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How to Keep Team Meetings on Track


Staff member
Feb 16, 2024
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More work than ever before is done completely through teams. What kind are you a part of? Globally dispersed and remote teams? Matrixed across departments and functions? Localized and in person? With the amount of time spent in meetings to accomplish work, team meetings need to be expedient and efficient–and considered worthwhile!–to get the full engagement of all. No one can afford the waste of time and energy when meetings get off track and lost in a myriad of proverbial “rabbit holes.”

Bring fresh eyes to these proven strategies, as well as some new and innovative solutions, to keep your meetings on track and optimally productive.

How To Keep Your Meetings On Track​

Start by stating the purpose and desired outcomes of the meeting​

Alignment brings focus. Restate desired outcomes immediately when discussion begins to wander. Create this healthy rhythm, and add a final, “On a scale of 1-10, how did we do?” reflection as the last item on every agenda. Everyone should hold up their fingers declaring their assessment! Work to get higher numbers with every successive meeting.

Start on time​

The Team Charter should state how each meeting will begin. Creating opportunity for five minutes of casual connection and settling in gives grace to those on the run or in back-to-back meetings. If the team prefers the connection time take place before the meeting’s start time, state and honor that. This helps put each meeting on track from the Call to Order.

End on time​

The Team Charter should state if meetings should end five or 10 minutes before the next hour. Some organizations insist on 25-, 45- or 50-minute meetings to allow movement and short breaks between back-to-back meetings. The important point is that the team has a finite and predetermined amount of time to accomplish the objectives of each meeting. Discipline to keep to the allotted minutes for each item brings focus and energy, respecting that each person also has a finite amount of both for any given day (and meeting).

Appoint a “Guardian”​

This team member is responsible to champion the purpose and objectives during the meeting. They have a nearly singular focus to watch for derailers, stray topics and side issues, and are given permission to interject respectfully with a question of relevance to the purpose and objectives whenever they see focus drifting. Once the team is comfortable with this role in the meeting, each member should regularly take their turn to be Guardian of a team meeting.

Decide quickly about missed items​

If a valid concern or topic emerges that isn’t on the agenda, the leader should decide whether the agenda is adjusted, or if another meeting should be scheduled. The latter is often the best choice, since additional or different people might need to be in attendance to discuss. If the same group reconvenes for the discussion, they will have had time and opportunity to research, consider, and prepare relevant ideas.

Allot time for each agenda item​

Limit the time to be spent on each item so that running out of time is never the excuse for ignoring important items. Prioritize key issues or pivotal decisions in the first part of the meeting, capitalizing on fresh focus and energy that participants demonstrate at the beginning. Then engage on less critical items or discussion toward the end, when focus and energy naturally lag.

List who will steer and contribute to each topic​

This distributes responsibility and ownership across the team, not allowing anyone “unnecessary” to be in the meeting, and ensures that everyone has a stake in accomplishing the purpose and objectives.

Follow the “Responsible Accountable Consulted Informed (RACI)” chart​

Meetings can get derailed when:

  • Those Responsible for actions, initiatives or projects aren’t in the meeting (requiring additional meetings), or are not up-to-date on progress toward the objectives and deliverables
  • Those Accountable for actions and deliverables aren’t in the meeting (triggering more meetings), or do not come prepared to give appropriate account in the meeting
  • Those who were to be Consulted regarding the actions and decisions of the team were not, or they attend and create conversation that could be best handled outside of the meeting
  • Those who need only be Informed regarding the work of the team attend, taking precious time from those Responsible and Accountable. Their input, if needed, should be brought to the meeting by the team leader

Model “best behaviors”​

The Team Charter should include a description of appropriate meeting etiquette. It must also be clear how members–not just the leader–will handle breaches of the agreed-upon behaviors. It is much easier to uphold social norms when those norms have been discussed and agreed to from the start. Equally important is following through on correction with the first, and any subsequent, breach. This guarantees fairness and safety to every member and fosters respect and accountability.

Recognize and remediate meeting derailers​

The meeting leader, Guardian, and every participant should be ready and responsible to acknowledge derailers in the team’s behavior. This is not to say there should not be breaks from time to time for levity and laughter, surprise and silliness. Engaging self-awareness and group dynamics is a key discernment skill that can help every team to not only be fruitful, but fun! Flexibility within a trusted framework is the way to bring out the best in every team.

Contact CLS

Develop Your Skills With The Center For Leadership Studies​

On a final note, the Team Charter was mentioned several times in this practical list of ways to keep your team meetings on track. One of our certified CLS Coaches or Master Trainers would be pleased to work with you and your team to establish an agreement that will influence not only team meetings, but team culture and synchronicity as well.

Now that you have brought fresh eyes to some powerful strategies, which one or two will you deploy in your next team meeting to surprise and energize your team?

The post How to Keep Team Meetings on Track appeared first on Situational Leadership® Management and Leadership Training.
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