The 5 secrets to leading great meetings


Doing great things takes more than a great vision and a great team, it takes great execution, down to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day organization.

Meetings get a bad rap, and deservedly so — most meetings are disorganized and distracted. But they can be a critical tool for getting your team on the same page.

Over years of iteration while working at Google, Facebook, and Asana, I’ve found a way of doing meetings that ensures we discuss the most important things, quickly and efficiently, and that things never fall through the cracks.

1. Know when to email vs. when to meet

Logistics are best done over a non-immediate communication channel like email or Asana tasks. Detailed status meetings will suck the life out of your day.

But when topics are complex and meaty, don’t create a never-ending email thread. It’s amazing how much time people waste composing and reading carefully-worded essays, when a 5 minute in-person chat would resolve the whole thing.

2. Capture goals ahead of time

Throughout the week, as you find those meaty topics, don’t keep everything in your head. Remembering is stressful, and you’ll forget important questions. Just add it to the agenda, in a shared Google Doc or, better yet, an Asana project.

Everyone can do this. By the time the meeting starts, the agenda already includes everyone’s ideas. No more wasting the first 10 minutes figuring out what to talk about.

3. Timebox aggressively

Establish how long you’re going to spend on each topic, and stick to it. Talking about a topic for 20 minutes will probably lead to a better decision than talking about it for 5. But if the topic only deserved 5 minutes, you’re not gonna have a chance to talk about all the other important items. Or, worse, you’ll spend all day in meetings. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great.

4. Make each agenda item a race to clarity

Go through each item: Extract information and perspective from the team, identify next actions, and owners for each action — as quickly as possible. If you’ve extracted all the perspective but it’s not clear what the right decision is, don’t debate or ruminate. Assign someone to think about it and trust them to make the decision — even if it’s not how you would have made it.

5. Guarantee follow through

By the end, you should have a written list of every new action item. Each should have one owner (not two) and a timeline. Keep that list in the same place you’re keeping the running agenda.

Then, when it’s time for the next meeting, you can immediately see all the items from last week. Hopefully each owner will just nod that they did what they committed to. Now things won’t fall through the cracks, and you won’t spend the first 10 minutes remembering what you decided last time.

The bottom line

When leaders know how to lead great meetings, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.

What’s worked for you for having great meetings? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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  • Clint M
    I find that breaking each topic down into task elements that have committed time frames assigned to them works to keep the flow going. The amount of time on each element of the main topic or task is predetermined based on how important that element is to the topic.

    We wouldn’t spend more than five minutes on choosing that best way brew coffee if the time should be put into discussing the best method for roasting the coffee beans to achieve the best flavor when you brew it anyway. Coffee is the metaphor but the predetermined element schedule keeps us from spending too much time on “rabbit trails” that often arise out of the less critical element discussions.

  • Daniel Schulz-Jackson
    I actually really like using Asana for meetings; it keeps the whole meeting VERY task oriented, and it makes it easy to collect agenda items throughout the week as I work on my projects. Keep up the good work!
    • jwjb
      In another life, before Asana was available, in my role as an IT Project Manager (PM) I would furiously take notes verbatim into MS Project for just this purpose.

      But even though the tasks were in their own worlds the hurdles of them accessing this information on the Project Server or even in my emails wasted a lot of time that Asana just cuts through in it’s clarity and attention to detail through the art of simplicity enabling all of us to be our own PM and spend time working instead of managing our work.

      Thanks again Asana, you guys Rock!

  • Eyal
    No.3 – Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great.
    completely agree! great tips.
  • Kedar Toraskar
    One of my observations has always been that people loose “Context” of the topic they are meeting to discuss about. A common cause of this is that relevant content (emails, diagrams, other sources etc.) are scattered loosely. So, overall as a group, a lot of time is lost in just coming to upto speed/warming up on the topic at hand.
    I enjoy using Asana for my personal projects, as it helps to keep content brief and precise to make quick decisions.
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  • David Stone
    I once attended a meeting led by a person from a major heavy-construction company. He took scribbled notes during the meeting and passed them out of the room to a secretary. The notes were typed up and duplicated while the meeting was going on and winding down. Each attendee left with his copy of the meeting notes in hand. This was in the 1980s and now would be somewhat different, but the end result would be the same. Everyone on the same page, literally. David.
  • Ian
    Can you share your best practises with exactly how you use Asana with meetings.

    I currently create a google doc for meeting notes and then try and transfer the actions from the meeting notes to Asana actions – blissfully aware of this inefficiency, duplication and thus ongoing troubles.

    Do you use a central project for meetings or do you create a task entry ‘Meeting xxx’ and then subtask the actions that result for example?
    I’m thinking you put the meeting minutes and attendee list etc in the notes section of the main task….

    Looking for scenarios that work efficiently for others.

    Keep up the good work btw.

  • David
    I agree with Ian (immediately above)

    We use Asana for meetings but there are certain things that frustrate and I’m concerned my boss is going to usher me back to the trusty google doc. Although I have the agenda on Asana and we work through it, adding tasks along the way, I end up having to send out meeting minutes through google docs.

    A ‘meeting best practice video’ would be awesome, to ensure we are using Asana as efficiently as possible and to highlight how minutes etc could be created. Thanks, David.

    • Ramsey
      What I do when I prepare for my meetings is put “Mtg Agenda” as a tag and attach it to any tasks that need to be talked about at that mtg.
  • Egil
    Second you there David. I am trying to find a way around those pesky minutes that everyone wants after a meeting, and a best practice regarding this would be awesome!
  • Adam Kleinberg
    This is a great, valuable post.
  • emily
    We use a prioritised WIP list rather than an agenda. The WIP is updated before each meeting, and we generally only discuss items with a high priority. At the end of the meeting we open the meeting up to ‘other business’ for more general discussions and potential new WIP items. It’s great because it keeps meetings really tightly focused on concrete outcomes. We currently use XL, but you could pretty easily use Asana similarly.
  • Rich Mikita
    “Half of all meetings are unproductive. Is there a fix?” —

    The short answer is, yes — Asana.

  • Uri Pierre Noel
    Building my first company and this little article probably saved me a month and bad meetings. –
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