The Art of a Good Meeting

A little structure goes a long way.

business team at an office meeting

Whether it’s in a stuffy conference room with high-backed swivel chairs or an open-concept office full of natural light where everyone’s sitting on beanbags, meetings are a necessary evil when running a business. The idea is to inspire your team, harness creativity, and fuel great ideas that will keep your startup chugging merrily along.

It’s especially important for startups to take advantage of meetings. When you are trying to get an amazing business up and running, you need energy, passion, and dialogue…and you might lean more toward beanbags than swivel chairs.

So, what are your meetings like right now? Are they still high-energy brainstorming sessions that you look forward to, as they were when you first began, or have they fallen flat somewhere along the way? If your meetings are getting staler than the three-day-old doughnuts on your break room counter, it might be time to consider seriously how to freshen them up.

First things first. Think back to your last meeting and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was the mood like? Upbeat? Sluggish?
  • Were your team members engaged, or was it obvious they wanted to wrap things up quickly?
  • Did anyone put their hand up to volunteer for a project or take the initiative to share an idea?
  • What did the meeting notes look like, and who took them?

If you noticed any patterns emerging, it is time to act. Once you have identified a few problematic areas, you will be better equipped to enliven things in the future.

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Think of running a meeting as an art form. Every brushstroke matters, and painting outside the lines needs to happen for a reason. 

If you know what’s going wrong but are still unsure how to make it right, consider some of these suggestions.

Take detailed notes—always!

No, you can’t forgo it for just one meeting. No, it shouldn’t be everyone scribbling their own notes on the backs of napkins. You need a designated notetaker, particularly if you’re missing a few colleagues at the meeting. Even if everyone is in attendance, it can sometimes be tricky to remember exactly what was discussed. If no one wants to bust out their cursive or shorthand, there are so many types of software and apps for note-taking during a meeting that there’s really no excuse.

Make (and stick to) an agenda

Though Ryan’s and Kelly’s tangents about the latest TikTok craze are entertaining, there’s a lot to be said about staying on topic. It doesn’t make you boring or old-fashioned to create an agenda for your meeting—it makes you an adept leader who understands that logistics and practicality go hand in hand with spontaneity and good ideas. 

Your agenda shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all but rather a guide to help keep the meeting on track and the creative juices flowing. If you don’t have a clear purpose for your meeting, it might feel like a waste of time. At the start, read the agenda aloud and have everyone agree to follow it. That way, it will be easier to steer things back in the right direction when that inevitable tangent rears its head, and it will remind your team that there’s a reason for the meeting.

Choose a great leader

At the beginning of the meeting (or even beforehand), make sure you have organized the attendees. You already know that you need a designated notetaker, but you will also need an extremely competent meeting leader (or a discussion director, discourse driver, or conference queen—the title is up to you). 

The leader not only does the dirty work of keeping things on track but also sets the tone for the whole meeting. They should be enthusiastic, willing to delegate, and quick on their feet to think of solutions to any issues that may arise. They should know the right kinds of questions to ask (open-ended but not too much so) and enforce the ground rules set at the start. 

Be decisive

Don’t leave things too open-ended; no more “circling back to this next week.” Reach a consensus or vote on decisions that are being discussed so that you can cross more things off of your ever-growing list. If there is no one present who is authorized to sign off on the decisions, call them in or resolve the situation by the end of the day.

Startups are exciting, but the most successful businesses rely on structure to move forward and become a force of nature. A meeting that runs smoothly might look nice on paper, but sometimes it is easier said than done. It can also be difficult for people to adjust to a new style of conducting business, especially when regulations and ground rules are so often associated with a corporate environment—something most young companies and startups are keen to avoid. However, a little sprinkle of structure and a solid framework can go a long way, and, hopefully, your team will feel heard, respected, and energized.

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