A good meeting drives productivity, gets employees aligned and working together smoothly, and leaves your team energized and bonded. A bad meeting wastes time, sucks the energy out of the day, and can even produce internal conflict. Luckily, the power to consistently run great meetings lies in your hands.
Meetings, especially remote meetings, succeed when they’re given the right structure and environment. Thoughtful planning ensures your team stays on topic and focused on the projects at hand. A team that is comfortable with each other and has a level of trust will share more freely and contribute better ideas. You can practice habits that build up that team unity.
Even creative tasks like brainstorming and collaborative idea-building work better with the proper tools and structure. A thoughtful, collaborative structure channels creativity in productive directions and ensures that great ideas aren’t forgotten.
Mural’s team spends a lot of time building intentional structures for successful meetings. Here are some of the best practices we’ve found for making sure your meetings are effective, engaging, and productive.
Ways to understand what makes an effective meeting
You want your meetings to be productive and a worthwhile experience for everyone in them. It’s no secret that meetings are often seen as time-wasters and interruptions in the day. You can avoid this by clearly defining what a “good” meeting is for your team and making sure you’re always planning for meetings to meet that objective.
To have the best meetings, focus on these goals. Build a structure to focus meetings. Make sure team members are engaged and prepared — especially during remote meetings. Clearly define meeting roles. Use tools that facilitate effective collaboration. Finally, make meetings productive and enjoyable so people actually want to come.
If meetings don’t have a clear plan and space for interpersonal connection, meeting participants can fall prey to inertia. Inertia is the temptation to stay quiet instead of stepping up to contribute. Here are some key tips for preventing inertia from ruining your meetings.
Meeting reflections make sure that your team uses their experiences to grow in a meaningful way. Learn how to incorporate them into your meeting culture.
Ways to get attendees engaged and comfortable working together
Most teams will need some prep and warm-up to get everyone in the right headspace to contribute to a meeting. Like a hot cup of coffee in the morning, ice breakers and warm-ups can help wake everyone up and get them ready to engage.
Check-ins at the beginning of a meeting can build trust and emotional connection by prompting each person to speak at the beginning of a meeting. A check-in is an activity that establishes each person’s mood and mindset during a meeting. Check-ins can be questions everyone answers or activities that help them share their thoughts.
It’s easier for everyone to interact when your group consists of fewer than 10 participants, but it’s also more important that everyone feels comfortable interacting as a group. Icebreakers for a small group could include answering questions, sharing an activity, or playing a game as a group.
In a virtual environment, it can be harder to get comfortable with each other or participate in group activities. Virtual icebreakers need to give each person explicit space to come off mute and contribute. You can ask questions that are fun and silly or dive into how they view teamwork and collaboration to build rapport, even virtually.
A warm-up or energizer will jump-start the energy your team needs to have a productive meeting. Virtual games and activities that get team members comfortable with speaking up over Zoom are helpful. Try sketching each other, giving each other tours, or doing a virtual show-and-tell.
You might want to kick things off with the perfect icebreaker question, but just not be sure what to ask. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. Draw your inspiration from these 100 icebreaker questions across categories and themes, from funny to seasonal to company-focused.
Ways to keep clear records and stay organized
Prep a meeting or stand-up with an effective agenda and take thorough notes. Your meetings will be more focused and productive when you know what you need to talk about. Detailed, structured notes will make sure your conversations can be referred to in the future and turned into action.
A great place to start when creating an agenda is with the theme, meeting time, and speaker. What are you talking about? When are you talking about it? And who is leading the conversation? From there, build out an agenda by getting input from your team, assigning areas of responsibility, and setting clear timelines for each agenda item.
Start with a template to build a structure and agenda for your meeting more quickly. Templates like these let meeting attendees know what to think about ahead of time and create a pre-made structure for notes and visual collaboration.
Meeting notes should be more than just a verbatim summary. They need to be clear and actionable so everyone can follow up on what was discussed. Prep your notes beforehand and use the structure from your meeting agenda to set up your notes.
A prepared notes structure will make it less disruptive to your workflow when you take notes. Highlight important takeaways from the conversation and turn those points into action items to move forward with.
Ways to facilitate effective collaboration
Productive collaboration can be challenging, but it’s the most important part of making your meetings both fun and functional. Create an environment where people feel comfortable and empowered to speak up. Add collaborative tools and structures that make it easier for people to build off each other’s ideas to get better results.
A meeting facilitator can be an important part of keeping meetings on track and building a comfortable environment for everyone involved. Facilitators should model productive meeting behavior, create clear guidelines for the meeting, and build a positive, inclusive environment for team members.
You need to combat disconnection to help your team collaborate more freely. Create psychological safety to encourage your teams to share their ideas and help them build connections. Facilitate meetings in a way that ensures everyone has space to talk. Build a collaborative tool stack and a library of templates to drive collaborative discussions in the right direction.
Lack of structure is the biggest collaboration pitfall. It’s hard to work collaboratively when you don’t share a common objective or have an agenda to keep your meeting organized. If you don’t have a prototype to brainstorm, you won’t have a focused discussion. Low team engagement can sink a collaboration, as can an inability to communicate openly.
You’ll also run into issues if you have the wrong people in the room. Discussions that are power struggles or only flow in one direction also block effective collaboration. Finally, a lack of documentation will render even the most productive meeting ineffective since you can’t take action on the results.
Some people have a harder time speaking up in group discussions. Create an environment where even the most introverted team member will feel comfortable contributing. Collaborate on setting talking points so they know what to expect. Use ice breakers, check-ins, and introductions to create a more comfortable environment for quieter team members.
