind of meeting helps keep the conversation moving.

Take a look at your calendar to see if you can cut team meetings from 30 minutes to 20 or 25. Then, give your one-on-one meetings a look. Can they be shortened to 15 minutes? Having a shorter meeting on the calendar limits how much small talk can be had, and it ensures attendees stay on topic.

7 Make sure everyone knows next steps

When the meeting is over and all attendees either leave the room or log out of the virtual huddle, everyone should know the next steps and what’s expected of them. Whether it be following up with their manager at the end of the week about a project or sharing updates with the team, there should be a clear understanding of what’s next.

8 Assess and reflect afterwards

To really get a grasp on meeting hygiene, do some reflecting afterward. Consider asking yourself if attendees were distracted, if the meeting ran too long, if the slide deck was too wordy, and what you’d do differently next time. Remember that just because there’s room for improvement doesn’t mean the meeting hygiene was poor, it simply means you have a plan for what to do next time.

Free quick check-in meeting template 

The cleaner the better

Meetings are a part of every workday, and while we can’t escape them, we can make sure they’re as effective and productive as possible. And while these elements and tips seem easy to implement, remember everything is easier said than done. Don’t skip over key components, especially an agenda. Even if the meeting is relatively last minute, a couple of sentences is better than nothing!

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About the author

Mara Calvello

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