Nothing is more frustrating to me than leaving an unproductive meeting. If you’re leaving meetings wondering what you spent the last hour discussing or why you were even invited, I’ve been there too. But here’s the thing: meetings don’t have to be a waste of time.

Meetings are often crucial for collaboration and decision-making. Yet so few professionals know how to conduct them effectively. In this new year, focus on the next five suggestions to take your meetings from scattered to structured.

Pre-Meeting Preparation

First, ask yourself: Is a meeting necessary? Can this be an email or, even better, a quick message? If you’re certain you need to meet face-to-face, consider these things:

· Invite the right people to your meeting.

· Write an agenda and distribute it well before the meeting.

· Consider the length of time you’ll need to meet. · Understand the goals of the meeting to ensure they are met by the end.

· Consider time zones when working with a remote team.

Communication and Engagement

You’ve set the agenda and shared it out with the team, so be sure also to ask them to come prepared to discuss the topics pertaining to them specifically. Encourage participation – everyone should feel welcome to contribute. While you want to stay on task, you’ll also want to allow a few minutes for social greetings at the start of the meeting to craft a relaxed atmosphere that encourages people to collaborate.

Time Management

Starting and ending a meeting on time isn’t rushing, it’s respectful to everyone involved. Stick to your agenda but don’t be a robot; a little flexibility can go a long way to allow for insightful conversation. If you feel the topics are digging too deep for the time allotted, ask if it makes sense to create a follow up meeting or email just for that topic.

Facilitation

Consider this meeting a symphony and yourself the conductor. Keep the discussion harmonious and on track if there is unnecessary discourse. Dominant personalities will often overshadow others. Don’t be afraid to ask a team member specifically their thoughts on the given topic to get a diverse viewpoint. If you think something could be unclear, or you aren’t sure what a team member meant – ask them to clarify so you can move to the next agenda item.

Post-Meeting Follow-Up

The meeting’s over, but your job isn’t. Productive meetings end with resolutions and action items for moving forward. Distribute the meeting notes with the summarized discussion and any decisions. Additionally, identify action items and the people who will be responsible for them. Be sure to create any follow up meetings as soon as you can, so it’s not forgotten and then squished into a jammed calendar at the last minute. As we step into the New Year, let’s resolve to hold productive meetings that push our organizations forward. It’s not just about ticking off agenda items; it’s about building a collaborative, efficient, and respectful meeting culture. By embracing these strategies, we can transform our meetings into dynamic, engaging, and fruitful discussions. Let’s make every meeting count, setting the tone for a successful and proactive year ahead.