Skip to Main Content

Group Work

Planning Effective Group Meetings

Group meetings are an essential part of any group project—but how can you make sure you're getting the most out of your time together?

In this section, we'll talk about how to structure effective group meetings and share templates you can use to keep your group focused, organized, and on task.

How Often Should Your Group Meet?

Group meetings serve two key purposes:

  1. To change course

    Planning sessions are needed in the early stages of a project, and emergency sessions might be needed to work through unexpected issues during a project. Both require active participation and interactive discussion.

  2. To maintain momentum

    Regularly scheduled meetings should help maintain your group's momentum and strengthen relationships between group members.

Most groups will meet once a week at the start of a project and then transition to every two weeks once everyone has committed to their assigned tasks (you can also use the decision tree above if you're not sure if a new issue requires a meeting or not!)

But how do you make sure your meetings are meaningful and encourage better collaboration among group members?

The 40-20-40 Rule for Meetings

Think back to your last group project: Were your meetings as productive and engaging as you wanted them to be? Did you leave your sessions feeling re-energized, better connected to your team, and clear on what everyone's next steps should be?

For meetings to be effective, we need to give them serious attention in both their preparation and their execution. In Graham Allcott and Hayley Watts' book How to Fix Meetings (2021), Allcott and Watts propose using the 40-20-40 rule to plan, run, and manage your meetings. If you followed this rule, you would use your time like this:

  • 40% toward preparing for the meeting;
  • 20% dedicated to the actual meeting;
  • 40% used on follow-through from the meeting.

Check the boxes below to learn more about what you and your group should be doing during each phase of the 40-20-40 rule and test it out for your next group meeting!

40% of your attention should go into preparing for your group meeting.

Every great meeting starts before the meeting itself, so you should spend a larger portion of your energy designing your next session. This process is critical to creating effective, productive, and shorter meetings overall.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for your next meeting:

  • Be clear on the meeting's purpose

    What do you need to accomplish by the end of your meeting? Are you brainstorming new ideas? Are you deciding how to approach your report or presentation? Are you negotiating a disagreement? Identify your main goal and stick to it—if you need to make a decision, then the meeting can't end until a decision is made.

  • Set up your agenda

    An agenda is a list of key topics your group will discuss at the next meeting. A person with the Organizer role can collect agenda items and set up the meeting for the group. It's better to keep the list short—if you have more than three topics to cover, you should consider booking more than one meeting to cover everything. Check the next section to learn more about creating meeting agendas!

  • Share the agenda with everyone before the meeting

    Group members should understand the purpose and expected outcomes of a meeting at least 1-3 days in advance. If you're the group's Organizer, make sure you share the agenda through your group's agreed upon communication channel (e.g., through e-mail, on Teams, etc.)

  • Write clear meeting invites

    Add all the important information to the meeting invite so everyone can find it easily.

    1. Paste the meeting agenda in the event description.
    2. If you're meeting in person, list the room number or address; if you're meeting online, include the video conference link.
  • Collect input from group members

    Make sure everyone has the chance to add to your team's agenda before your next meeting. The Organizer could send out a survey a few days in advance to learn more about your team's progress so far. You could also start collecting ideas before a brainstorming session so your group members have time to think about topics.

  • Delegate roles and responsibilities

    Help your group members feel more engaged by assigning roles or responsibilities for each meeting. Appoint different facilitators, timekeepers, note takers, or guest speakers for each meeting and try out some new roles for yourself too!

20% of your attention should go into the actual meeting itself.

This doesn't mean you or your group members should put less energy into the meeting—instead, your group should have a clear idea of the decisions you need to make and you need to be focused on finding solutions together.

Here are a few tips to keep your meetings on track:

  • Use inclusive facilitation to build a better environment

    Inclusive facilitation gives everyone a chance to share their input and prevents specific individuals from dominating the discussion. You can use online tools like Mentimeter or to run polls and create word clouds when brainstorming ideas or voting on next steps. If you or a group member isn't always comfortable with raising a hand or unmuting a microphone online, using these online tools can help all members feel heard and more engaged with the meeting.

  • Use a 'Parking Lot' to stay on track

    During your meeting, a group member could bring up a great point that might start pulling the meeting away from its main purpose. If this happens, your group can create a 'Parking Lot'—this is a space on a whiteboard or in your meeting notes where you can capture these ideas to revisit later on in order to bring people back on track. You do need to follow up with these comments at the end of your current meeting or at the start of your next meeting, otherwise people will lose trust in their group members.

