Are you wondering how to improve staff meetings?
Meetings should inform and motivate a team. But they occasionally (or frequently) fall flat.
This can be especially true of remote or virtual meetings, where it can be hard to keep engagement high through a screen.
The consequences are much worse than the immediate boredom and embarrassment. A team’s productivity can be negatively affected. They leave the meeting feeling negative (or neutral at best) instead of energized, informed, and eager to compete.
For executive and management teams, unengaging meetings can bring even worse consequences than lower productivity. These include reduced innovation, vision, and creativity. Teams drained, discouraged, or even alienated by unfocused meetings can miss seeing opportunities and risks that they would have otherwise seen.
On the other hand, when run well, the benefits of staff meetings are plentiful. Boosted morale, better communication, and more ideas exchanged are just a few of the gems mined from successful meetings.
Great team meetings make for a better workplace. Bad meetings make for a soul-crushing one.
To help you start transforming tough meetings into amazing ones, this guide contains the most important dos and don’ts designed to sharpen your tools.
First, there are some of the most common questions about running successful staff meetings that need to be answered.
In the earliest stages of a new business or organization, formal staff meetings may not happen. Instead, a few founders might informally collaborate and communicate to get things off the ground.
The unseen costs of informal meetings
However, with modern meeting software available, neglecting to formalize early-stage meetings can be a critical mistake. Even ten years ago, it was time-consuming to draw up an agenda, distribute it, take meeting minutes, and then distribute them after the meeting.
So it’s understandable that early-stage meetings back then were left informal. There simply wasn’t time. It’s like before GPS, mapping the most efficient route on a road trip wasn’t worth the time of poring over page after page in the paper atlas. Now that GPS software makes such detailed plotting effortless, anyone concerned about maximizing efficiency uses it.
It’s the same with modern meeting software.
Clearly, decisions taken in the early stages of a company are often among the most important ever taken.
Unnecessary informality in the meetings at which these decisions are made can introduce:
Find out how much money you are spending in unnecessary or unproductive meetings with a meeting cost calculator.
When everyone agrees formal meetings are necessary
However, as an organization grows and adds teams, staff meetings become essential. Without them, communication tends to become disjointed, and collaboration falls apart. A workplace culture fails to develop without a sense of unity. Team members lose the ability to ask for and offer feedback on, and help with, challenging projects.
Without a sense of inclusion in one another’s projects, team members become focused only on their own work and struggles. This tunnel vision and isolation eat away at morale and motivation. Everything is ten times harder to do—but good staff meetings can fix that.
Why have staff meetings?
Many of us have sat through painful, dragged-out meetings (that could have been an email) at some point. But they don’t have to be this way. Meetings need to have a clearly communicated purpose that engages the team. They need to share goals, procedures, and strategies. Focusing strictly on necessary staff meeting topics will keep meetings useful and time-conscious.
Successful staff meetings bring everyone together to check-in with one another and communicate hurdles and needs. At the very least, staff meetings keep everyone on the same page. When done well, they increase accountability, engagement, and creative problem-solving.
When a team gathers to share progress and build upon it together, they fuel an organization’s overall success. In turn, this contributes to one of the many benefits of staff meetings: a productive, engaged workplace culture that team members actually enjoy. Successful staff meetings leave everyone feeling accomplished and optimistic.
The crucial thing missed by “all business” staff meetings
Often overlooked are the crucial emotional and political uses of staff meetings. A strictly “utilitarian” or “all business” tone to staff meetings neglects the most utilitarian and business-enhancing of all needs: human emotions and teamwork.
If your team members are not feeling the right emotions for making your team highly competitive, it won’t matter how much great information they get from a staff meeting.
Good leaders know this, and are always finding ways to focus on what motivates their team, even (or especially) in staff meetings.
Communication in a staff meeting is about more than information. It’s also giving credit where due, holding team members accountable, creating a sense of enjoyment and engagement with each other as human beings. In staff meetings, these are controlled by tone rather than content. Playing a “game” to “have fun” would likely feel false, when people are busy. But a leader’s consistent, focused, warm demeanor can make enormous changes in how a team interacts.
Management's job is to convey leadership's message in a compelling and inspiring way. Not just in meetings, but also by example.
