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The Most Effective Ad-Hoc Meetings Start with This

The Most Effective Ad-Hoc Meetings Start with This

Alyssa Towns
February 27, 2024
Updated on:

The Most Effective Ad-Hoc Meetings Start with This
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I’m sitting at my desk in my home office, typing away at my keyboard with one hand and a delicious cup of coffee in the other, crossing items off my to-do list left and right. I’m doing deep work and couldn’t wait to dive in. Lo-fi beats are playing in the background, and believe me when I say I am in the zone.

The rest of this story can go one of two ways—

I’m deep into a project and feeling great about it when an unexpected invite for an ad hoc meeting suddenly creeps into my Google Calendar. I have no context except that the meeting is about a specific project (and not the one I’m working on). It seems necessary, yet the meeting broke my focus now that there’s an interruption at play. I sit at my desk for a few minutes and think, “So much for my to-do list. I hope this isn’t an update that could have been an email. This better be urgent?!” 

ad hoc meetings

The unexpected ad hoc meeting could be a nightmare without a clear goal, wasting everyone’s time and energy for no good reason. It interrupted my much-needed Focus Time, and my to-do list isn’t much shorter than when I woke up today. I feel stressed and frustrated by my colleagues’ lack of respect for others’ time. And I dread all future ad hoc meetings going forward.

Or the ad hoc meeting could be a quick and painless success. The meeting organizer uses one magic tool to schedule the meeting at a time that works best for everyone, making it more effective. They come to the meeting prepared and share a critical update that will change the direction of the project we’re discussing. I wasn’t working on this project when this meeting popped up, but this update is a big damn deal, and it turns out this was a necessary meeting that should not have been an email. 

I prefer a happy ending when it comes to ad hoc meetings, and you might feel the same way. Keep reading to learn:

  • What an ad hoc meeting is 
  • What one secret ingredient can help make ad hoc meetings more effective
  • How to structure ad hoc meetings 
  • Template ideas for your next ad hoc meeting

What is an ad hoc meeting? 

“Ad hoc” is an adjective that describes doing something for a particular purpose as necessary. It comes from Latin and means “for this” or “for this situation.” 

An ad hoc meeting, sometimes called a one-off meeting or impromptu gathering, often happens spontaneously outside a regular meeting cadence for a specific situation. Ad hoc meetings typically handle a particular topic or urgent matter versus recurring meetings at frequent intervals with ongoing, business-as-usual topics. 

Depending on an organization’s meeting culture, the topic up for discussion, and the participants, unplanned meetings might be fully unstructured with no planning and preparation, or the organizer might provide a brief meeting agenda. When team members execute ad hoc meetings well, they can be beneficial and drive quick decisions and next steps successfully. When meeting organizers don’t run these meetings well—they become a time suck, energy drain, and interruption to everyone involved.

Effective ad hoc meetings start with this one thing

The biggest problem with impromptu meetings? They can be highly disruptive to others if folks aren’t considerate when scheduling them. First, consider whether you truly need to hold a last-minute meeting. Sometimes, asynchronous communication, like an email, is enough, depending on the topic. 

So, what one magic ingredient can help ensure your ad hoc meetings succeed if you do need to schedule a meeting?

Clockwise is the answer! With Clockwise, you can schedule an ad hoc meeting at a time that works best for all attendees without booking over Focus Time, creating a meeting conflict, scheduling the ad hoc meeting outside a team member’s working hours, and more. You can schedule ad hoc meetings in real-time when it makes sense without causing others to lose time for work that matters most. Ad hoc meetings instantly feel less burdensome and chaotic.

And now that your ad hoc meeting can occur at a reasonable time for all parties, there are a few things you can do to run a better ad hoc meeting. Consider the following to optimize your ad hoc meetings. 

Know your desired outcomes 

You probably don't need it if you can’t clearly articulate why you need an ad hoc meeting. Behind effective scheduling, outlining your desired outcomes and goals for the meeting (for yourself and others) is of utmost importance to avoid wasting attendees’ time. Your desired outcomes don’t have to be overly complex and cumbersome, but you need to know what you are hosting the meeting for and why everyone needs to attend. 

Some examples of desired outcomes for ad hoc meetings might include:

  • Urgent and significant impact on the business: Sharing important and time-sensitive company announcements that impact all team members (think, an acquisition, layoff announcement, or unexpected exit of a senior leader) and should be shared with employees on a call or in-person versus via email or Slack.
  • Immediate input and next steps needed: Determining a straightforward and rapid solution for managing an upset client to preserve the client relationship (which may include discussing the backstory that led to the client issue). This might also include team brainstorming to reach quick solutions. 
  • Team alignment is necessary: Providing an urgent update about a project that could impact its delivery, timeliness, cost, and original scope (for example, suppose a client requests an additional deliverable at the last minute, and the team needs to work on the new request before the other parts of the project). 

Notice how these examples are specific in their goal and are time-sensitive. Additionally, these are one-off scenarios that likely (or at least hopefully) aren’t occurring frequently. As a best practice, leverage ad hoc meetings for high-priority messages and issues that are largely impactful or need immediate response. 

At this stage, you should also consider whether you need to book a meeting room or conference room (if the meeting is going to happen in person) or whether this will be a virtual meeting or Slack huddle if you are working with remote teams. 

