It’s a scene that many of us are familiar with. The slow tempo of a ticking clock, the voice of whoever’s speaking fading in and out as you think about everything you’d rather be doing. (Kind of like when you try meditating the first time.)
The truth is, meetings can be a poor use of everyone’s time — unless they’re planned well. You’ve already heard the tip, “Don’t hold a meeting for something that should have been an email.” But there are so many more strategies to effective team meetings.
In this article, we’re going to break down everything that leaders must know in order to make their weekly team meetings more engaging and, dare we say it, enjoyable for the whole team. You can even adapt these tips to work for your weekly team sync meeting, retrospective, or whatever meeting format you like.
Warning! Productive meetings ahead!
Why have weekly team meetings?
The benefits of the weekly team meeting are extensive and include both short-term and long-term payoffs. Some perks include:
- Cutting down on email
Meetings get a bad rap for wasting time, but other alternatives like email can be just as inefficient, given delayed responses and the tediousness of typing. If you find yourself playing email ping-pong, ask yourself: How much more time could I save if I simply communicated this live during a meeting? When it comes to decision-making and brainstorming, face-to-face meetings take the cake!
- Decluttering irrelevant tasks, goals, and processes
Weekly team meetings are a fantastic time to separate the busywork from work that will actually move the needle. Often, teams pick up unnecessary tasks and minutiae along the way. Clear those out like the expired ketchup in the back of your fridge. Just like the ketchup is taking up space in the refrigerator, so too are those action items hogging up valuable team bandwidth.
- Boosting camaraderie
According to Atlassian, the top contributor to happiness at work is feeling like you belong. With the distributed team more common these days, it’s easy for folks to forget that they’re part of a team, which in turn has an effect on employee engagement and happiness. Weekly team meetings offer the time and space to foster that sense of belonging and go from disjointed to connected.
How to structure a weekly team meeting
When it comes to the structure of a weekly team meeting, don’t just focus on what you and your team will talk about. The makings of an excellent meeting include things that fall outside of the actual discussion: components like the meeting’s time and frequency. So, before you get to writing an agenda (we got you covered there, too), consider the points below:
- Meeting length
How long will your weekly team meeting last? Timebox your meeting — meaning designate a fixed amount of time for that meeting — and stick to the plan. Being mindful of the clock communicates that you value your team members’ time and your own.
The ideal length varies team to team, company to company. And it may take a little trial-and-error to nail it down. Some companies swear by short (yet, surprisingly impactful) meetings that last 10-15 minutes. In fact, they even have all the employees stand up during the entire thing just for that reason! For other organizations, 90-minute meetings sessions fill the bill.
- Meeting time
Want to know the secret to figuring out the most ideal meeting time? Clockwise. This smart calendar assistant automatically rearranges everyone’s schedules to deal with scheduling conflicts (so that you don’t have to). As a bonus, Clockwise also makes sure that everyone has enough Focus Time, periods of time dedicated to deep work and no distractions.
Your project management style doesn’t have to be Agile to take this tip from the Agile Manifesto: people over processes. Your weekly team meeting is a place for attendees to exchange insights, gain clarity, and find solutions. When you hold a meeting, the purpose isn’t to serve a stack of printed agendas, but to serve your people.
Some questions to consider: Is there anyone working in a different time zone that I should accommodate for? (Psst: Clockwise factors in people’s time zones when finding an ideal meeting time.) Am I obligating anyone to attend who doesn’t need to be there? If someone doesn’t need to be there in real-time, but the information is still nice to have, you can always send meeting notes afterward.
This can be physical or virtual, but the important thing here is consistency. Do your best to book the same meeting room every week, and if you have a remote team, stick to one video-conferencing platform. Don’t randomly schedule a Google Meet call when every remote meeting up until that point has been on Zoom — unless you’ve made the entire team aware of the switcheroo. When team members know what to expect, less information slips through the cracks and the crew is in a better position to find their rhythm. It’s the same reason that Steve Jobs wore the same clothes everyday: less decision fatigue and more brain power.
The content refers to the discussion itself. The “meet” and potatoes — see what we did there? In other words, it’s what’s on the agenda. While the specific discussions will change from week to week, it’s ideal to follow a consistent pattern, such as always starting with weekly wins and ending with a Q&A session. Consistency leads to momentum!
