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How to run smarter, better team meetings

Feel like your team meetings are a waste of time? We can help you fix that!

Sarah Henning

Sarah Henning
May 22, 2024

13 min read

How to run smarter, better team meetings

Team meetings serve many purposes: decision making, brainstorming, sharing information, or even coaching. They build camaraderie, connection, and direction for your team. But, sometimes, meetings — and the teams in them — lose track of their purpose. 

It’s time to rethink meetings. Across many types of companies, from all-hands meetings to daily huddles, there's clear demand for better team meetings that truly matter. 

With these tips about how to run effective team meetings, you can transform internal meetings from irritating interruptions into sessions that leave everyone energized and aligned, with clear action items. 

In that spirit, here’s the “agenda” for today’s blog post. We’ll start with the basics (including pro tips from Calendly’s leadership team) and work our way toward specific tactics. 

Jump on these tips for every stage of the meeting lifecycle:

  1. Before: Prepping for a meeting

  2. During: Hosting a meeting

  3. After: Follow-up on meeting action items

Hosting a great meeting: Before

The golden rule: Define your meeting objective

We often just assume if a meeting exists, there’s a reason for it. But when you really start asking questions about why you’re having a meeting, sometimes you learn there’s no defined goal. 

How can you host a successful meeting if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish? 

How can your teammates contribute to a productive meeting if they don’t know the purpose of the meeting?

Here are just a few examples of meeting objectives to get you started:

  • Brainstorm and record ideas

  • Gain team alignment on a topic or project

  • Make a decision

  • Build stronger team relationships

  • Kickoff a project

  • Evaluate the results of an A/B test

Once you’ve clarified the meeting’s objective and desired outcomes, plan a thoughtful agenda that guides the group to achieve that specific goal. 

Agendas. Agendas. Agendas. (Did we mention agendas?)

The main reason for building an agenda? It makes you question: “Is this meeting really necessary?” We all know from experience meetings feel like a waste of time if the topic is ambiguous or the conversation leaves teammates adrift, unsure what to do next. 

As you build a team meeting agenda, maybe you may realize there’s not enough meat to discuss yet. Maybe the topic is simple/informal enough to address async in email or Slack. Maybe the topic isn’t urgent or collaborative so people can just watch an informational Loom when they have time. The “is this meeting necessary” question should apply even to crafting agendas for regularly scheduled team meetings and one-on-ones. 

“This is a moment to break the rules: We should question recurring meetings. We all get used to certain meetings, but maybe we’re not getting enough value from them. So from time to time we should question recurring meetings and see if they're still useful.”

Testimonial author

Jigar Desai

Chief Technology Officer at Calendly

If you determine a meeting is necessary, a concise and clear meeting agenda should: 

  • Determine the meeting format: virtual meetings or in-person meetings, length, topics, activities (like icebreakers or guest speakers).

  • Set expectations for the meeting’s purpose and anticipated outcomes.

  • Keep the meeting focused by writing specific agenda items.

  • Define owners for each agenda item:

    • Give speakers advance notice (with reminders) so they can prepare.

    • Set time boundaries for the topic so speakers know how much time will be dedicated to each topic.

    • Add more voices: Different people talking encourages more engagement from everyone.

  • Provide enough information so attendees can decide if they need to attend live or can watch a recording later.

  • Be sent a minimum of one day in advance to each team member.

    • Make the agenda easily accessible by including the agenda link in the calendar invite.

    • Include a link to materials people should read or watch prior to the meeting (mo

      re on that later).

Want to see what that looks like in action? Here’s a sample Calendly meeting agenda you can use as an agenda template:

Screenshot of a Calendly meeting agenda, identifying the meeting facilitator, and with a bullet list of specific agenda items with owners and time limits.
A great meeting agenda includes a goal, specific topics with owners and time limits, and pre-meeting reads for context.

Download Calendly's meeting agenda template

It's important to keep in mind there are many reasons for holding a meeting, and you need to make it clear to your teammates which type of meeting you’re holding, as well as their roles. By building a thorough agenda and distributing it early, your entire team comes prepared, stays focused, and is mentally ready to achieve the goal. 

“I have an agenda for every meeting, even one-on-ones. Early in my career I’d just grab somebody for 15 minutes. Now I actually tell them what the agenda is, no matter how short the meeting or how many people are there. I tell my team if there is no agenda, to cancel the meeting.”

Testimonial author

Jessica Gilmartin

Chief Revenue Officer at Calendly

Find the best time to meet

Meetings are impactful, but can be disruptive. Scheduling them when people’s schedules naturally break — in the morning after they’ve settled in, right before or after lunch, etc. — consolidates the interruptions. Then, place buffers between meetings, giving coworkers time to solidify action items (or leave cushion for discussions that run long). 

Instead of asking each participant to list their available times, or cross-referencing multiple calendars, let Calendly’s Meeting Polls do the heavy lifting for you to find the best available times within a group. 

