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Here are the two highest-impact actions you can take as a manager to make your team meetings more effective:

  • Coach your people to speak more clearly and concisely. If meetings feel boring, it’s often because participants take five minutes to communicate what could have been said in sixty seconds or because they discuss abstract concepts that aren’t actionable for their audience. Poor communication skills are a bottleneck to engagement and effectiveness. Teach your people how to talk more clearly, concisely, and concretely. It’s well worth the time investment.
  • Rename your agenda items not as points to cover but outcomes to achieve. For example, “progress updates” becomes “identify and address project roadblocks.” Similarly, “communicate the new policy” becomes “everyone understands what they have to do differently from now on.” Meetings are to concretely advance your team’s objectives.

Of course, there are many more impactful actions you can take to make your team meetings more effective. This in-depth guide covers these and many more with concrete examples and exercises. But the two items above are the most important ones and great starting points.

So, let’s begin with helping your people to speak more clearly and concisely.

How to teach your team to communicate better

Sports coaches know that most of their team’s game performance in a game depends on the skills and habits taught during practice, not on the coach’s actions during the game. Similarly, much of running meetings effectively takes place outside of the meeting. It consists of a manager teaching his team how to participate effectively – for example, how to ask better questions, how to give better project updates, and so on.

  • Unless team members know how to speak concisely, meetings will be boring.
  • Unless people know how to ask concrete questions, doubts will go unanswered.
  • And unless the manager explains why an idea is bad, ideas won’t get better over time.

Coaching your people to be better communicators is an investment that will pay itself many times over.

Some highlights from the video:

  1. Whenever you see a meeting participant communicating ineffectively, take a mental note.
  2. Talk to them after the meeting or wait for your next one-on-one.
  3. Acknowledge their contribution to the previous meeting; then, mention the one thing they could improve (e.g., speaking more concisely or concretely) and how it’s hurting them currently.
  4. Share how that used to hurt you too, and how you addressed it (an example in the video).
  5. Ask if they have doubts. Do they feel ready to speak more concisely and concretely?
  6. Get them to practice right now: ask them to repeat their latest meeting intervention, this time implementing what you taught them.
  7. Give them feedback and validate their improvements.
  8. Thank them and reinforce that you expect them to practice this during the next meeting.

Avoiding common mistakes

Here is some advice to avoid common mistakes in implementing the above:

  • Resist the temptation to organize a group training session. Unless you have a history of engaging and effective group sessions consisting not only of theory but also of practice and feedback, you might not achieve the results you hope. Instead, go for one-on-ones.
  • Avoid trying to change too many people at once. After each meeting, focus on coaching one person, not two or three. Don’t put too much on your plate at once to prevent it from becoming a task you try to complete as efficiently as possible rather than as effectively as possible.
  • Do not rush the “acknowledgment part.” We have seen that you should first acknowledge their contribution to the last meeting and only afterward mention something they could improve. Do not rush the first step. Do not say anything generic such as “thank you for your contribution last week.” Instead, be specific – for example, “thank you for having raised the quality assurance problem.” Say something that makes them feel listened to.
  • Do not just share what to do better; also explain why it matters and what happens if they don’t improve. For example, “if you keep taking so long to share your updates, people will disengage.”
  • Do not just share why it matters; also explain why it’s better. Most people already know that speaking concisely is important. If they’re not doing it yet, it might be because they think that being precise is more important than being concise. They do not need you to tell them that conciseness is important. They need you to tell them that conciseness is more important than precision.
  • Do not remain abstract; get concrete. Share visual and practical examples. If possible, explain how you also had the same problem as them, why it hurt you, how you addressed it, and how your life is better now.
  • Give benchmarks. Everyone knows that “concise is good.” But do they know what that means concretely? Tell them. For example, “concise means sharing a project update in less than 60 seconds.” Help them improve by providing benchmarks. Did you notice how concrete this guide is? Aim for something similar.
  • Give attainable targets. If they currently take five minutes to share a project update, ask them to cut it down to three minutes, not one. Do this even if the benchmark is one minute – mention that that’s where you eventually want them to get, but for now, something more attainable is okay. A good chunk of your job as a manager is to give people concrete and attainable objectives they feel motivated to achieve and thus take action towards. Another good chunk of your job is to timely acknowledge their results to prevent them from doubting that their efforts went unnoticed. But always only acknowledge results, not efforts.
  • Ask if they have doubts. Ask them if they feel ready. Ask them if they can commit to being more concise. If they have reservations, you want to know now. This way, you can address them before they prevent action.
  • Get them to practice right now. Not during the next meeting. Right now. You want them to practice while the topic is fresh in their memory. And you want to be able to give them immediate feedback. These two are the requirements to translate know-what into know-how.
  • Give them feedback on their practice. If they managed to speak more concisely, praise them. Validate their improvements. Let them know it’s now clearer, even though there are fewer details. 
  • Don’t give up if there’s no improvement. If they didn’t manage to speak more concisely, ask them to try again and again until there is an improvement. Aim for smaller improvements – perhaps, instead of asking them to rephrase their whole speech during the last meeting, ask them to practice with a single point. Identify the one most important improvement they can make, quantify the smallest quantity they can improve at, and ask for that. For example, “your progress update was useful, but the last point on the possible delays was too long. Can you please rephrase it in a single sentence or two?”
  • Conclude reinforcing expectations. Do not just let the coaching session fizzle out. Instead, say that you expect them to practice what they just learned during the next team meeting. 
  • Follow up. During the next meeting, pay attention to whether they do indeed speak more concisely. If so, send them a quick note of acknowledgment after the meeting. Don’t let them feel like their improvements went unnoticed.
  • Don’t reward effort but result. If they show effort but still don’t speak more concisely, acknowledge effort but do not reward it. Instead, acknowledge effort and request results. The key is to ask for small improvements.

