We spend a good portion of our lives at work, and a lot of those hours at work are in meetings. In fact, a recent Reclaim study revealed that professionals average a little over half of the standard 40-hour workweek attending team meetings.
So, how do we make those hours count?
Rather than dreading the next meeting, look at it as an opportunity. It's a chance to learn something relevant to the work you do every day. You can address problems or share new ideas. If you're hoping for a promotion, it's a great way to impress your boss with your excellent teamwork skills.
Want to know more? Read on for our 10 tips on how to get the most out of your team meetings.
1. Review the agenda
Team leaders create agendas for a reason. It limits the scope of the meeting to save time, ensures everyone is on the same page, and allows you to prepare in advance.
Take time before the meeting to look over the planned topics. Read up on any associated documents, projects or work issues. Jot down any questions, concerns or ideas that you have. If possible, gather the data necessary to support your arguments or proposals.
You’ll get a lot more out of the meeting if you’ve done your homework. You can focus on whoever’s speaking right from the start, and you’ll feel more comfortable contributing to the discussion.
2. Arrive early
It’s common courtesy to be on time. Everyone is busy at work, and having to wait for stragglers to even start the meeting is the quickest way to derail your coworkers’ schedules — and make them hate you.
It’s even better to arrive a little early. This way you can calmly find your seat and prepare any documents or devices you’ll need. This is especially true if you’ll be doing any form of presentation during the meeting.
This is even more important for virtual meetings. Start a few minutes early so you can make sure your audio, video and internet connection are all working properly.
3. Use the “mute” button wisely
How much you use the “mute” button on a video call depends on the type of meeting and the number of participants. Generally, you want to mute when you’re not speaking. It can be incredibly distracting for the team leader to hear 10 different people shuffling papers, drinking coffee or trying to quiet a barking dog.
If it’s simply an informational meeting, with one person speaking, you’ll likely stay on “mute” the whole time to avoid being accidentally disruptive. For a smaller meeting that requires a lot of team collaboration, however, you won’t be needing the “mute” button that often.
4. Eliminate distractions
Just as you want a pristine environment to increase productivity when working, try to eliminate distractions from the meeting. This means muting your phone and disabling notifications on your tablet or laptop. If you’re the last person into the room, close the door to block out noise from the office.
Controlling background noise is one of the cardinal rules of videoconferencing, so try to call in from a closed room or quiet corner of the house, if you’re logging in remotely. Visuals can be distracting, too. Use a simulated background if you can’t eliminate the possibility of pets or roommates strolling by in the background.
5. Pay attention
However tempting it may be, avoid multitasking during a meeting. Even if you’re attending virtually, your coworkers can usually tell when you’re simultaneously answering emails or browsing social media. It’s disrespectful to the speaker, and potentially embarrassing when you’re called upon for feedback and you haven’t been paying attention.
The best way to have a productive meeting is to practice active listening. This means giving all your focus to the speaker and what message they’re trying to convey. Keep an open mind, and don’t spend the whole time thinking up a counterargument. Maintain positive body language to show that you’re listening.
6. Contribute where appropriate
A team meeting works best when there is input from everyone. This is where your prep work comes in handy. If the team leader asks for questions or suggestions, you should already have some ideas prepared. Add a question for clarification, or a newly brainstormed solution to show that you were listening during the meeting.
Try to stay positive and focused on agenda items. Avoid inappropriate language, which includes more than just swearing or offensive speech. You should also steer clear of passive language like “I think” or “maybe we could” that makes you sound unsure of your ideas. Try to avoid excessive complaints, blaming coworkers or antagonizing anyone you disagree with.
7. Don't interrupt
It can be tempting to jump in during a meeting when you have a question or want to add your opinion to a controversial topic. Resist that urge. If someone is sharing information and their ideas on the subject, let them finish. Their voice is just as important as yours, and interrupting them is rude and could earn you some serious hate from your coworkers — and your boss.
Continuously breaking in can also completely derail the conversation and make the meeting run longer. Try to wait for a natural break in the discussion, or when the leader asks for feedback. It can be tougher to pick up on cues when you’re a virtual participant, so try the “raise hand” or chat feature as a respectful way to join in.
8. Avoid side chatter
When you’re comfortable with your coworkers, the conversations may flow more freely and informally. That is a good thing for brainstorming sessions and other meetings where creative input is welcome. It becomes a problem when people start branching off into separate conversations and the meeting loses direction, though.
This is particularly bad when those side conversations aren’t even work-related. When your boss is trying to solve a budget problem, starting up side chatter about sports scores or your child’s charity drive is unhelpful and inappropriate. Save those topics for outside the meeting and return your attention to the group agenda.
9. Take notes
A meeting isn’t productive if you forget half of the information an hour later. Use your laptop to add notes to each entry on the agenda. Put future meeting dates immediately into your work calendar. Set reminders in your phone for any projects you’ve been asked to complete.
Many workers still rely on pen and paper to quietly jot down helpful notes during meetings. The physical act of writing has been proven to solidify information in your memory. Consider getting creative, too. Research has shown that drawing flowcharts, diagrams or other illustrations is even better than written text for enhancing data recall.
10. Follow up
An effective meeting should continue to have value after it’s over. It’s your responsibility to complete any tasks that were assigned to you. Take an active role in implementing any suggested changes in workflow, team dynamics or new projects. Continue to collaborate with team members on ideas that were proposed during the meeting.
Keep track of your meeting notes so you can reference them in the future. Whether it’s a physical or online file, or an entry in your project management software, store it in a way that’s most compatible to your work style.
Meetings are like many things in life: you get out of them what you put into them.
With a little planning, effort and honing your listening skills, you can help make team meetings more efficient and useful. It can also help you build better relationships with your coworkers and impress your boss. Best of all, the more value that you and your team get out of meetings, the less you may need to have them!
What tips can you share about getting the most out of your team meetings? Join the discussion below and let us know!