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High-Yield Meetings: 8 Tips for Optimization + 6 Essential Meeting Structures

Meetings are where leadership happens, it’s the critical space where you, as a leader, can either amplify team investment and growth.

Chase Damiano
7 min read
High-Yield Meetings: 8 Tips for Optimization + 6 Essential Meeting Structures

Meetings are where leadership happens. As I’ve written about previously, it’s the critical space where you, as a leader, can either amplify team investment and growth—or leave your team feeling more like their time was wasted with unproductive talk.

Unfortunately, the status quo at most organizations is that meetings are boring and unproductive. There’s lots of discussion, but it never drives conclusions, decisions, or actions. And this is because the ability of leadership to facilitate productive meetings is not automatic—it’s a learned skill.

When it comes to effective meetings, there are two key things to consider:

(1) how to optimize the time you and your organization spend in meetings, and

(2) how to structure meetings across your organization to ensure they consistently yield high productivity and engagement and are not overdone.

Effective time management goes a long way towards helping you and your employees come away from meetings with more energy and clarity (versus feeling drained and dreading the next one). So on the first key thing, I offer eight strategies below to optimize time spent in meetings.

Towards the second, I share a high-yield organizational meeting structure that synergizes with effective time management, listing out, in detail, the types of meetings you should be having, why, who should attend, what the agenda should cover, and what to avoid.

Let’s dive in.

8 tips for optimizing meeting time

Here are the eight ways my experience has shown me make sure the time dedicated to meetings is focused and well-spent:

  1. Create company-wide meeting days. Select one day of the week for the entire company (for smaller organizations), division (for mid-sized), or team (for large) to hold its meetings. This strategy is great because it limits meeting overhead to 20% of total work time. It also keeps the remaining days execution-focused. (And if consolidating down to one day isn’t feasible, still consider creating “no meeting” days 1-2 times per week.)
    Beyond internal meetings, it can be useful to set expectations with clients/customers/users that key meetings are only held on certain days of the week, too, so the team can deliver high-quality work for them.
  2. Set recurring meeting times. Another strategy for meeting cadence is to establish rituals of meetings in the mornings/afternoons/evenings at the same time each day. (This strategy works better for teams than whole companies.) For example, a team manager could have their 1-on-1s at 9am on Mondays with Person A, Tuesdays with Person B, Thursdays with Person C, etc.
  3. Start with celebrating success. It helps to build a culture of optimism and valuing each others’ efforts. You can also call out examples of values behaviors, and express gratitude. Prove that you don’t take your team’s hard work for granted!
  4. Centralize, and make transparent, action items and meeting minutes. Do this as much as possible—it’s not only efficient practice, it makes progress more visible and builds peer accountability as well. And it’s easily done in a shared Google Doc (but my favorite is Notion), where you can all collaborate throughout the meeting.
  5. Be mindful of makers’ flow. You may be leading a team of “makers”: individuals who require uninterrupted, deep work to get into flow and really get something done without task-switching (think engineering, creative, copy, analysis, strategy, etc.). If you are a manager of makers, be mindful that ad-hoc meetings (or Slack messages) can disrupt their flow and make their work take longer. As a corrective, batch your meetings with them at a mutually agreed-upon time, so they can work at their maximum effectiveness.
  6. Use scalable information platforms—and good documentation. An enormous share of meeting time is typically spent exchanging information between individual brains. The worst types of meetings are where the senior employee is simply gathering updates from the juniors in the room, because this inevitably leads to juniors who are engaged only while sharing their own update. Keep this sort of update activity on project management platforms like Asana or Notion, and save meeting time to make decisions on the information—not to collect it.

To make the transfer of information in meetings more efficient, the first step is to write things down. Oral information alone is easily misheard or lost. Writing things down is the only way to get on the same page (literally and figuratively). So pen and paper, although an archaic method, is better than no documentation at all.

Better yet is something “scalable”—as in scaled out of your own mind, because you’ve captured it. It’s scalable because it allows another individual to read it without you having to repeat yourself. True scalability happens when you digitize the meeting record to increase accessibility. Either scan in the pen and paper, or use a digital (and searchable!) tool like a shared Google Doc to manage meeting information.

  1. Create structured agendas. Every meeting requires an agenda, and ideally, an agenda that is repeatable. Consider setting an internal policy: no agenda, no meeting. Meetings without an agenda lack intention and direction, and easily spiral down rabbit holes. This is draining to everyone (often, except the offenders)!
  2. Start on time, end on time. Send a calendar invite with the exact start and stop time for each meeting. Then begin meetings on time, and commit to ending the meeting on time. This is a simple concept, but one with tremendous power: By reliably starting and stopping meetings on time, you create predictability and reliability, and set clear expectations. This allows attendees to plan their day more effectively. And if you must go over the allotted time, ask for permission from the group and invite those that need to leave, to leave.