Tips to get others to speak more concisely

While reading the previous few paragraphs, you might have wondered, “what if I ask someone to speak more concisely, and they try to improve but are unable to?”

Here is what I would say:

  • Manager: “I wanted to thank you for having raised the recent customer complaints during our latest team meeting. You made us aware and helped us avoid similar problems in the future. However, I noticed that you took a long time to explain the issue, which caused some of our teammates to get distracted. Of course, it’s their responsibility to stay focused, but it’s also true that if you got to the point a bit faster, others would listen to you more.”
  • Employee: *nods.*
  • Manager: “Perhaps you found it important to describe all the details of the issue to the team. However, taking too long often makes your message harder to come across, not easier. Do you think you can be a bit more concise in the future?”
  • Employee: “Sure.”
  • Manager: “Why don’t we try now? Would you like to repeat the point you made in the last meeting, but this time instead of taking five minutes, in two minutes?”
  • Employee: “Yes.” <He tries, but takes five minutes again.>
  • Manager: “Thank you, but again, there were too many details, and you didn’t seem too clear on the point you wanted to make. Why don’t you try taking a sheet of paper and writing down the main points of what you want to convey in three bullet points? Feel free to take a couple of minutes to do that.”
  • Employee: *does it.*
  • Manager: “Great. Now, try reading the three bullet points to me.”
  • Employee: *does it*
  • Manager: “Fantastic! Not only you mentioned everything that matters, but it was also easier to understand. I encourage you to do the same before future meetings: if you know that you’ll speak for a few minutes, first take a sheet of paper and write your main points as a bullet list. Then read those, and only add details afterward if people have questions.”
  • Employee: “Okay, I’ll try that.”
  • Manager: “Thank you, I’m looking forward to that.”

Note the importance of (1) asking the coachee to do an exercise in front of you and (2) giving them feedback validating their progress (in this example, highlighting that skipping details made them more understandable, not less).

If your coachee didn’t make any progress, you shouldn’t validate their efforts. Instead, ask them for smaller progress to make. This increases your chances that you will have something material to validate them – that’s how you engender progress with people in difficulty.

Coaching your people, is it worth it?

Coaching your subordinates one by one takes time but is worth it. In fifteen minutes, you can teach them how to save two minutes per meeting – an investment that will break even in less than two months (even less considering the time it saves everyone else).

If you’d like me to coach you on how to coach your subordinates, I offer a one-on-one 60-minute workshop on that. You can schedule one here.

Before continuing with this guide, take a short quiz to practice what you have learned so far.

Quiz: improving the communication skills of your team

Question #1

Andrew, one of your subordinates, is unable to get to the point briefly when speaking at your team meetings. What should you do?

  1. Nothing. Over time, he will learn to communicate more effectively.
  2. Use your body language to let him know he should get to the point faster.
  3. After the meeting, speak to him one-on-one and coach him on being more concise.
  4. Organize a group training session on speaking concisely. Everyone could benefit.
  5. Sign him up for a short course on public speaking.

The correct answer is C.

A is wrong because few people are self-learners, and anyway, even they would learn faster if coached.

B might be too subtle (thus ineffective) or too evident (thus humiliating), neither of which is good.

