Updated: 2021-10-17

Let’s start at the beginning: most business meetings suck. They’re too long and ramble-y, and at the end, you wonder what you got out of it. I have a bit of a formula for changing this, but “change” is the key word here: your entire organization will need to understand that their culture of meetings needs to be updated. Once you’re there, it all falls into place, and anyone not following the “good meeting” path will be called out on it.


Why are running good meetings important? A) So people know what to expect and stay engaged. B) So that decisions are made (arguably the entire point of a meeting), and C) In order to not waste people’s time (and a corollary of this is that it lets people focus on getting work done).

The Formula

There is a formula to having good meetings, and it’s actually pretty simple. A meeting has:

  • An agenda
  • A moderator
  • A start time
  • An end time

That’s it! Stick to this plan, and you’re on your way. Ok, there is a little more to it than that, but those are the unalterable basics. Just remembering to implement those will get you most of the way there. Let’s talk about some of the subtleties here.

An Agenda

Every meeting needs an agenda, period. With the exception, perhaps, of a standing meeting like a 1:1 or team standup (and even then, yes, have an agenda), every meeting needs an agenda in advance that gets distributed to the meeting attendees in advance.

The agenda—which should be linked in your calendar entry—contains several elements:

  • The title of the meeting: This allows people to glance at their many, many tabs in their browser, whilst moving between meetings and ensure that they’re looking at the current document.
  • Meeting information: Why this meeting exists, when the meeting takes place, and where the meeting takes place.
  • A list of agenda items: Items contain who is responsible for leading a given topic, the topic name, and a time allotted to the item.

A Moderator

Someone needs to lead the meeting. The moderator makes sure the meeting starts on time, follows the agenda, ensures that all points on the agenda are discussed, and ends the meeting on time.

A moderator also ensures that each agenda item is addressed, and that the meeting stays on track. This requires attention to the topic itself, and the time. The moderator should ensure that the conversation is not going too far off-topic, and should guide it back when needed. Additionally, the moderator should announce clear time markers at appropriate times: “You have 2 minutes left…you have one minute left…next topic.” If a single topic genuinely needs more time, go for it…with the permission of attendees, and the understanding that later items will get bumped.

This is definitely a challenge. On the time aspect, you just have to center yourself and get comfortable with it. Let people know that there’s a time-limit. Over time, people will learn to get the correct amount of time for a topic onto the agenda in the first place.

Needing more time leads to a fork in the road: you can extend a topic’s time (again, with agreement), or, you can push it off. This gets recorded by the note taker, and added to the Parking Lot. (More on the Parking Lot meeting below.)

A Start and End Time

Simple: a meeting starts on time, and it ends on time. Far too many meetings run over the time they’re scheduled until. This generally means that people are getting to their next meeting late, or you’re taking away time that is letting them accomplish work.

Start the meeting on time, no matter if people are late. This is how people learn that meetings start on time. (Yes, this includes if “important” people are late.) Attendee count threshold isn’t a reason to start a meeting. Far too often I’ve heard, “‘x’ number of people are here, let’s wait for a few more people to roll in before we start…”. No: start on time.

Before you think that this is all a little too regimented, and loses and sense of fun, feel free to chat at the beginning of a meeting. If you do this, it sounds like you’re not starting on time, right? No! If a little friendly banter is important to you, schedule it on the agenda: “Welcome, 5 minutes.” Then, move along after that time.


This is important enough to warrant its own section: the note taker in the meeting—this may be the moderator, but is often someone else, dedicated to the task—should be recording decisions made (outcomes) and action items (who is going to address outstanding tasks). This list should be recapped at the end of a meeting.

Ideally, notes from the meeting should be made available at a company-wide link. (Maybe they’re copied to or collected in a Wiki.) At minimum, the notes need to be available to everyone invited to the meeting, including people that couldn’t attend: it’s how they get caught up.

Meeting and Calendar Culture

There are a few things about meeting culture that are important, but don’t fit directly into running a meeting itself.

