When you look back at all the meetings you held in 2018, how many of them would you say mattered? What percentage of that time helped drive your business forward? And how many meetings flushed away precious moments of your finite life?

If your company's meetings aren't having a net positive impact on the business--giving back more value and progress than they take to run--then it's time for a change. 

Good news: the secret to great team meetings is not better people or more individual training. You can have excellent meetings with the people you have now.

The secret to successful meetings isn't changing the people. It's changing the system. To get a meeting system that works for your company in 2019, make these five resolutions.

1. Know the business case.

Meetings are a communication tool we use to create a common understanding of the work then move work forward. In other words, meetings move the ball towards the goal.

The first step in developing a successful meeting system is understanding how your meetings move the ball. There are four main ways meetings create value.

  • Increasing productivity (by removing roadblocks, coordinating work, and clarifying roles)
  • Increasing revenue and reach (by building relationships and securing commitment from people who will support you or buy from you)
  • Improving engagement and retention (by helping everyone feel like they belong and are part of something meaningful)
  • Improving decision quality (by enabling sound decision-making practices and securing commitment to act on decisions) 

Which of these results matters most in each meeting? Figure this out and you can design meetings that maximize your results.

2. Build in Respect. 

People feel like a meeting was a good use of their time when they participate, and when their expectations about the meeting get met. 

Two simple systems build in this respect for everyone's time.

  • Require every invitation to include the meeting purpose and desired outcomes. The purpose explains why you're meeting, and the desired outcomes clarify what the team should get by the end.
  • Start and end on time. Short meetings are great, but long meetings can be fine too. Just make sure people know what they're getting into, and respect that commitment. 

3. Make Accountability to Results Possible.

The second-most common question I'm asked is "Elise, how can I make my team accountable for what they say they'll do in meetings? We have great meetings, then nothing happens." 

This common problem crops up because everyone's insanely busy and distractible. We over-commit, forget what we said, and fail to follow-through. If you don't have a system for writing commitments down and making them easy to remember, accountability isn't possible.

The best system for improving accountability makes what we're each accountable for obvious. Here's how.

  • Spend 5 minutes of every meeting reviewing a written list of decisions and promises made. Decisions should be written out and promises turned into action items and assigned to specific individuals and due dates. Confirm verbally with each individual that they can keep the promise as it's written. Verbally promising to do something in front of a group is enormously powerful.
  • Send out the action item list the day before the next meeting. This helps the procrastinators and forgetters (so, you know, everyone) remember what they said they'd do.
  • Review this list in the next meeting, asking everyone to account for their progress. 

4. Play as a team.

Meetings are meant to move the ball forward. No team succeeds if half the players are idling on the sidelines checking their phones. These systems get everyone in the game.

  • Rotate responsibilities for internal meetings, especially the job of meeting leader. This gets everyone involved and develops your whole team's communication skills. 
  • Get everyone participating within the first 5 minutes. This makes it clear that everyone present is meant to play. (And if they aren't needed to reach the current goal, they shouldn't be there!)

5. Bring the joy.

Meetings embody our true culture. How we treat one another and how we talk about our work - that's what teaches us all what the group really cares about. As you design your 2019 meeting system, seek opportunities to make meetings the time when you act out the culture you seek. 

If the values poster says "work hard, play hard," embrace techniques that make work in meetings fun by moving around, drawing, and getting plenty of sticky notes sorted into playful-but-useful categories. If you say your culture cares about people, start meetings by asking how those people are bring snacks. Take meeting time to take care of one another.  

Hold to these five resolutions and you will have a whole new way of meeting by this time next year. What a fabulous set up for 2020!

Published on: Dec 27, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.