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How to run more effective meetings with collaboration tools

Make your team meetings as effective as possible with these practical suggestions designed to ensure you make good use of time.

A person in a video conference meeting

What makes for an effective meeting?

You’ve been there: the dreaded bad meeting. It’s a business meeting where nothing is resolved, everything is shifted to the next meeting, and everyone leaves feeling like it was a total waste of time. A group of people gathered in a room to loosely discuss whatever points come to mind is the textbook definition of a bad meeting. If you want to have a successful meeting, you need some actual foresight, and if meetings are at the heart of your role, then it pays for the whole team to make sure you do them well.

Board meetings are often quarterly these days, rather than weekly occurrences. Many businesses now rely on impromptu ‘catch-ups’. But it’s not just that bad meetings are a drag for everyone. They’re expensive, too. Poor communication efficiencies actually cause losses of up to US$10,000 per employee. So running effective meetings isn’t just crucial for your sanity, it’s financially essential for any business – big or small.

Smart meeting management starts long before the actual meeting begins and continues long after it ends. Here are some key things to consider when booking a successful meeting with an employee, client or your whole business team.

Decide to purpose of the meeting

Plenty of bad meetings have ended with workers all on the same page, that page being ‘I could have spent that meeting time actually doing the things we were discussing’. Be sure to clearly define the purpose for the meeting well before you put it in the calendar. One of the best ways to do this is to create a well-thought-out meeting agenda.

Decide when the meeting starts

Don’t suddenly announce a meeting time on the very same day, or even the day before. The more advanced notice you give attendees, the better your chances for a successful meeting. Don’t treat meetings like a power trip, using authority to tear your team away from more important work. The task management features in Dropbox Paper give a clear view of everyone’s workload, so you can see if your date of choice is a good meeting time or if the team is likely to have more urgent action items. Similarly, time management tools like this let you see if projects have hit an obstacle and if you need a meeting to work through any kinks. If your team is located all over the country, or even the globe, then you’ll also need to find a time that works for everyone in every time zone. If you can’t find a time slot that works for everyone, check if a meeting is absolutely necessary. Instead, you could use tools like Dropbox Capture to send video messages or recordings of you presenting your work. Distributed teams can then watch your presentation at a time that suits them.

Invite relevant meeting participants

Make sure the correct people are added to the invite. Don’t invite whole teams if you know some members have more urgent priorities or might not be very involved in a project. Similarly, don’t rule out junior team members or interns who may be able to offer fresh perspectives. And with Zoom and Slack app integrations in Dropbox for teams, there is no reason to exclude remote meeting members. Consider remote meeting best practices to engage all co-workers. You can run the meeting, take minutes and send the follow-up to any team members on- or off-site without context-switching. Meeting participants should be just that – there to participate, so be sure to invite those people who will be directly affected by everything discussed. Successful meetings are, after all, the key to more effective team collaboration.

Share information, don’t just expect input

If you need to brainstorm new ideas for a project, don’t just summon team members to a meeting room and expect them to do it on the spot. When planning meetings – especially for brainstorming – gather inspiration and write down your own ideas first. Then, give your attendees a heads-up so that they can come to the meeting well prepared. If planning tasks or goals, ask members to consider SMART goals beforehand to align objectives. You want them to be able to add value, so be sure to create a useful document in Paper that meeting participants can read ahead of the meeting – and even add their own ideas.

Enable decision-making

Effective meetings should present themselves like any task: starting with a purpose and ending with a resolution, or at the very least, the agreed upon steps towards one. If the meeting is about overcoming an issue, give everyone present the opportunity to have their say on how to approach the problem. Then devote your meeting time to solving the problem as a team. Don’t let any meeting end without every person being clear on an action plan, with assigned due dates for who and when specific tasks need to be completed.

How to conduct a meeting

Effective meetings don’t always need to take place in a physical meeting room. If some team members work remotely, this plan isn’t always possible anyway. A good meeting should never be dependent on where it’s being carried out – Zoom or Google Hangouts are perfectly good settings.

There’s no reason for one person to take meeting minutes when everyone in the meeting can input notes into a collaborative document, live. While this might seem a case of ‘too many cooks’, it also encourages everyone to really engage with the meeting in real time. It also means that if you have remote team members joining throughout the meeting because of time zones or just bad connection, they don’t have to wait until the end to see what they’ve missed: they can check it right there in the live document. And for the more introverted person, meeting notes done in this way may also prove more effective. You can edit and take key points from everyone’s perspective, and later include them in a follow-up email.

Follow-up emails should always be sent because even in the best of scenarios, you’re unlikely to remember everything mentioned in any meeting, even if you were taking notes. A follow-up email composed by the meeting planner will help attendees recognise and prioritise key points of discussion. A truly successful meeting is one where everyone is able to clearly recall what was covered. If your day is all about meetings and notes, then get them into a streamlined format with a meeting minutes template.

Types of meeting

Not every meeting has to be given massive gravitas. Your meeting agenda item might be something simply solved between you, the finance manager and a whiteboard – or a handy doc scanner app for all those invoices. A meeting might be as simple as Slacking with a freelancer to let them know you’re always available if they need you. Or perhaps it’s catching up with a colleague over lunch. At the end of the day, meetings are just a method of keeping communication alive. Don’t write off issues just because they weren’t discussed in an official meeting setting, and don’t fail to follow up simply because the number of people was no more than two. Remember: every meeting counts, no matter how small.

Incentivise your meeting

If your meeting is about something like office updates or introducing new team members, this might register to some as non-essential. However, when it comes to team-building, meetings like this are vital to your overall corporate culture. Give team members reasons to come with tempting incentives like great food that can transform a productive meeting into a team lunch. Or you could hint that you’re going to unveil something exciting, even if it’s just the location of the Christmas party.

Everyone can be a meeting planner

There’s an out-dated idea that meeting management can only be done by ‘higher-ups’ with the power to summon the team into a meeting. But communication goes both ways. If you think a meeting is warranted, set one up. Just know that it’s up to you to make sure that it’s an effective meeting and not a waste of time.

Meetings are for everyone to both share ideas as well as raise concerns and have them addressed. Let’s say there’s an issue that even the best task management tool can’t quite relay. That’s a great time for you to flag the issue personally with your team. Meetings are about giving everyone a voice, no matter their role or their location. And with effective digital tools at your disposal, every meeting can run smoother.

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