Screenshot of a Calendly meeting poll where a sales rep is inviting several people to vote on the best meeting time for a proposal meeting.
Meeting Polls are ideal when a single host is trying to find a common meeting time for groups of people, especially meetings involving multiple companies.

You can be confident you won’t double-book a client call over your boss’ anniversary dinner, since Calendly automatically syncs availability across multiple calendars, including Google Calendar, Microsoft Office 365, and Outlook Calendar.

Calendly’s Workflows automate meeting confirmations, reminders, and follow-ups to prevent late arrivals and no-shows without you lifting a finger. Calendly even automatically adjusts for time zone differences.

Assign meeting roles

If you have weekly team meetings or stand-ups, establish meeting roles and switch these roles each time so all team members gain leadership meeting skills.

  • Facilitator: They’re primarily responsible for a successful team meeting. They create an agenda and pick a place and time for the meeting. During the meeting, the leader guides the group through the agenda, and keeps energy high and positive. They also manage visual aids (slideshows, screen-share, etc.). At the end, they summarize the next steps.

  • Timekeeper: They keep track of time, and alert the group if time is running out of time for an agenda item. 

  • Vibes watcher: They monitor the tone of the conversation and speak up when things get off track. For example, they might (politely) interject so someone who hasn't spoken gets a turn, or when a heated but unrelated issue derails the conversation. They also monitor the comments section and notify the facilitator of relevant comments and questions.

  • Note-taker: Most software records meetings and uses AI to produce transcripts (old school = meeting minutes). But someone still needs to be responsible for collecting conclusions and decisions, and distributing the recording and notes. The note-taker works with the facilitator to outline next steps and assign action items to individuals with due dates.

Invite with intention

The ideal number of attendees varies by your meeting objective and your organization’s culture. If you’re team building, the more the merrier. If you’re brainstorming, a larger group is ideal to collect more ideas you may only need one representative from each department. If your objective is decision-making, you want small groups of leaders and stakeholders. 

One way meeting facilitators sometimes avoid making a decision is by inviting a bunch of people as “optional.” That FYI is helpful for some people, but confusing for others. So it’s best for you to be selective. If someone won’t gain new information or contribute value by coming to the meeting, leave them off the list and let them focus on their current projects. (In case you need them, here are some templates for meeting invite emails.)

Pro tip: Don’t just guess. If you’re meeting via a video conferencing platform, confirm that everyone has access to the link. 

Send a pre-read for the most effective team meetings

A common gripe about unproductive meetings is that they “could’ve been an email.” Pre-reads set everyone up for a successful, action-oriented team meeting. With a pre-read, instead of spendings lots of time in the meeting reviewing what happened, you can devote more time to discussing why it happened and what should be done about it. 

Sharing information via pre-reads lets meeting participants absorb key context when they have time. This usually reduces the overall time of the meeting. Best of all, pre-reads set the stage for a more interactive, richer discussion. If you need to provide longform context or explanations, a recording may be a better option than a doc. 

Pro tip: Not everyone in the meeting will remember to pre-read. Use Asana, Monday.com, or other project management software to assign pre-read tasks and track who has completed them.

Hosting a great meeting: During

Set the meeting tone

Play some tunes to set a positive and energetic tone as people are joining the staff meeting. It won’t be long before the chat fills up with everyone’s opinion on the song choices, and that chat doubles as an ice breaker. As people sign in, that’s also an opportunity to get to know coworkers better. At Calendly, we call that “start with human.”

“Kindness is not overrated. Take a moment to be kind, recognize a birthday, ask how someone’s vacation went. If you have a little time, don't just jump straight into business. Build those relationships.”

Testimonial author

Tina Dobie

Chief Customer Officer at Calendly

When it’s time to kick off the meeting, repeat the objective and agenda to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Remind attendees you’ll be facilitating and keeping time. 

Run meetings so the agenda items relevant to the most people are at the beginning. That way, if people have to duck out early, they’re less likely to miss key information.

Pro tip: Feel awkward cutting someone off? Use the chat to alert them they’re at time, or that the group has to move on. 

Use the right tools

The go-to move is for the facilitator to share their slidedeck and walk through the slides one-by-one. The longer this goes on, the easier it is for people to zone out. But your organization has a lot of tools besides presentation apps.

Think about how you can use other tools to make meetings more interactive and engaging. For example, an app like Miro has a template for retrospectives and brainstorms that creates a virtual whiteboard of sticky notes, a fun throwback to when we all worked IRL. 

Or open your project management platform, pull up your current project, and share the screen. This allows people to add their own notes and next steps and see them in real-time. Often one teammate’s note kicks off a chain of ideas for other people. 

At Calendly, the meeting facilitator often: 

  • Opens up project management software (here we use Asana) and shares their screen so attendees can follow along

  • Makes sure the Asana task has the meeting objective and the agenda items included 

  • Takes key notes directly in the Asana task 

  • Adds action items as sub-tasks in real-time, clarifying owner and delivery date

  • Jots down any open questions, blockers, or items for the next meeting’s agenda

Check your audience’s temperature

Don’t be afraid to get feedback and adjust on the fly to engage the whole team — or try something completely different next time.

