How to Lead a Great Meeting

By Carissa Fish

four people in a work meetingMeetings often get a bad rap as annoying interruptions to our “real” work. However, a well-run meeting can have quite the opposite effect. A great meeting should produce collaboration - a sense of dialogue and community among participants, clarification - new and useful information, and invigoration - a renewed energy for continuing the project after leaving the meeting. Follow the tips below to learn how you can run a top-notch meeting.

Define the meeting

  • Define the purpose of the meeting: Begin meetings by stating “The purpose of this meeting is to _________." Everyone in the room has likely just run in from some other commitment. An announcement of purpose can help everyone to ‘land’ in the meeting and get focused on the task at hand.
  • Define the scope of the meeting: Are you meeting to design an entire experiment and delegate tasks to lab mates or to discuss a potential new research direction you’d like to pursue? Undefined scope can lead to long meetings spent on details that do not yet need to be decided. Figure out what you need to accomplish to get to the next stage, and then adjourn.
  • two people meeting looking at a laptopDefine the tone of the meeting: Show enthusiasm for your meeting’s subject matter! If you seem bored or discouraged, everyone else will too. Even if you are meeting to discuss something difficult, be excited about the prospect of working toward a solution. At the end of the meeting, make sure to thank everyone for their participation and offer encouragement for the next steps (see “action items” below).

Get the right people in the room

There are few experiences more frustrating than sitting through a meeting with no idea why you are there. Make the most of everyone’s time by considering the level of meeting you need.

  • Project Meetings: You do not have to include every person who could potentially be impacted by a project. Instead, invite the experts on the topic at hand. Invite one “ambassador” from each affected team to be the representative in the meeting and then communicate outcomes to the rest of their team. Here's a template for project meetings.
  • Team Meetings: For standing team meetings, provide agenda sections for each person to add a bullet or two about what they are working on. Building this into the agenda ensures that everyone gets a chance to talk and less vocal team members still have their voices heard. Here's a template for team meetings.
  • One-on-Ones: Managers should set up regular check-ins with their employees. 15-30 minutes weekly or monthly will usually suffice to keep both parties on the same page. Managers will get a sense of the employee’s workload, updates on current projects, and offer feedback. The employee should ask for input on projects and let the manager know if any additional resources are needed.
  • All-Company Meetings: As your organization grows, so will the length of your group meetings. Make sure to keep them manageable. At Addgene, teams can add as many points as they like to the written agenda, but each only gets to address one point aloud. This keeps our all-company meetings short, informative, and pleasant.
  • Email: Sometimes, the right meeting is no meeting at all. When no discussion is needed and you just need to give everyone a heads up (for example, notifying people of an updated protocol), send an email instead.

The 3 A's - Agendas, Action items, and Accountability

  • Agendas: Send around talking points for the meeting a day in advance. This gives everyone a chance to review the agenda and add anything that is missing.  During the meeting, take notes on the agenda points. At Addgene, we like to do this live on the screen using a Google Doc.
  • Action items: Before leaving the meeting, skim back through your notes and pick out the action items. Move them into a separate section at the top of the agenda, and assign each one using group members’ initials. If appropriate, email this around after the meeting.
  • Accountability: At your next meeting, start by checking in on the action items from last meeting. Use some positive peer pressure to make sure everyone completes their assigned items to keep the project moving.
Example of action items from a meeting

Use time wisely

  • setting a meeting clockMeetings are for talking, not reading: Send around relevant documents, like proposals to review or project plans, before the meeting. At Addgene, we like to send around a Google doc where people can make comments. At meetings, we just focus on the parts where people had questions or suggestions, instead of reading the whole thing together.
  • How long do you actually need? Just like liquids, meetings tend to fill the shape of their container. Consider whether you actually need a full hour to achieve the purpose of the meeting (see “defining the scope” above) or if you can cut it down to thirty minutes.
  • Keep it moving: If you tend to get stuck diving into details, ask a colleague to help keep you accountable for moving along. Remember, many of the more in-depth discussions can happen “off-line” with just one or two relevant people.
  • How often do you need to meet? Use trial and error to determine the best frequency for your meetings - daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly? My team used to meet monthly, but we found our meetings took almost two hours and we felt out of touch. By moving to weekly meetings, we cut the time down to an hour or less and are able to provide more timely feedback on each other’s projects. For all-company meetings, monthly still works best. Figure out what works for you for each of your meeting types (see above).

We’ve provided some tips above for what works well at Addgene, but meetings are never one-size-fits all. Feel free to play around with different strategies and find out what works for your organization. Ask for feedback from your colleagues. When you attend a well-run meeting, note what worked well and ask the meeting leader for some tips. Before long, you will be running collaborative, informative, energizing meetings all your own.

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Topics: Science Careers, Management for Scientists, Early Career Researcher

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