Last but not least, make following-up part of your post-meeting routine. Attendees should walk away from each meeting knowing exactly what they’re responsible for in the coming weeks. Sometimes questions and other concerns crop up outside of the meeting. Follow up with your people to lend clarity where it’s needed and keep things running smoothly. Your post-meeting routine could also include sending the meeting minutes out to everyone, including those who couldn’t make it.
The #1 rule when creating a weekly team meeting agenda
Many project managers (and leaders of all kinds) will agree on one thing: You must make your weekly team meeting agenda ahead of time. Here’s why.
Planning what the meeting will cover in advance allows you to collect your thoughts and streamline them in the most focused way possible. Still think you can wing a meeting? While it’s possible to be gifted in your last-minute presenting skills, you’re still missing out on a valuable key ingredient, and that’s your team.
Your team needs to have the meeting agenda ahead of time so that they can chew through its topics, prepare their talking points, and contribute to it if they’d like to. Doing so increases participation and engagement during the meeting itself.
During the creation of the agenda itself, you also get a sense of whether or not this meeting is really necessary. Don’t be afraid to cancel a meeting if a particular week doesn’t call for one.
Weekly team meeting topics
Here are some examples of topics you might cover in your weekly team meeting, in no particular order:
- Status updates/check-in
This is a chance for team members to see what their peers are working on, to gain context for their individual projects by seeing the big picture, and to simply learn more about the awesome initiatives their company is leading. Keep this part short and sweet.
Your weekly team meeting is an opportunity to celebrate any wins from the last week, which can feel incredibly reenergizing for the whole team! Ask your team members what went well during the last seven days. This isn’t just a mood booster either. Going through your weekly wins also allows you to find patterns for what’s working. When you know what’s working, you can recreate those same opportunities for even more victories to take place.
Where is your team getting stuck? You might also refer to this as “bottlenecks” in the workflow. Figure out where the workflow could use some improvement and how you can best serve your team. Getting in a problem solving state of mind is important here!
Metrics, also called a company’s key performance indicators (KPIs), are measurements that evaluate progress towards an important goal. Many teams use a KPI dashboard to keep track of important metrics and correct course if necessary.
- Action items
Meetings should always be actionable. Never end a weekly team meeting without making sure that all team members have a clear sense of what they need to prioritize and accomplish for the coming week. This is what transforms meetings from mere status updates to springboards for positive action.
Pro tip: Steve Rogelberg, the author of The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, suggests framing agenda items as questions, rather than broadly-worded phrases like “discuss launch strategy,” “talk about budget,” etc. Indeed, we found that this technique functions like an on-switch for critical thinking, sharpening focus and guiding the conversation toward solutions.
How to improve weekly team meetings
A lot of the improvements in your weekly team meetings will occur organically, especially as your team settles into a nice rhythm. For example, it might feel a little awkward for leaders to reroute the meeting when conversations go off on a tangent. But with practice they’ll become more comfortable doing this!
However, it’s also important to take initiative when it comes to improving your weekly team meetings. The best way to do that? Through surveys and/or asking for feedback either online or in-person. Because while you can brainstorm by yourself, the truth is that the people sitting across from and next to you in that meeting have valuable insights. They can catch your blindspots and shed light on what’s working that you overlooked.
Here are some questions to gather priceless feedback and level up your team’s weekly meetings now:
- Do you leave meetings feeling energized or worn-out?
- Are meetings too long or too short?
- Is there anything that we cover in our meetings that are better addressed outside of the particular meeting?
- Do we offer enough clarity during our meetings?
- Does the time of the meeting work for you?
- Do you feel like we could break the team down into smaller groups?
- How do you feel about our use of [Slack, Zoom, or whatever tools you may use to conduct your meetings]?
Remember, the meetings aren’t there to just serve the bottom line. They’re also meant to serve your people. Surveys support that mission. There are a number of ways to collect responses, from tools like Google Forms and SurveyMonkey, to 1:1 meetings, to email.
Despite your past experiences with meetings, we’re here to tell you that it is possible to go from mundane to masterful, pointless to productive. Together, let’s revitalize the way we look at our meetings. So, remember: invite your team to offer feedback, guide your next meeting with questions, and always make your agenda ahead of time.