If it feels like the number of team meeting invites in your inbox has skyrocketed since the entire world collectively went remote in March 2020, that’s because it has.
With so much time spent on a webcam and in Zoom, it’s time for founders, CEOs, and people managers to be more intentional about the meetings they schedule and, in particular, learn how to plan team meetings that both capture employee attention and encourage participation.
In this post, we’re sharing 9 actionable tips to help founders and people managers run more engaging staff meetings.
While you should meet with your team on a somewhat regular basis, many founders and people managers just assume that it should be once or twice a week. Sometimes, like in Levi Olmstead’s case, it makes sense. Levi managed a small remote content team of four people at Whatfix.
“We have two half-hour team meetings a week,” says Olmstead. “The first is our weekly update meeting is on Tuesdays. Each week we have a quick update on team goals and KPIs. Then to keep the team engaged, each team member has the floor to provide updates on what they accomplished last week, what they're working on last week, any findings they wanted to share with the team, and then blockers. We close our meeting with any team updates, new projects, or housekeeping notes.
The second weekly meeting is on Thursdays. We don't always have this meeting if it isn't needed. But it acts as a placeholder for the team to bring inspiration from other content around the web, for lunch-and-learn style sessions, for OKR-related sessions, and other one-off meetings.
Between these two meetings, we are able to engage with each other in a collaborative way and break the employee experience barriers that remote work presents.”
However, for other teams, it might make more sense to keep your team meetings short, scheduled in advance, and even hold some of them asynchronously instead of all hopping on Zoom, Teams, or Whereby.
“I always schedule them in advance so that my teammate and I both have plenty of time to plan our day,” says Brian Casel of ZipMessage. “ I never ask anyone to hop on a call "right now. I also do most of our meetings asynchronously using ZipMessage. I'll send a few pre-meeting questions to get the ball rolling. And we'll continue the post-meeting conversation in the same ZipMessage thread so that we have all our follow-ups in one place.
The meeting itself is usually pretty brief. Its purpose is to keep the teammate relationship fresh and have fun while confirming a few details about what we're working on. But the bulk of the "work talk" happens asynchronously so that we have it logged and easy to refer back to.”
While the average meeting length has decreased 10.9% over the past two years, the bad news is that the average meeting length is still 50.6 minutes long. To make the best out of your team calls (and ensure you aren’t running over), create an agenda with specific items to cover and stick to it.
Share the agenda with those in the meeting as soon as possible so everyone has a chance to review and prepare potential questions or speaking points. The more aware of the agenda attendees are before the start of the meeting, the less time will be wasted initially catching everyone up to speed.
Most people think collaboration should only happen during the meeting. However, it is best to start well before.
For instance, you can use scheduling software like SavvyCal to find a time that works well for everyone on your team. This is particularly important if your team is spread out across multiple time zones.
You can also use async communication agenda sharing tools like HyperContext or Fellow.app to allow all team members to review the agenda in advance and add any action items to it.
Then, during the meeting, it is helpful to think outside of your normal PowerPoint (which 29% of office workers are sick of), in favor of something all participants can interact with.
In person, collaboration tools often take the form of interactive whiteboards, collaborative note-taking apps, and online voting / poll functionality.
Stefan F. Dieffenbacher, of Digital Leadership, says, “At our organization, we have tried to make our meeting more engaging by going visual. We have invested in digital whiteboard tools and video conferencing tools that allow participants to interact beyond audio and video. We try to keep our webcams on most of the time and we also encourage visual presentations so that everyone can gain better context out of the meetings.”
Sometimes the reason for poor engagement is as simple as participants feeling unuseful or unnecessary in a team meeting. Give everyone a chance to feel responsible or part of the action by designating roles for each participant in a meeting. For instance, one person can be the timekeeper to keep the meeting on schedule and another can be the facilitator to adhere to the agenda.
Be sure to switch up the participants’ roles week to week, either by allowing a different participant to select the order each week or by using a random lottery system. This makes the meeting more inclusive and ensures that the most time-intensive tasks like note-taking don’t always fall to a female coworker or the most junior employee in the meeting.
Ice breakers might feel very ‘college orientation-like,’ but they can be highly effective when used correctly. For instance, your team probably doesn't want to share a childhood embarrassing story, but they might want to chat about industry trends. Embrace different types of small talk, from current events to a quick trivia game or industry-related fun facts, to kick each meeting off with a bit of banter.
For example, Shayla Price of PrimoStats, says, “Once a month, we do a quick game of "Would you rather?" It's a fun game that gets team members thinking but also gives us a chance to learn each other's personalities. Also, everyone gets to create their own "Would you rather" question.”
As a general rule of thumb, have speakers identify themselves before they start speaking — a simple, “Hi, Steve from Sales here,” works great.
This engagement tip helps identify participants who overly control the conversation and helps managers and team leads learn who typically doesn’t speak much at all. This way, leaders can tactfully thank the chattier participants for their contributions, but directly ask participants who traditionally stay out of the mix to offer their opinion (and communicate their opinion matters, too).
Likewise, having speakers identify themselves helps better connect a remote team who may not see each other face-to-face much, if at all. Just that quick moment of announcing who is speaking helps other team members connect a voice to a name, or a name to a face on a video call.
Too often, team meetings just stick to the same format of sharing status updates, talking through challenges, and/or brainstorming new ideas.
Make it a tradition to also share wins and celebrate something when your team gathers. From employee milestones like a work anniversary to team objectives like certain marketing KPIs, celebration and appreciation can be major motivators for employee participation. In fact, 34% of employees say appreciation is a leading factor in productivity and engagement.
For example, Florent Merian of Specify has a weekly meeting dedicated solely to celebrate milestones and team wins.
“We have a 1-hour weekly summary on Friday,” says Merian. “Every team lead takes the (virtual) stage to sum up what their teams worked on, celebrate when we hit milestones, and demo new features.”
Meetings might be more than 50 minutes apiece, but it’s likely that participants lose focus after 10 minutes — or even sooner in a remote team meeting. To re-engage participants whether you’re in-person or remote, try to leverage live polls. You can initiate poll questions like:
To switch it up a bit, you can even throw in fun questions like, “Describe your current mood in one word,” or, “Pizza or sub sandwiches for lunch?” Live interaction like polls helps grab your participants’ attention, involve them in the agenda, and provides immediate employee insights.
Carving time to listen to your team's questions and feedback allow team leaders to identify knowledge gaps or employee frustrations. Not to mention, a live Q&A session can provide instant gratification for participants who voice their concerns and immediately feel heard, understood, and reassured.
Many teams actually find it is better to weave the Q&A into the entire meeting as opposed to doing it all at the end.
“To make team meetings more engaging during the meeting, be sure to periodically stop and allow time for people to comment or ask questions before moving on to the next topic,” says Logan Mallory of Motivosity. “This is much more effective than saving Q&A for the end and helps with engagement because people know they’ll have a chance to participate during the meeting rather than having to wait until the end, where they might have already lost interest and therefore won’t bother asking any questions.”
No team member ever wants to feel left out. You can use these tips to make team meetings more engaging and drive participation and productivity among every team member.
Plus, if you are looking for a scheduling tool that both you and your team will love, give SavvyCal a try.