A Path to Better Meetings

02 Apr 2024

Photo by Dave on Unsplash


I’ve previously written about challenging our natural tendency to hold meetings, especially in a remote working environment.

However, even when people are collaborating remotely, there are still important reasons to have meetings.

I love the opening paragraph of the preface within “The Surprising Science of Meetings” 1, a book that I thoroughly recommend. It stresses that meetings themselves are not necessarily problematic. Rather, they are essential. The author goes on to say:

“What we need to rid ourselves of are bad meetings, wasted time in meetings, and unnecessary meetings.”

Characteristics of a successful meeting

When there is a good reason to have a meeting, what can be done to improve it? Here are a few tips that, hopefully, will help you.


Communicating the purpose of the meeting in advance and at the opening of the meeting sets the stage. This may seem self-evident. However, I can recall being in many meetings that have missed this simple yet helpful step.


As well as being clear about the purpose of a meeting, suggesting an agenda in advance helps participants prepare. It’s another simple and respectful way of giving the meeting a good chance of achieving its aims.

A meeting with no set agenda can easily devolve into a meandering discussion that leaves those involved with the impression that the meeting was a waste of their time.

Respect for other participants

I’ve just mentioned the word “respectful” above. It’s important to be mindful of the fact that when you invite others to a meeting, you are requesting them to devote their time to something that you consider important. Well, I hope you consider the reason for the meeting to be important!

Ask yourself who really needs to be at the meeting. Who else may be interested in attending? For those who may be interested but are not required attendees, make it clear that their attendance is optional.

Essentially, be respectful of other people’s time.

Respect for the planned start time

How many times can you recall sitting patiently, waiting for a meeting to start. Not everyone has arrived yet. The convenor of the meeting lets others present know that “we will give it another couple of minutes”. Eventually, the meeting gets under way five minutes late.

This behaviour can spread throughout an organisation and become a cultural norm.

There are a couple of ways to rectify this pattern. Firstly, if you have convened the meeting, don’t wait for latecomers. Start the meeting on time. Continue this habit so that others realise that if they are late they may miss something important. Secondly, if you know that you will be late, send a message to say so and ask the convenor to not wait for you.

Respect for the planned end time

Your responsibility as a meeting’s facilitator includes respecting the time that you set for the meeting to end. Whilst there may be situations where an important discussion is in progress as the planned end time approaches, at the very least ask participants if they are happy to extend the meeting before assuming so.

Each person has planned their day. Again, be respectful of them and their time.

Another aspect to consider is the flexibility to finish early. If the agenda has been covered fully, be mindful, considerate and generous. Give everyone some time back.

Also, be mindful of providing opportunities for people to stretch their legs between meetings. Using the Google Meet option for short meetings is one way of achieving this. If you manage to be disciplined in its use, “half-hour meetings” will truly be no longer than 25 minutes, giving everyone five minutes until they may have another meeting due to start.

Participants are fully engaged

In a world where many meetings are distributed via tools such as Zoom and Google Meet, an easy temptation is to allow your attention to focus elsewhere. How often have you noticed another participant turn their video off or, if it’s on, noticed that their eyes are obviously focussing on something other than the meeting?

Obviously, in a good meeting, all participants are fully engaged. If you are facilitating the meeting, from the outset you can respectfully state that you expect everyone to be fully present. And, if you’re not the facilitator, it shouldn’t be that hard to put distractions aside for the duration of the meeting.

This is another aspect of being respectful in meetings.

Mindfulness of outcomes

Hopefully, the purpose of the meeting has been made clear from the outset. Ideally, all participants will be mindful of achieving positive outcomes that address the stated purpose. In particular, the facilitator has the responsibility of steering the discussion towards a successful conclusion.

Next steps should be agreed before the meeting’s planned finish time.

Taking notes

Humans excel at many things, especially forgetting verbal agreements or, at the very least, having different recollections of what was discussed and agreed in a meeting.

Consequently, to ensure that the meeting does not end up being a waste of time, ensuring that someone fulfils the role of scribe can be crucial.

In conclusion

As asserted at the outset of this post, whilst many meetings can be a waste of time, they are, when managed well, an essential part of collaboration. Hopefully, these tips help you reflect on how to make the best use of the time that you and your colleagues spend together in synchronous discussions.


  1. The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance by Steven G. Rogelberg 

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