Most people naturally want to include visual communication in their collaboration. They draw out graphs, sketches, pictures, and lists to help express ideas and help others understand their ideas better. Whether with pen and paper or a virtual whiteboard, find ways to incorporate visual collaboration into both in-person and remote meetings. It will make your collaboration more effective.
Ways to run in-person meetings effectively
Most people are more familiar and comfortable with in-person meetings than virtual conferencing. However, there are still specific ways you can facilitate them to be better and more efficient. It can be easier to communicate points when face to face, but you also have to be aware of how body language comes across.
When putting an in-person meeting on people’s calendars, communicate the purpose of the meeting clearly. Book a venue that will be appropriate for the group and topic. Consider size, noise levels, and privacy. Interruptions and talking over others are more common in person, so facilitate carefully to keep the group respectful and on track.
In-person meetings give you the opportunity to warm people up face to face, encourage people to interact with their environments, and get everyone’s blood moving. Try activities like scavenger hunts, Jenga-facilitated team questions, or even outside-of-work activities like escape rooms. Getting people out of their seats makes them more energized and takes them out of their comfort zones, so they are more likely to contribute during meetings.
Help your hybrid team work better together
It can be especially difficult to facilitate a meeting where attendees are participating both in-person and by video conference. Communication styles will be different, and it can be easy for in-person members to connect or accidentally talk over remote workers. Organization is necessary to keep meetings balanced.
It can be harder for remote employees to socialize in hybrid work environments. Groups may also naturally split into remote and in-person cohorts in ways that negatively affect their ability to work together. Technical issues are more common when using video and audio in a physical conference room than when everyone’s on Zoom together. You also may end up with work lost between dozens of different digital tools. Set specific expectations for hybrid work to mitigate these issues.
Once you understand the challenges of remote collaboration, you can work to mitigate them. Create a shared understanding and vision for success to start with. Meetings should be scheduled regularly to build good work rhythms. Most importantly, facilitate meetings to balance participation and organization between teams.
Consultants are collaboration designers. Consultants can play an important role in facilitating hybrid meetings. They should work to create an inclusive space where clients feel comfortable engaging, and everyone can participate. Two tips: Take advantage of asynchronous communication; and use meeting templates to help everyone stay on the same page.
Ways to address the unique challenges of remote meetings
Remote meetings are a vital part of making remote work functional. Video conferencing can be draining, and remote workers can often feel disconnected from their teammates. You can’t just treat a remote meeting like an in-person one — the unique needs of remote meetings need to be addressed. Lean into the strengths of remote work to make meetings productive and even enjoyable.
When in person, you have spontaneous opportunities to chat with your coworkers and develop relationships. You need to create those opportunities when working remotely since they don’t happen naturally. A virtual water cooler can be a great way to build trust and the communication you need to make meetings effective in the future.
1-on-1s build trust and give team members a structured space to verbally communicate what’s on their minds. Not everything can or should be expressed through Slack. During a check-in, managers get to know their reports’ communication styles, ways of thinking, and strengths that will come in handy during meetings.
Virtual tools make remote meetings more collaborative and help participants share ideas more clearly. Consider using a mix of tools for verbal, written, and visual communication to accommodate your team’s communication styles.
Establish positive dynamics and build communication practices for your team by following the four pillars of remote collaboration:
- Designing collaboration with intention
- Establishing communication processes and norms
- Upholding a reliable schedule
- Creating an intentional space for connection
A major complaint about remote work is how often it gets interrupted by meetings. Async collaboration addresses this issue so that the meetings you do have are necessary and people are more engaged during them.
One of the wonderful things about remote collaboration is how it enables productive asynchronous communication. Not every meeting has to be real time; some can be more effective as an asynchronous conversation, especially when teams cross time zones. Async work can boost creativity and make it easier for different types of people to contribute comfortably.
Meeting etiquette looks slightly different for remote meetings than when in person. Not all of it is intuitive, so workers new to remote work may need tips like making a habit of keeping your mic muted. Small tips like these reduce distraction and make remote meetings more enjoyable and focused.
The facilitator is an essential part of a remote meeting. Online meetings should be kept short and focused, but they can also have intentional time for socialization built in. Visuals are important, too, and the facilitator should encourage participants to keep video on or use visual collaboration tools to focus their attention on the problem they’re tackling.
Use the guidelines and tips in this white paper to dive deep into what makes remote workshop facilitation effective. Develop your facilitation skills by understanding the five capabilities needed for remote workshops: communicate in real time, communicate asynchronously, share content, stay organized, and think visually.
Armed with these tools, you can use remote tools to expand the reach of your workshops beyond geographical boundaries and make them more accessible to more people.
Facilitate more productive meetings by using tools that support collaborative teamwork
The ultimate purpose of any work meeting is to build a shared understanding and push ideas forward collaboratively. Words aren’t always the ideal way to get across big ideas. What one person pictures in their head might be completely different from what the speaker intended. Communicating ideas becomes even harder in remote meetings where visuals are limited to a small screen.
Whiteboards and notes bring ideas out of people’s heads and onto the page where everyone can see and contribute to them. They — quite literally — get everyone on the same page. They also help your team build notes and records while they are brainstorming so ideas can be turned into action more easily.
Mural offers a collaboration platform designed specifically to facilitate more successful teamwork, more productive collaboration, and better meetings. It’s an intuitive, digital whiteboard that works to bring teams together in all meetings — whether in person, hybrid, or remote. Try an ideation template for your next meeting to bring your team’s collaborative potential to the next level.