—Jeffery Gitomer - Author, Speaker, and Business Trainer
To announce a staff meeting, first select a communication tool that all invitees are sure to receive, see, and RSVP to. It can be confusing and disjointing if you send out a calendar invite for a recurring meeting with no explanation. And if you include a lengthy explanation in the calendar invite, that can make the meeting feel unnecessarily burdensome.
If meeting invitees use Slack to collaborate, start a thread. You might also want to make a short Loom video for your announcement to give it a personal touch. Email is also an option.
Use the best practices from the Vital meetings framework notably, that all meetings need PANTS (Purpose, Agenda, Notes, Tasks, Shared).
In the announcement for your staff meeting, clearly communicate key information about the meeting, as well as the P and A.
If the meeting will be recurring, note that as well.
For the staff meeting agenda, you can attach it, link to it, or put it entirely in the calendar invite (just make sure it is accessible from the calendar invite). Encourage invitees to add to or provide feedback on the agenda ahead of the meeting, such as by asking participants to summarize their updates in advance with a few bullet points.
There are a few best practices when it comes to creating worthwhile staff meeting topics. Ideally, your agenda will include items like important goals and discussion topics:
We’ll share some free staff meeting templates with you right after we go over the much-anticipated dos and don’ts.
Some of the best practices for meetings include:
Meetings at work present great opportunities to showcase your talent. Do not let them go to waste.
—Abhishek Ratna, Product Marketing, Tensorflow (Google)
To improve your staff meetings, be sure that you don’t:
In addition to the all-hands meetings mentioned in the example above, most organizations also have more regular team meetings and management meetings.
Below are some sample agendas that you can also use as a team meeting minutes template. Each one is available as a Google Doc, Word Doc, or for use in Fellow.
All-hands meetings bring every team member of an organization together for engagement and alignment. (This meeting is sometimes called an all staff meeting.) Check out our free all-hands staff meeting template.
Team meetings generally happen weekly within specific departments. Keep everyone focused on upcoming priorities with our free team meetings template.
Management meetings are for those in leadership positions. Re-focus managers and decision-makers with this free management meeting template.
It’s also important to think about the first team meeting as a special consideration. When you come together with a new partner, or to organize a new project, your meeting will be run a little bit differently. First team meetings have to prioritize setting expectations and getting organized over making decisions and doing work.
But that doesn’t mean no substantive discussions will occur, or no decisions will be taken, or no tasks assigned. In fact, it’s a good idea to begin with some kind of substantive discussion, and at least a small decision, and at least on interesting or challenging task for everyone involved. There are at least two reasons for jumping right in.
For one thing, there are the natural demands of business in a competitive environment. (Who has time to wait? The competition is certainly not delaying.)
The other reason is a matter of leadership. People like to work. They don’t like to be bored, or to wonder what’s really going to happen when the real meetings start. They like to be surprised, challenged, and to feel a sense of purpose.
The best way to start a staff meeting is to jump right into it. Grab everyone’s attention with some quick comments that confirm why they’ve come to the meeting in the first place, and why it’s important.
Experts suggest opening the meeting using the IEEI framework: Inform, Excite, Empower, Involve.
Here’s an example of putting all these together.
Hey everyone. Thanks for making time this morning. (Inform) Since we started having these meetings once a week, I’ve noticed that the team is really up to speed on what everyone is doing. (Excite) We have some great data to share and (Empower) then I want to discuss strategies for next quarter and hear your input. (Involve) First, let’s go around and each share a quick win from the last week, big or small.
If you’re literally wondering what you should say to start a meeting, here are a few openers:
For many teams, meeting time is seen as “unlimited.” Even the word we use for unscheduled time suggests it has no value! As long as there is an open space in someone’s calendar, that time is “free” when it is anything but.
Not only is time scarce and costly, but when meetings run on too long, that time becomes even further undermined when people’s attention spans and creativity starts to wane.
Therefore, it’s important to match the length of any staff meeting with its purpose, taking into account how long people can pay attention and participate with high energy and focus.
Here's a guide to meeting length from the Vital Meetings handbook.
Whether it’s taking and sharing meeting notes or collaborating on agendas, Fellow’s got you covered. Rated as the #1 meeting management software on G2, Fellow helps users have "meetings, tasks, and notes — all in one place."
And if you need more sample meeting agendas, hop on over to our library where you can add them to your free Fellow account. Get started with Fellow.
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Truly effective meetings are actually born long before the meeting date, even before invites are sent out.