If you don’t have an assigned vibes watcher to do this for you, keep an eye on the audience. Expand the view so that you can see multiple people at once. Are people multitasking or are they engaged? Do you see head nods?

Remember, you can just ask! Throughout your presentation, pause and check in. “Is this helpful?” “What questions do you have?” “What are your thoughts on this?” Or pose a question for the chat. Ask the group to engage in the chat with a question or reactions. Gauge engagement from chat responses.

As a team leader, create a safe environment where your team members feel heard and respected. Some people are more comfortable speaking up in public. Some aren't. You need to safeguard introverts’ chances to speak up, and check the interrupters on your team. The last thing you want is for genius ideas to stay hidden within the minds of the quieter members of your team.

“I think respectful conflict is a tremendous thing. I worry much more about what people are thinking and not saying, as opposed to what they are saying. I feel like the magical moments happen when people rise up and say what they think and what they're seeing.”

Testimonial author

John McCauley

Chief Financial Officer at Calendly

Hosting a great meeting: After

Meeting after party: It’s all about the follow up

If no one takes action on the plans you made during the meeting, you just wasted an hour. It's not that people neglect their duties. It's usually that something else comes up and they forget. 

At the end of the meeting, the facilitator, note-taker, or project manager needs to capture meeting notes, summarize the takeaways, and then share:

  • Meeting recording 

  • Decision recap

  • Next steps with clear owners and delivery dates

  • Questions and blockers with clear owners and delivery dates

  • Facilitator plans for status updates

Make it easier on yourself to follow up. Automatically send email or text messages to invitees before or after booked Calendly events using Workflows, so you can set it and forget it.

Pro Tip: Using the “smart chapters” from the Zoom summary or other AI transcript tools to lighten your load. 

In your project management platform, assign team members their action items with due dates. That way they’ll remember to do it, and your meetings actually produce tangible results for the next meeting. Set a reminder for yourself to DM team members whose action items are at risk of missing a deadline. 

Ebook: 8 expert tips to simplify the most complicated B2B sales meetings

Ebook: 8 expert tips to simplify the most complicated B2B sales meetings

Simplify your meeting cadence, land meetings 45% faster, and close more deals. 

Ask for feedback regularly, then act on it

If the meeting goes well — but especially if it doesn’t — do a survey or reach out to a few experienced people to get some direct feedback. This isn’t about fishing for compliments. Phrase your note so people feel comfortable sharing constructive feedback.

Dig into details. If you receive feedback the meeting isn’t working, dig into the why. Ask open ended questions so you’re not leading people’s answers.

Of course, these types of questions only produce useful answers if you’ve created an environment where team members feel safe sharing their thoughts. How do you do that? 

  1. Share the feedback and proposed solution with the group. Ask for thoughts on how to make it even better.

  2. Act on the feedback! The worst thing you can do is ask for opinions and not address them. If you let feedback get dusty, people don’t feel heard, and are demotivated to give input next time around. 

Clean up your calendar

Take a look at your calendar for the next couple weeks: Where can you make some changes to be a better host and attendee?

For meetings you’re hosting:

  • Pull up the Making Great Meetings Cheat Sheet below. What can you experiment with before, during, and after your meetings?

This downloadable Making Great Meetings cheatsheet includes tips from this blog post condensed onto one page. The checklist includes tasks to do before meetings, during meetings, and after meetings.
To sum up how Calendly creates better meetings, here's a cheatsheet with the most essential tips for before, during, and after meetings.

Download Calendly's Making Great Meetings cheat sheet

  • For recurring meetings:

    • Review the frequency of the meetings. Can there be fewer?

    • Review the meeting duration. Can they be shorter?

    • Review the topic. Can this be easily addressed async? 

For meetings you’re attending:

  • Don’t see an agenda? Slack the meeting owner and ask for it. This opens up a conversation on whether the meeting is necessary.

  • Are there meetings you’re not required to attend and can decline? Or mark yourself “maybe” to decide later?

  • Block off time on your calendar to get your personal tasks done! Tools like Reclaim can rearrange your schedule automatically to maximize your heads down time. 

  • Create meeting bundles. Group your meetings together as much as possible to have blocks of meeting time and blocks of focus time.

  • Set a reminder each Friday to review the next week’s calendar and clean it up.

Make sure every meeting counts

Life is too short for bad meetings. Instead, be an effective meeting leader and get more value out of your meetings.

It is possible for teams to look forward to meetings. It is possible for meetings to leave teams feeling more aligned and energized than before. Try any combination of these practical tips to enhance every stage of the meeting lifecycle — before, during, and after the meeting. Meetings are work. But they do work. 

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Sarah Henning

Sarah Henning

Sarah is a Managing Editor at Calendly, the perfect home for her obsession with words and compulsion to organize. Hobbies include spoiling her rescue dog and soaking up Nashville's live music scene.

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