D is suboptimal because, unless you’re a top-5% teacher, group training is only effective for teaching “checklist procedures” and compliance matters.

E is bad because your employees need a quick coaching session on speaking concisely, not a course on public speaking. The latter will be intimidating, and most of its contents irrelevant to their weekly tasks.

Question #2

What’s the best time to talk to Andrew about his inability to speak concisely?

  1. Immediately after the meeting, as soon as everyone else leaves.
  2. During the next one-on-one with him.
  3. During an ad-hoc meeting with him.

They are all good answers. It doesn’t really matter when you speak with him, as long as it’s in a private setting and not too far in time.

An email or Slack message won’t do, though – it has to be in person or over a video call. It’s not just about telling him what he should do; it’s also about answering his doubts, having him practice, observing him and his body language, and giving him immediate feedback about that. Doing all of that requires an in-person conversation or a video call.

Question #3

Which of the following are appropriate ways to start the conversation with Andrew?

  1. “Hi Andrew, how is it going?” <make a bit of small talk> “I wanted to talk to you about your contributions during our weekly team meetings.”
  2. “Andrew, I wanted to talk to you about your contributions during our weekly team meetings.”
  3. “Andrew, your contributions during our weekly team meetings are very valuable. However, you could get to the point a bit faster. If you did, others would listen to you more.”
  4. “Andrew, I wanted to thank you for mentioning […] during our latest team meeting. In general, your contributions are very valuable. If only you got to the point a bit faster, others would listen to you more.”

The best answer is D.

A is bad because employees don’t like being called into a meeting by their boss and the conversation beginning with small talk. They might get defensive and wonder, “are they going to tell me something bad?”

B is okay, but C and D are better, for they acknowledge the good and frame the issue at hand as a limitation for the interlocutor that, if solved, could benefit him.

The difference between C and D is that the latter cites a specific example of something good Andrew did, making him feel listened to and appreciated. Instead, C gives a generic appreciation that might be received with defensiveness if you have the pattern of preceding negative feedback with generic positive comments.

Question #4

You told Andrew that he should speak more concisely and explained how to do that. What next?

  1. If his body language and comments during your explanation showed that he might not feel ready, ask him to practice right now with you; otherwise, ask him to practice during the next team meeting.
  2. Ask him if he has any doubts or reservations. If so, request him to practice right now with you; otherwise,  ask him to practice during the next team meeting.
  3. Ask him if he has any doubts or reservations, then request him to practice right now with you.

The correct answer is C. It is recommended to probe for doubts or reservations, but you should not skip the step of having him practice right now with you, even if he says he’s ready. It is just too important to catch misunderstandings and hesitations and to reinforce and validate improvements.

Question #5

You asked Andrew to practice with you. He repeated the progress update he made during the last meeting, this time spending half of the time. Success! What should you say now?

  1. “Excellent, Andrew. This is much better.”
  2. “Excellent, Andrew. This is more engaging and understandable, even if there are fewer details.”

The correct answer is B.

A is too generic. Andrew might wonder if he’s been too concise or if you even listened to him.

B is better. Not only does it validate Andrew’s improvement in conciseness, but it also addresses his fear that skipping on some details made him less comprehensible. Therefore, it ensures that Andrew will take the same tradeoff even outside of the coaching session.


The communication skills of your people are a major bottleneck to how effective and engaging your team meetings can be. Coach them outside of the meetings to speak more concisely and concretely.

Effective meeting agendas

Most managers run their meetings with an agenda: a list of points to cover. For example, “company updates, project updates, sales updates, any other business.”

This is good.

However, most managers also go through the agenda items mindlessly. They only care about checking them off the to-do list without a mindful effort towards covering them effectively.

For example, it’s common for a manager to communicate company updates abstractly, with no regard to whether the attendees understand what they mean to them. Or to ask for a round of progress updates, with no regard as to whether doing so makes the project more likely to be completed successfully.

As a result, meetings take time and energy but yield little tangible benefit.

In the rest of this chapter, I will guide you on how to run some of the most common agenda items effectively. Before that, my #1 tip for a more effective agenda.

Rename your agenda items not as points to cover but outcomes to achieve.

For example, “progress updates” becomes “identify project roadblocks and plan concrete actions to address them.” Similarly, “communicate the new policy” becomes “everyone understands what they have to do differently from now on.”

You can feel the difference. “Progress updates” invites you to mindlessly ask your team about the status of their projects. It usually results in them talking for a few minutes, with little tangible advancement. Conversely, “identify project roadblocks and plan concrete actions to address them” invites you to probe for problems and opportunities. It results in a constructive conversation that materially improves the status of the project.

