How to make meetings more effective

Laughing businesswoman at meeting

Meeting madness has taken hold and most of us have experienced it.

Executives spend half their time in meetings (HBR July 2017) and in many organisations, managers rush from meeting to meeting, grabbing a few moments in between to deal with the emails piling up in their inboxes, and with little time to do the work they are really paid to do, or to carry out the actions they have just picked up at the last meeting.

Meetings can be frustrating, but they are here to stay, so it’s worth investing time into doing them better.  Here are my top tips for making meetings more effective, based on the three Ps:

  • Purpose – what is the meeting for?
  • Processes – how will the meeting be run?
  • Personalities – how will we behave towards each other?

Of the three Ps, the one with the most impact on effectiveness is the personalities of the people involved, but let’s cover the other two first, as they are the foundation on which to build.


Meetings are called for all sorts of reasons which are not always obvious to the participants, so make sure you know the purpose of the meeting – is it to share information, analyse a problem, find a solution, build the team, make a decision, come up with an action plan?  When you are at the meeting, keep the purpose in mind – it’s easy to get side-tracked and forget what you are there for.

If you are invited to a meeting, check that you need to be there.  Maybe there is another way that you can give or receive input?  Or maybe you only need to be there for part of the time.  Don’t go along because of FOMO! (fear of missing out).


There is plenty of advice around on the mechanics of running meetings – set an agenda, send out papers in advance (and read them), keep to time, note actions, follow up after the meeting and so on.  Some organisations are experimenting with more radical approaches such as banning power-point, holding meetings standing up, and locking up mobile phones.

Depending on the purpose of the meeting, agree effective processes to achieve it – if the purpose of the meeting is to make a decision, what is the process for making it, who will be consulted and whose voice will have most weight?

Having the purpose and processes clear are the basics for good meetings.  But, provided these are in place, what really makes a difference to the effectiveness of meetings is not so much the mechanics of running meetings, but how you participate in them.


It is often the behaviours displayed in meetings, which sabotage them – people turning up late, not contributing, criticising colleagues, making unhelpful remarks, working on their laptops, looking at their phones, being defensive.  As a result, participants leave meetings feeling frustrated and drained rather than motivated and energized.  So, what can you do to improve the behaviours in meetings?

Work as a team to set and agree ground rules for behaviours and meeting etiquette – typically, these include no laptops or phones, listen to each other, don’t talk over each other, no shouting or swearing, say what you mean and mean what you say, show respect for each other’s opinions even if you don’t agree.

Pay attention to tone of voice and body language – yours and theirs – so that you ensure you are giving off the right messages and you pick up cues from others about what they might be thinking and feeling.

Be prepared to challenge your colleagues when what they say is not consistent with how they are saying it (e.g. they might say “that’s interesting” but if their body language is slumped, their face shows boredom and their voice tone is monotonous, they don’t mean it).  When you disagree, use “and”, not “but” (e.g. “I appreciate what you think, and I think….”).

Show support to your colleagues – ask for their views, build on their ideas, give praise, seek to understand their point of view and show empathy towards their position.

Balance advocacy (promoting your own position) with enquiry (finding out about theirs).  Genuine communication is two-way, with each person being willing to change their mind.  High quality behaviours in advocacy and enquiry will get a better result.  This means explaining your thinking, giving examples, sharing your reasoning, seeking their views, probing their thinking, and encouraging challenge.

Approach meetings with a “Do and Review” mindset.  After a meeting, take a few moments to reflect on what went well and what could have gone better – and what role did your behaviour play in either of these outcomes?  What could you do differently next time? How could you influence other people’s behaviour by changing your own?

Finally, make it a practice to review the effectiveness of meetings as a group from time to time using the same “do and review” approach.  Ask each person to score the meeting on a scale of 1 – 10.  For each person’s score, find out what it would take to move it up a notch or two, then do it!

About the author

Article written by Catherine Stothart, author of  How to Get On with Anyone: Gain the confidence and charisma to communicate with ANY personality type, out now, published by Pearson, priced £12.99. For a free downloadable chapter see

Catherine Stothart is a Leadership Coach and Team Facilitator and has run her own consultancy business since 2002, with clients including Airbus, Audi, the EEF, KCOM, Astra Zeneca and United Utilities. She previously held posts in Human Resource Management and Learning & Development in Ford Motor Company, Mercury Communications and ICL. She has coached dozens of managers on topics such as influencing others, engaging their teams, building resilience and developing emotional intelligence. She coaches teams in high performance ways of working and has worked on team and leadership programmes in major companies. She has experience as a Chair of Governors and is a Trustee of the British Association of Psychological Type. Catherine has a BA in English from the University of Oxford, an MSc in Organisational Behaviour from Birkbeck College, University of London, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and has qualifications in coaching and psychometric testing.

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