Are you wasting time in your team meetings? I asked that very question in a recent blog post, and have been surprised by the number of managers and leaders who have approached me upon reading it. I never realized just how wasteful my meetings were, some of you have said to me. But what can I possibly do to make my meetings more productive?

One thing you might consider is that some of your meetings may not be necessary at all. In the American workplace, we sometimes confuse meetings with getting things done—but as I’ve said elsewhere, if you can’t quickly and easily articulate the reason and goal of your meeting, then it probably doesn’t need to be held.

Engagement Is Essential

Beyond that, let me offer a simple—though not easy—strategy for making your meetings more meaningful: Engage your team members. If they’re actually involved with what you’re discussing on every level—if they’re not just hearing but actually listening, and contributing as well—then every minute you spend in that meeting is going to be, on some level, valuable.

Of course, you don’t just wave a wand to make engagement materialize in the hearts and minds of your team members. It’s not that easy. Building engagement takes some time and some effort—but with the right strategies, it’s possible!

Making Your Meetings More Engaging

So how do you do it? Let me offer some quick pointers:

  • Frame your meeting as a chance to solve problems. Meetings that lack focus will also lack engagement—but what if you state the specific problem that your team is facing, and ask for any suggestions for improvement?
  • Start with something positive. Before you get into problems and solutions, talk about something that’s going right for your team—or ask team members for some reflections on what they think is going right.
  • Encourage everyone to participate. You might even go around the room in order and ask everyone to voice an idea—no matter how big or small, how rough or how precise. Just be comfortable with a few moments of silence as people think—and remember to be supportive of all ideas voiced! There’s no room for harsh criticism in a brainstorming session.
  • Break down into groups. Divide your team into sub-teams of two or three people, and have them do some brainstorming together before reporting back to the group.
  • Show respect. I can’t say it enough: If you want your team members to be engaged in your meetings, you’ve got to convince them that their ideas will be respected, not mocked, dismissed, or picked apart right in front of them!

Productive meetings are possible—and they start when you get all your team members involved and engaged.