Create an agenda (even if it isn’t formal)

Ad hoc meetings are the one (and rare) type where you might not always need a full-blown meeting agenda. 

Perhaps you don’t have time to create a formal agenda, or you feel like you don’t need one because you’re calling a meeting to discuss one talking point—that’s okay. You don’t have to formalize this process; however, effective ad hoc meetings should have some general direction and structure to avoid wasting time. 

No matter how you tackle this step, consider this a moment to gather your thoughts and clarify what you are asking from the group. Some basics you should capture include: 

  • The topic for the meeting, including all relevant details, associated materials, and key highlights to set a foundation 
  • The length of the meeting and the amount of allotted time for each section (Remember, since ad hoc meetings are usually short, it’s essential to outline how you will use the time and stick to it as much as possible) 
  • The goal for the ad hoc meeting: What will you achieve by the time you leave? What must happen by the end of the meeting? 

Remember to keep it concise for the best results. 

Discuss and capture action items

Since most ad hoc meetings are about time-sensitive and urgent matters, the team should discuss action items throughout the session (what needs to happen, who will do it, when will they do it) and capture them for post-meeting sharing. 

In many cases, the meeting organizer will likely take on this responsibility, but they can also delegate it to someone else in the room so long as it’s clear who is doing what. Discussing and capturing action items helps drive the team toward the next steps and helps ensure you have a productive ad hoc meeting that results in the desired outcomes.

Communicate notes & decisions from the meeting

The meeting organizer can help ensure their ad hoc meeting is a success post-meeting by taking notes and capturing decisions and follow-ups to share with the team. The meeting notes should be concise so that anyone unable to attend the meeting can quickly catch up on the takeaways. Additionally, ad hoc meetings for urgent problems and projects will likely result in decisions about the next steps. The meeting minutes taker should document all major decisions in writing for ongoing team alignment.

The post-meeting notes are a great way to share the action items discussed and timelines for completion. You can use the meeting follow-up to stay up-to-date on progress, move action items to the team’s project management tool, and keep track of updates there.

The most important part of this step is ensuring that all necessary information promptly makes its way to the right and essential people. 

Quick ad hoc meeting templates

Don’t overthink it! If you aren’t sure how to structure your ad hoc meeting agenda, use one of the templates below and tailor it to your needs. Each template has a goal, a place to capture action items, and time limits for each part of the meeting.

Ad hoc meeting template for solving a client problem (20 minutes)

  • State the purpose of the meeting (1 minute) 
  • The purpose of this meeting is to discuss [client name] and their frustrations with our service
  • Our goal is to reach a solution that feels right for our team and satisfies [client name]
  • Provide and ask others to share context around the client relationship and what led to the client problem (5 minutes) 
  • How long has [client name] been with us?
  • What have they been working on recently? 
  • What are they most upset about? Is it our work? Something in the industry? A pricing-related issue? 
  • Brainstorm solutions and choose the best approach as a team (7 minutes) 
  • What do we need to do to ease client concerns? 
  • Which solution will help keep [client name] our customer? Do we want [client name] to remain a customer? 
  • Summarize key decisions and action items (5 minutes) 
  • Key decision #1
  • Key decision # 2 
  • Wrap up the meeting and thank everyone for attending (2 minutes)
  • Are there any final questions? 
  • Is everyone clear on the next steps?
  • Thank you for creating time in your busy day for this crucial conversation 
  • You will receive a copy of the meeting notes by EOD 

Ad hoc meeting template for making a quick decision (10 minutes) 

  • State the purpose of the meeting (1 minute) 
  • The purpose of this meeting is to decide on [specific topic]
  • Provide context around the decision the group is making (or options to choose from) (4 minutes) 
  • Here is the relevant information about [specific topic]
  • Let’s discuss the pros and cons of the decision options 
  • Facilitate the decision-making process (3 minutes) 
  • Gather input from the group to provide to the final decision maker or run a voting process to reach a final decision 
  • Next steps and closure (2 minutes)
  • Summarize the next steps
  • Document the decision in writing 
  • Thank you for coming today and providing your input

Ad hoc meeting template for sharing an urgent project update (10 minutes)

  • State the purpose of the meeting (1 minute) 
  • The purpose of this meeting is to discuss a change to [project name]
  • Provide context around the project change (4 minutes) 
  • Here is the relevant information about [the project scope and change]
  • This new direction will impact [stakeholders, deliverables, timeline, budget, etc.]
  • Summarize the new priorities and action items (3 minutes) 
  • Next steps and closure (2 minutes)
  • Thank you for your attendance 
  • You will receive the meeting notes and action items immediately following this meeting
  • Please reach out if you have additional questions 

Ad hoc doesn’t have to equate to chaos 

Ad hoc meetings can add value for everyone involved with the right apps, tools, and structure. To avoid and limit the most challenging aspect of ad hoc meetings—disrupting deep work and negatively impacting productivity—sign up for Clockwise and schedule an ad hoc meeting at the best time for all participants. To make your ad hoc meetings as effective as possible, schedule them reasonably (and only when necessary), structure them with a strong goal, and send follow-ups to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns is a freelance writer for Clockwise based in Denver, CO. She works in communications and change management. She primarily writes productivity and career-adjacent content and has bylines in G2, The Everygirl, Insider, and other publications. When she isn't writing, Alyssa enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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