So, I invite you to perform this quick exercise, right now.

  1. Take a sheet of paper, or open a blank document on your laptop.
  2. Write down a bullet list of the current agenda for your weekly team meeting. Include all the talking points that you usually cover. For example, “company updates, project updates, sales updates, any other business.”
  3. Rewrite each bullet point as an outcome to achieve. For example,
    – “company updates” becomes “making my team understand the implications of new policies,”
    – “project updates” becomes “identify project roadblocks and plan concrete actions to address them,”
    – and “sales updates” becomes “prioritize sales efforts and surface new sales opportunities.”

If this exercise seems hard, do not worry. The following paragraphs will guide you through some of the most common agenda items.

Agenda item – Progress updates

Many weekly meetings contain a “progress updates” agenda item. It usually consists of the manager running the meeting commenting on the status of some team projects, and/or the participants taking turns to comment on the status of their projects.

Progress updates are neither effective nor ineffective per se. What determines their effectiveness is how intentional they are. Are they done to check off a to-do list item or to generate progress?

Here is an example of a bad progress update:

  • Manager: “John, please update us on the new store opening.”
  • John: “The project is progressing well. This week we will finish the plumbing and electricity works. We expect to be ready by the deadline.”
  • Manager: “Thank you.”

This progress update is bad because nothing changed from it. John and his project are in the same situation as they were before the conversation took place.

Meetings that don’t change anything are a waste of time.

Here is a better project update:

  • Manager: “John, please update us on the new store opening.”
  • John: “The project is progressing well. This week we will finish the plumbing and electricity works. We expect to be ready by the deadline.”
  • Manager: “Any reason for which we might miss the deadline?”
  • John: “There is still a permit missing. The town council said it will arrive by the end of next week but, you know, bureaucracy.”
  • Manager: “This could be a critical bottleneck. Please follow up with them every other day. Also, ask our lawyer, Sam, to help: he knows everyone in the town council.”
  • John: “I will do that.”
  • Manager: “Thank you.”

This conversation is more constructive than the previous one. A good question helped identify and address bottlenecks. 

This is what good progress updates do: they surface and manage bottlenecks. As a result, each employee walks out of the meeting with higher chances of success than when they walked in.

The best way to do it is to ask great questions, such as the below:

  • “Any reason for which we might miss the deadline?”
  • “Any reason for which we might overrun the budget?”
  • “Any reason for which the customer might not want to sign the contract?”

If you keep asking good questions during project updates, over time, attendees will answer them proactively. For example, this is what the same conversation as above would look like after a few months of the manager asking good questions:

  • Manager: “John, please update us on the new store opening.”
  • John: “The project is progressing well. This week we will finish the plumbing and electricity works, we expect to be ready by the deadline. One potential source of delay might be the town hall taking too long to send us the permit. I’m managing this risk by calling them every other day, but I’m open to additional suggestions.”
  • Manager: “You might ask our lawyer, Sam, to help: he knows everyone in the town council.”
  • John: “Excellent, thank you.”
  • Manager: “Thank you.”

Because great questions teach skills, they are not a form of micromanagement. Conversely, they’re what enables people not to be micromanaged. Of course, this is only true if you ask questions with the intent of preventing future negative outcomes and/or teaching skills, not if you ask them just to feel useful or to make a point.

Before continuing with this guide, a question for you. Which percentage of your employees walks out of a progress update with a better idea of the risks endangering their project and/or how to manage them?

This is the metric to improve while running project updates.

You want to be so helpful that people look forward to project updates.

Avoiding common mistakes during progress updates

  • Do not give the impression that progress updates are for you, the manager. Providing you with a status update shouldn’t be the primary purpose. Instead, their main purpose should be to identify and address project obstacles and risks. 
  • Do not let pass uninformative progress updates. If the speaker doesn’t proactively address obstacles and risks during their progress update, ask the relevant questions, such as “any reason why the project might get delayed?”
  • Acknowledge informative progress updates. If the speaker does proactively address obstacles and risks during their progress update, let them know you appreciate that. Use sentences such as “thank you for having proactively addressed the risks.” It’s not necessary to do it every time, but you should aim to do it at least 20% of the time. (I do not mean that if someone does well, there should be a 20% chance that you acknowledge it. You should acknowledge them 100% of the time they have been very effective – either in absolute terms or relative to their previous performance. Instead, here I mean that you should use the 20% figure to calibrate what “doing well” means. If you find yourself acknowledging your people fewer times than that, are you setting the bar too high, or are you not coaching them enough?).

