3 ways to have more productive meetings with your team

I love my mobile devices. I take notes on my iPad, I carry my phone everywhere. As tools, they make me infinitely more effective over the course of the day.

But they have their dark sides too.

productive meetings

It only takes a moment of boredom before I’m reflexively checking twitter, or looking at my email inbox, or just popping into Instagram for a quick fix. If I’m on a bus, or waiting in line at the grocery store this is not such a problem — but in a meeting… That’s another story.

Focus is important. Side conversations and looking at one’s phone aren’t permitted. “If someone has a side conversation, we just stop and we just look at them, and it’s amazing how it doesn’t happen again,” — Alan Mulally, CEO, Ford Motors in WSJ.

Sometimes meetings are boring. Sometimes what’s being discussed isn’t relevant to me or my work. It’s the nature of a “meeting”. But having that compelling content just a click away means that my mind doesn’t just wander for a few minutes during a conversation that’s not relevant — it means my mind can get engaged in a whole different place — and it may not come back for a while.

The reason that “meetings” are held is to have discussions where it’s more productive to inform everyone at once, or where we need everyone’s input to get to a more optimal outcome. Both of those objectives are impossible if everyone is tuned out — looking at social media.

There are two things you can do to have more productive meetings: make the meeting itself more engaging, and make the distractions less available.

We need to talk…


If you find people “checking out” in your meeting I recommend having a frank discussion with the group, “Is this meeting valuable to you personally, and to the business as a whole?” In my experience that question eliminates a lot of meetings that are wasting people’s time. If the group decides that the meeting is valuable, then you can have a conversation about what standards of behavior result in more productive meetings. What kinds of behavior will ensure the most value from the meeting in the shortest period of time? One of the standards you might set is no phones; or put tablets in airplane mode (for example).

Ban the slide deck

improve meetings

Another meeting productivity killer is using slides of some kind to drive a meeting. Generally, we are in a meeting in order to foster an exchange of ideas; the one way nature of a slide deck presentation squelches that exchange. When we use a slide deck, whether we intend it or not, we set the expectation that our audience will absorb our data. We create a dynamic suited more to a classroom (a boring classroom) than a gathering of professionals. Is this the experience that’s going to engage your team? Is this the experience that’s going to lead to the highest quality outcomes?

I’m confident arguing that, other than “training“, there isn’t a meeting in your organization that wouldn’t get better if you eliminated the slide deck. (Not to mention the time saved by not making a slide deck.)

Corral the Tech

improve meetingsI have a consultant friend that makes her meetings more productive by who brings a basket to meetings she’s facilitating. She starts the meeting by collecting everyone’s phones. She puts them in the basket and sets it aside. Just not having that phone in your hand, or on the table, or in your pocket, reduces the chance that you will look at it to nearly zero! But wait; are you expecting an important call? Leave your phone with your administrator or a co-worker and tell them what call you are expecting. Let them answer it!

Laptops and tablets are more complicated. The are often good tools for note-taking. Can you put them in airplane mode, or turn off the wi-fi? (Hint: the answer is usually “yes”.)

The idea is to keep our collective focus in the room so that we maximize the time we have–long or short–and get results. If leaving our phones and turning off our connectivity does that, then we can all get back to FaceBook, Twitter and our important phone calls that much faster!

What do you do have more productive meetings with your team?

Photo credit:   Sebastiaan ter BurgMike Burns,  garethjmsaundersOran Viriyincy,  CGP Grey


  1. a productive meeting, depends on the host. who calls for the meeting? what are the topic of the meeting, what problems should b solved in the meeting? the host also has to get everyone back when their talk goes away from the topic. of course, how to keep people focused? first, give them a good meeting, second, no phones, no tablets during the meeting.

    • Mikko;

      So it seems we’re on the same track with this. Do you find that people have trouble leading productive meetings? If doing so is straightforward, why do you think are there so many unproductive meetings?

      • Hi Brad,

        It is very nice to be in receipt of your commenting back, and also i am glad that we are on the same track.

        In my opinion, unproductive meetings mostly are caused by unpreparation, no outline on how to conduct the meeting, lack of the spirit of digging really deep to the root of the problems(or, topic of the meetings).

        at the end, there should be follow-ups, everyone or who are concerned get to know what they should do after the meeting then take actions, till expected results turns out.

        of course, we can not expect one problem or issue, or pending things to be solved at one single meeting, sometimes, it takes time.

  2. There’s definitely a place for having fewer meetings. If you don’t need ’em — lose ’em.

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