“Short” Meetings

Short meetings are meetings that don’t take up a full 30 or 60 minute time slot. This is so critical: make your meetings 25 or 55 minutes in length and stick to it. When in the office, people need time to transit the office, clear out of a conference room, and new people need to settle in. For remote workers working from home, this is even more critical: everyone needs 5 minutes to get a glass of water, go to the bathroom, and just generally reset. Google calendar has a preference for this: set it. Outlook calendar has a similar setting for “default meeting length” or some such. Again: find it and set it.

The moderator needs to stick to the actual scheduled meeting end time. Short meetings are great, until someone at 2:55 says, “we have 5 minutes left, any questions?” (In this case, correct them by saying, “we’re at time now, I need to drop off to prepare for my next meeting.”)

“Make” Time

The way most meetings go at a company, if you have empty time on your calendar, it will get booked—very often at the last minute. Book time on your own calendar for you to get work done. The magic here is twofold: first, you get uninterrupted, no meeting time to get things done. During this block of time, set your chat status to “away” or “in a meeting” or whatever signifies to people that you are busy. Second, this shows you how much time you have during the week. This latter point is critical: It tells you how much time you have in your week to accomplish work. This all leads to…

Say “No” Where Appropriate

You don’t have to say “yes” to a meeting simply because you were invited. If you don’t know why you are invited, or the point of the meeting, ask.

If you’re booking “make” time on your calendar, you’ll know when your week fills up and you’re out of time. When someone asks you to do something that week, you can honestly answer, “no, I won’t be able to get to it”. Depending on the person asking, you may want (or need) to do that thing, but with make time, you can quickly see what will have to get bumped in order to accomplish it.

A “Parking Lot”

A team may schedule a standing “Parking Lot” meeting that is used only if necessary. Putting a topic in the parking lot during a meeting means it required more discussion, and it shows up here. This meeting should really only be used if necessary, and is often a result of other meetings running poorly. The best outcome is that nothing is on the parking lot agenda the morning of the meeting, and it gets canceled, giving time back to anyone on the invite.

“Casual” Meetings

None of this is to say that you can’t schedule casual meetings, where people are just getting together. This is even more important in this remote-first (or remote-only) world that has developed. Some companies even make this a formal routine by scheduling random 1:1s between self-selected people. I started to do this when I was at Google: any time I visited a different office, I’d schedule 2-3 arbitrary 1:1 meetings with people. Some people understood and embraced it, while others would verify, “do you have the right person?”

Of course, don’t forget the other micro-meetings: over lunch, or going to get a snack. Just invite people along.

Time Zones

With more companies containing employees distributed around the globe, don’t forget about time zones! It’s easy to schedule meetings that are too early for people on the West Coast of the US, or too late for EMEA. Don’t assume that everyone is ok with it. Find the most reasonable time, talk to the group about it, and don’t always make the same group the ones with the oddball meeting time. (But hey, I’m a blog post, not a cop. Your company may have some expectations around this that make sense. If it makes sense to you, do it. If you hear that people are tired of staying late for meetings, propose something better.)

Meeting Notes Availability

One more note on this: not every meeting’s notes can opened to everyone in the company. However, the vast majority can and should be. Make publicly (company-wide) availability of meeting notes a part of meeting culture.

Have a Meeting Culture

Overall, if you want to have good meetings, your organization needs a consistent meeting culture. It sets a familiar pattern where people know what to expect. It makes that time more productive, and it assures that people know what to do after the meeting (and can plan that time out, and know when it can get accomplished).

This doesn’t need to be a top-down directive, and you personally don’t need to be empowered to dictate this change across your org. Just start with the meetings you run, or request it from the meeting organizers of the meetings that you attend. People will actually talk about how well your meetings are run, and that they get out on time. This will help it spread. Once that starts, you can mention this path to other leaders and meeting organizers at your company.


I have come to learn what good meetings are and how good meeting culture can make this time useful and productive again through others that have shown me the way. A specific shout out to Jake Payton, who is an excellent leader and mentor in all things ‘management’, particularly on running meetings.

Thanks to LeRoy Dennison for pointing out the need to have meeting notes distributed post-meeting.