Quiz – Progress updates

Question #1

What are progress updates for? (Select all that apply)

  1. Identifying bottlenecks.
  2. Identifying delays and other risks.
  3. Addressing bottlenecks, delays, and other risks.
  4. Letting everyone know what everyone else is working on.
  5. Letting everyone learn from everyone else’s problems and solutions.

The correct answers are A, B, C, and E.

D is a nice-to-have but often unnecessary. It shouldn’t be the main purpose of progress updates. Progress updates could theoretically be done as one-on-ones. The reason they are usually done in a group is to use the experience of others to identify and address bottlenecks and to let the team learn from the process.

Question #2

Imagine that, up to today, you ran progress updates without caring about proactively surfacing and addressing bottlenecks and risks. After having read this guide, you want to start doing that. What should you do?

  1. During the next team meeting, announce that from now on, progress updates will focus on identifying and addressing project bottlenecks and risks.
  2. During the next team meeting, start the progress update as usual. Then, after the first attendee finishes his update, probe for bottlenecks and risks by asking them a question.

There are two possible correct answers: “A and B” or “B.”

Doing A alone is insufficient. As with all changes, announcing them with words is never enough – you must also follow up with action.

Agenda item – Brainstorming

During team meetings, it is common to have moments where participants are invited to come up with ideas or suggestions. Let’s see how to make such moments more effective.

Some highlights from the video:

  • It’s hard for your team to come up with good ideas and suggestions unless you make crystal clear what criteria and constraints a good idea must fulfill.
  • The best way to do the above is through coaching and feedback.
  • Most varieties of coaching are better done in private settings but coaching your subordinates to come up with great ideas is better done during team meetings.
  • You should comment on each idea, good or bad, aiming to achieve two goals. First, make the suggester more likely to keep providing ideas in the future, rather than less likely. And second, help the suggester and everyone else in the room understand what makes for a good idea and what makes for a bad one.
  • You can achieve the latter goal by giving specific feedback. Whenever you hear a good idea, explain concretely what makes it good. Whenever you hear a bad idea, explain why it’s a bad idea. If it’s bad because of a constraint, such as a budget or a deadline, mention the constraint so that people will consider it in the future. (The quiz at the end of this section will help you understand how to practice the above.)

Avoiding common mistakes during brainstorming

  • Be concrete when asking for ideas. Explain what you’re looking for and what you’re not looking for.
  • Make examples of good and bad ideas. Explain why the examples of good ideas are good and why the examples of bad ideas are bad.
  • Do not let good ideas pass unacknowledged. If you do, people will suggest fewer good ideas in the future. If an idea is good enough, thank the suggester and note it down; if it’s not good enough, explain why it’s not good enough. Avoid indifference.
  • Do not let bad ideas pass unacknowledged. If they do, people won’t learn how to get better ideas and will feel like they wasted their efforts coming up with an idea. If an idea is bad, do not let people wonder why it’s bad (if they knew, they wouldn’t have suggested it). Instead, make them feel listened to and explain why you cannot accept their suggestion.

Quiz – Coaching your subordinates on providing better ideas

Question #1

You want to brainstorm ideas to improve customer engagement during the current team meeting. What are good ways to start?

  1. “Any good ideas to improve customer engagement?”
  2. “I’m looking for ideas to improve customer engagement. It has to be something that doesn’t require large funding and that we can implement within the next quarter.”
  3. “I’m looking for ideas to improve customer engagement. For example, I liked last year’s idea of creating a social media challenge. But it doesn’t have to be social-media related – anything that doesn’t require large funding, and we can implement within the next three months could work.”

The best answer is C. The example helps people concretely understand what you’re looking for. Moreover, the “but it doesn’t have to be social-media related” prevents people from anchoring too much on the example.

B is acceptable. Though it lacks a concrete example, it clearly explains the boundaries.

A is too abstract. The lack of boundaries doesn’t encourage creativity; it prevents it.

Question #2

You’re in a meeting with a few of your subordinates. You just asked for ideas on improving sales. One of them suggested advertising on TV. However, you know that your organization doesn’t have (yet) the budget to do that. How should you reply to the suggestion?

  1. Ignore him. This way, you won’t demoralize him for having come up with a bad idea.
  2. Thank him for the idea, then ask him for more suggestions. Earlier or later, he will come up with a good idea.
  3. Acknowledge the idea and explain why the team cannot act on it (budget constraints).

