No Image Available

Phil Anderson

Read more from Phil Anderson

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

The secret to productive meetings


Wherever you are in business or organisations, there are numerous meetings, but too few achieve their intended purpose – making good decisions based on the opinions of those present. Many lack structure and discipline and end up wasting everyone’s time. Phil Anderson tells us how to ensure your meetings are productive.

Meetings can be the bane of everyone’s lives. Is this because some organisations have a culture of meetings for the sake of it? How often do you step out of one and exclaim that it was a waste of time? You might even ask, what is the point of having them at all? But - productive meetings should be at the core of the decision-making process. They should make an organisation more effective by motivating those who attend and making them feel like their voices have been heard. Among the essential requirements for a good meeting are: the points made should not have been laboured unnecessarily; a clear action plan should have been developed; and each agenda item took the expected amount of time.

If a meeting is poorly run and lacking structure and discipline, it is just a waste of time. It will also make vital participants reluctant to attend future meetings or be less inclined to contribute their valuable opinions. The solution is simple. Meetings need a purpose, discipline and structure to make them run effectively. They require a carefully prepared agenda, well-managed timekeeping, a reporting structure and an overall awareness of how meetings should be run.

If managers get a reputation for running meetings well, achieving worthwhile decisions and resolutions, and finishing on time or early, then they’ll achieve what we’re all looking for – productive meetings.

Objective or purpose

Have a reason for the meeting. Is it keeping up to date on the KPIs/the important metrics, or is it to discuss new ideas/approaches/innovation etc? What is the nature of the meeting? Make sure there is a reason to bring people together to discuss something and make some decisions which cannot be handled effectively outside of the meeting. Avoid the temptation to have a meeting just because it is Tuesday morning and we always have a meeting on Tuesday morning.

Most meetings are to share information which we can get online. If the objective is to share and make decisions that is fair enough. Most meetings don’t have a clear objective and that is not productive.


All meetings need some form of agenda. Build the agenda by asking those who will be at the meeting to offer items for discussion and decision. Determine what they want to discuss and what they want to achieve along with providing all the supporting information which members of the group need to read in advance to prepare them. And, make that 'supporting information' as brief as possible, so people have a chance of reading it. Giving long papers out in the meeting could waste valuable meeting time as people read and digest it in the moment.

Responsibility and timing

On the agenda, assign the name of the person to the item they are bringing to the meeting and how much time they are going to need. Ensure the meeting starts and finishes on time and that every participant is punctual. Some organisations in the private sector have a ticker tape running on what the meeting is costing in terms of people hours. It might be difficult at first to estimate the amount of time an agenda item requires, but over time you will get used to how much time is required.

Nominate a timekeeper or a Meeting Czar keep everyone to time and the conversation on track. This doesn’t need to be the chair and it doesn’t need to be the same person at each meeting. Delegate if there’s no volunteer.

One-minute warning

Use something like a xylophone or a fun alarm mechanism to sound a chime to alert the meeting participants when they have one minute left of the allotted time, on a particular agenda item. When time is up, a tune could be played. If more time is needed, the meeting may then have to agree whether to take time away from later items on the agenda or shift that item to another day.

Everyone needs to understand the reason for such 'timing' interventions - remember, to be productive requires discipline.

Give everyone a voice

Use the power of the pen, or soft toy or paperweight, to control the meeting. Whoever has the pen or toy is the one speaking. This gives everyone an opportunity to speak; often those with the biggest mouths say the most, and so this way everyone gets a chance. If some else wants to speak they can ask for the pen and the other person then stops speaking, or the chair can direct for the pen to be passed. Encourage participation in the discussion and decision-making process. It is a waste of time and resources to have people in a meeting who do not contribute.

Next steps

Have a quick, easy-to-complete form that can be completed as the meeting progresses so that when everyone returns to their desk or opens their PC or mobile they will find a list of actions, who is assigned to the task, and when that person is to complete the action.

This needs to be done in the moment, in the room and sent out once the meeting is over. If there is friction at the end of the meeting it may not be politic to send out immediately, but do so very soon after.

Ground rules

As you can see from the previous points, a key factor to ensure meetings are a success is to maintain discipline, all the way from the purpose and objectives, the agenda, the next steps and the way the meeting runs to time. These need to be discussed and agreed up-front and referred to when behaviour deviates from the norm.

B and Cs – benefits and concerns

Allocate 10 minutes at the end of the meeting agenda to discuss these. This is important, not at every meeting, but certainly the first one and then periodically after for everyone in turn to offer a benefit and concern of the process of the meeting, such as what went well and what didn’t. This is not about the decisions that were made, but about HOW they were made. It's a comment on the process of the meeting, not the tasks. Did we stick to time? Did we involve all people? Did we stick to the 'rule of the pen'?

Stand up to finish quicker

Have a stand-up meeting. This removes a traditional comfort zone of the chair and table and people are less likely to talk so long and will get to the point quicker. This is a concept some organisations use for meetings to get the business done.

Phil Anderson is a faculty member of Ashridge Business School specialising in leadership. His module on productive meetings is included within the Ashridge open programme, Management Development.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!