6 high-yield internal meeting structures

The above eight strategies apply to every sort of meeting, but they don’t answer the question:

“What are the types of meetings my company should have, with whom, and how often?”

So, next is an equally crucial list of the six essential meetings an organization should be having. For each type of meeting, I give a bulleted summary of how often you should have it (“frequency”), who should be there (“attendees”), why it’s important and what it’s for (“purpose”), what should be covered (“agenda”), what not to cover in that particular meeting (“avoid”), and finally, common questions to ask or examples to provide, where illustrative.

1. Team Sync

  • Frequency: Ideally, weekly
  • Attendees: Manager with all direct reports
  • Purpose: Conscious, cross-coordination across a single team to accomplish specific goals
  • Agenda: Build an agenda template, run through same structure every meeting—commonly:
    • Celebrating success
    • Review critical OKR & KPI data
    • Set goals/deadlines for the coming 1-2 weeks
    • Discuss roadblocks, barriers, and bottlenecks inhibiting execution
    • Deep dive into a specific, predefined topic
    • Capture and assign action items
  • Avoid: Routine status update meetings that merely review historical progress – without discussing improvements or driving change; leaving without clear action items

2. All-Hands Meeting

  • Frequency: Weekly/Monthly/Quarterly
  • Attendees: Everyone
  • Purpose: Build camaraderie, cultivate alignment, and increase momentum
  • Agenda:
    • Celebrate success
    • Review previous week/month/quarter
    • Share strategic intent for coming week/month/quarter
    • Kick-off core processes/projects
    • Culture event (you know, have fun)

  • Avoid: CEO/Leadership Team presenting the entire time; decentralize information sharing as much as possible to elevate others

3. 1-1s

  • Frequency: Ideally, weekly
  • Attendees: Manager with one direct report
  • Purpose: interpersonal, human connection focused on elevating the direct report through coaching and feedback
  • Agenda: Have the direct report set the agenda, and let them do 90% of the talking; review accountability scorecards, KPIs, OKRs as necessary.
  • Avoid: Manager telling direct report what to do
  • Common 1-1 questions for Manager to ask:
    • How are you tracking toward meeting your goals?
    • What roadblocks or issues are you facing?
    • Provide the direct report with any needed feedback. → How might you do this differently next time?
    • How can I help you achieve your goals?
    • What is making your work difficult or exhausting?
    • How is your workload and bandwidth?
    • How is the new team dynamic working with {insert coworker}?
    • Anything I can be doing better or more often for you?

4 . Progress Meetings

  • Frequency: Monthly
  • Attendees: Manager with all direct reports (consider multiple levels of direct reports)
  • Purpose: Review scorecard information; make decisions on how to improve or drive change (i.e. client status reports, OKR or KPI reports, financial statements, etc.)
  • Agenda:
    • Have attendees read any relevant documents in advance
    • Celebrate success
    • Facilitate discussion around opportunities and lessons learned
    • Adjust goals and targets (if necessary)
    • Capture and assign action items
  • Avoid: Refusing to learn from previous quarters; a stagnant structure with no iteration (e.g. talking only about progress on goals without reviewing macro bottlenecks); holding a meeting only to review information without making new decisions.

5. Project (a.k.a. Mission) Meetings

  • Frequency: As frequently as necessary
  • Purpose: Drive forward a specific project, goal, or decision
  • Agenda: Review past progress, set targets for the coming interval, make commitments, assign responsibility
  • Avoid: Going through the motions
  • Common examples:
    • Daily recurring meeting to sync on fundraising closing progress
    • Daily recurring meeting to check-in on status for a “code red” client
    • Weekly recurring meeting to drive forward a defined OKR
    • Weekly recurring meeting for special training/accountability for an underperforming employee

6. Offsite

  • Frequency: Quarterly
  • Attendees: Varies, but frequently the Leadership Team
  • Purpose: Make strategic and directional decisions around top opportunities and priorities
  • Agenda: Varies based on the intent
  • Avoid: Skipping it, believing “Nothing is wrong; we do not need this. We’re already in sync.”
  • Common topics at an Offsite:

    • Refresh 5-year Company Vision
    • Make major decisions (new markets, new products, acquisitions, divestitures)
    • Set Annual or Quarterly OKRs
    • Build trust and alignment across individuals

Optimizing meetings is your job

I mean that! How you structure and run your organization’s meetings is a major component, and test, of your leadership.

Meetings done right help get things done, expedite employee development and buy-in, and ultimately drive alignment and growth. But done wrong, meetings can steal time from your employees—time that they could be using to get things done. Those consistent, low-yield meetings ultimately reduce engagement and hinder growth.
It’s your job, then, to optimize the time spent, both within and across meetings in your organization—no matter what stage you’re at in the startup journey.

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