  • Call people out

    At the end of your meeting when next steps have been agreed on, call people out! You can take the lead by doing the following:

    1. Share your own action items

      Action items are the tasks you need to do to keep the project on schedule, and you should ideally have these done before your next meeting.

    2. Confirm next steps for each participant by mentioning their name

      Use each person's name and give them the chance to state their action items in their own words. This can help reduce miscommunication and it will prompt your group members to clarify any confusion before the meeting ends.

40% of your attention should go into the follow through after your meeting.

Productive follow through means that everyone who signs up to complete an action item commits to working on and completing that task—this process is how a group makes sure that each person is accountable for their work.

Here are a few tips to help you with the follow through:

  • Send a concise meeting summary

    In a new e-mail, send out a list that includes 1-2 key takeaways that capture the main point of your meeting, and a list of all the action items (or tasks) that are tied to individual names. You could even use one e-mail thread so you can refer back to outcomes from previous meetings.

  • Complete your action items!

    If you signed up for a task or had an action item assigned to you, make sure that you complete it by the deadline. You build trust with your group members by completing your work and staying accountable to the team. If you realize you can't finish a task before the deadline, talk to your team early—another group member might be free to help you out!

  • Collect your team's feedback and ideas

    You can send out a short feedback survey after your meeting to learn what your group members found valuable during the session or what could be improved on. This can be a great tool to identify if your group needs to revisit your group contract too—for example, if someone needs to change the regular meeting time or if someone wants to try out a different role, you could collect this data and discuss any potential changes in your next group meeting.

Tracking everyone's follow through after a meeting can also help groups identify when a group member is falling behind on their work earlier in the project. This allows groups to either redistribute tasks or bring up their concerns to their professor well before the project is due.

Key Documents for Group Meetings

Setting a Meeting Agenda

We'vee talked about using 40% of your time and energy preparing for a meeting—but how do you go about creating a meeting agenda?

Watch the video or read more to learn how to organize your meetings:

If you're the Organizer in your group, make sure that all members have shared their meeting agenda items with you before the next meeting. Also, send out the meeting agenda to everyone at least 1-3 days in advance.

  1. Fill in the details about the meeting, including the project name, the class, and the date and location of the meeting.

    Provide enough detail so you can tell different meeting agendas apart, and so there's no miscommunication about when and where you'll be meeting.

  2. Under ‘What,’ add the general topic that you will discuss, or the task that needs to be accomplished

    For example, you might  add a task like “Define outcomes of the project.”

  3. Under ‘Who,’ write the names of the people who are talking about this item.

    If everyone is involved, you can write “All.”

  4. Under ‘How,’ add more specific details about what you need to do.

    For example, “Everyone thinks of two objectives for the project. Compare ideas and agree on the group’s objectives for the project.”

  5. Save this agenda and send it to all of the group members before the meeting.

    Have a copy of the agenda with you at the group meeting to help you structure the discussion, stay on task, and make sure you stick the agreed amount of time.

Taking Meeting Minutes

When you meet with your group, one person should take notes to capture what your group discussed and what decisions were made. These notes are called 'meeting minutes' and they should be shared with the group after every meeting.

Watch the video or read more about taking meeting minutes below:

If you're the Note Taker for your next meeting, check out the Group Meeting Minutes Template and follow these steps to take your notes:

  1. Fill in the details about the meeting, including the project name, the class, the date and location of the meeting, and the name of the person taking notes. You'll be able to match your meeting agenda with your meeting minutes more easily afterwards.
  2. Write down the names of all of the members who are at the meeting and the members who were not able to make it.
  3. Write the general topic in the column labelled ‘Item’ (e.g., brainstorm project topics). If you created a meeting agenda before the meeting, you can use the items on the agenda as a guide.
  4. Now add a summary of what was discussed during this part of the meeting under Key Points (e.g,. a list of the topics that were proposed).
  5. Write down anything that needs to be done for this item. This will help group members see at a glance if they are supposed to be doing something specific (e.g., do background research on topic options).
  6. Write down the date and time of the next meeting if it has been decided.
  7. Send the meeting minutes to all of the group members after the meeting.