Running Meetings

Ian Hellström | 26 February 2023 | 4 min read

While meetings are not documents, the amount of rambling is a lot higher. That often stems from a few core mistakes.

No agenda, no meetings

I have written about email etiquette before, so I shall not repeat myself. Suffice to say that for meetings an agenda is a must. No agenda, no meeting.

If you are invited to a meeting without an agenda, either ask if there is one, or decline. If you are needed, someone will tell you. Do not buy into FOMO for meetings. You rarely miss out on anything.

Take and share notes

Make sure you document all decisions and assign owners to next steps. Share these minutes with everyone and ask for people to fill in any gaps. It ensures everyone agrees on the outcome of the meeting, or at least has the opportunity to object to how decisions are rendered in the notes. Ideally, the notes are available in a standard place for everyone, so absent team members can easily read up on the main messages without having to go through pages of text. Or worse: watching reruns.

A lot of people nowadays record meetings by default. If the minutes are decent, there really is no need. Well-written notes are more valuable than a rambling back-and-forth.

Start on time

For larger meetings, do not waste the time of people who showed up on time by waiting for those who could not bother to be on time. Sometimes you have another meeting that goes over time, but in many cases, people who are late are pretty much always late. By waiting for the tardy ones, you are signalling to the punctual people that their time is either less valuable or that they are suckers for showing up on time.

No more people than needed

Only invite those you need for the meeting. If it is an informational session, it can be larger, but decisions or actions require a focused group of people. The more you add to the invite, the fewer will be talking and actually contributing to the meeting. Ten invitees is pretty much the limit for most meetings where you want some action to be taken afterwards.

If the topic is highly technical, reduce that to at most five, ideally three. Think about it this way: if the meeting lasts for 60 min, has 10 invitees, 3 agenda items, that leaves only 2 min per attendee per topic.

What if people insist on being invited? With managers, it can be either a matter of sensible supervision or a lack of trust combined with a desire to micromanage. If it is the former, that is perfectly acceptable. A new or junior employee may benefit from the perspective and clout a manager offers in such a meeting. If it is the latter, push back. Teach superiors they can trust you by sharing notes that show decisions in line with company goals.

Strategic pause

Not everyone has great ideas on the spot: some people need to mull things over. In fact, relying on your gut for anything other than sustenance just indicates you consider your brain an overly complicated breathing apparatus. A strategic pause is in everyone’s interest as our built-in bias for action often makes us jump for the obvious answer, not necessarily the correct one.

You may have seen those ‘Think before you print’ footers in emails. Well, this is the equivalent of ‘Think before you speak’.

Give people a pre-read a few days in advance, so they can think things over ahead of time, or allow people to come back to you with their thoughts. The former wastes less time, but it requires people to have the discipline to read in advance. The ‘Amazonian’ way of reading documents in silence during the meeting still does not allow people to think through the consequences, as it presumes the same style of decision making. Moreover, not all decisions are sensible to make in a few minutes after a quick scan of a document.

Round-robin solicitation

By inviting people to a meeting, you signal you value their input. If you have offered a pre-read or silent reading time at the start of a meeting but certain people remain quiet, solicit their opinions directly. They may have valuable insights, though they may fear speaking up or they simply cannot squeeze a word in-between the loudest speakers who just love the sound of their own voices.


People who love talking can waste a lot of time. That is not to say their opinions and thoughts do not matter, but their time at the mic may have to managed. A rule that no one can speak for more than a few minutes at a time solves the problem for everyone.

Raise hands

Especially in larger groups, make sure people do not talk over one another. Raising a hand and queueing up ensures everyone gets to say what they wanted to say. This typically requires a moderator, although it is in everyone’s interest to maintain civility. No need to shout ‘Objection!’ or bulldoze over another person’s words.