The correct answer is C.

A is bad because ignoring a bad idea doesn’t prevent a motivational loss. Actually, it causes it.

B is bad because acknowledging an idea but not taking action on it makes you look insincere or inconsistent – either way, not an impression you want to give. Moreover, it is demoralizing in the long run (why should they bother coming up with ideas if you never take action on them?). And finally, if people don’t understand what makes a bad idea bad, they will have a hard time understanding what makes a good idea good.

C is the best approach. It prevents the feeling of having wasted effort associated with coming up with an idea that got ignored. Moreover, it explains the constraints to keep in mind while trying to come up with good ideas. It makes the team feel like they’re getting closer to having a good idea.

Question #3

One of your subordinates came up with a good idea. You plan to implement it during the next business cycle, which starts in two months. What should you tell your subordinate?

  1. “Thank you. This is a great idea.”
  2. “Thank you. This is a great idea because….”
  3. “Thank you. This is a great idea because […] However, due to our planning cycles, it will take us at least two months for us to start implementing it.”

The correct answer is C.

A is not terrible, but it sounds generic. Your subordinate might even wonder whether you liked the idea or just mumbled a generic response not to make them feel bad.

B is more specific, so it makes your subordinate feel listened to and valued. However, it might create the expectation that their idea will be implemented soon. When that doesn’t happen, they will suffer a motivational loss. Even if their idea does get implemented in three months, by the end of the first month, they might start doubting whether their efforts are going to waste; as a result, they will disengage.

To summarize: whenever you receive a suggestion, good or bad. First, acknowledge the suggestion to prevent the suggesters from doubting that their efforts went to waste. Second, if it’s a bad idea, explain why it’s a bad idea, and if it’s a good idea, also explain why it’s a good idea. Teach your people the constraints and criteria you have in evaluating ideas. This way, they won’t get demoralized if an idea of theirs doesn’t get implemented, and over time, they will come up with better ones.

What we have seen so far

  • A limiting factor to meeting effectiveness is its participants’ ability to participate effectively. This includes skills such as speaking concisely and concretely, and using progress updates to advance or derisk projects.
  • It’s the manager’s job to teach such skills. The best way is one-on-one coaching outside of team meetings.
  • An effective way to teach people to surface problems and propose good ideas is to ask constructive questions and provide in-meeting feedback on what makes for a good contribution (and what makes for a bad one).
  • Rephrase your agenda items in terms of outcomes to achieve. Then, ask the right questions to advance towards that outcome. Consider coaching your people so that they contribute more towards these outcomes (for example, coach your people towards proactively surfacing risk factors for their projects).

The four points above are the most important things about running effective meetings. For completeness, this guide continues with more points below. But please note that it’s much more important to implement the four points above than anything written below.

And in general, remember this rule of thumb for management. Your job as a manager is not to make your job easier; it’s to make your team’s jobs easier. Meetings should be helpful to them, not you.

Make your meetings helpful.

And remember – meetings shouldn’t be defined by processes but outcomes. If you do all the right agenda items but don’t do them right, it won’t matter. Do what it takes to ensure that you and others have the skills not only to do the right things but also to do them right.


How to communicate more concretely

A common mistake managers make is to communicate too abstractly.

For example, imagine a manager saying, “customers complain we are too slow to pick up their calls.” What does it mean, concretely? What is “too slow?” What’s the implication? It’s not clear.

Here is a better way to convey the same message: “Customers complain we are too slow to pick up their calls; let’s aim to always reply by the third ring.”

As another example, “I want you to keep progress updates more concise.” What does “more concise” mean, concretely? How can I be more concise? Again, it’s unclear.

Here is a better way to convey the same message: “Please keep your progress updates within two minutes” or “only communicate the current status and the top two or three challenges we need to know about.”

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, it is necessary to relay abstract information. Perhaps, as a manager, you need to relay the CEO’s last corporate email, and corporate emails are necessarily abstract (because they need to address everyone, so they address no one).

But abstract information should always be immediately followed by concrete one. Relay the CEO’s corporate email and immediately explain what it means, concretely, for your team.

If your team includes people in managing positions, encourage them to do the same: to relay your message to their teams and then immediately explain what it means, concretely, to them.

Here are some tips to be more concrete:

  • Explain what it means for those in front of you.
  • Explicit which future actions you expect those in front of you to take.
  • Paint visual examples. Describe what your people have been doing until now and what they will do differently in the future.
  • Ask probing questions. “Do you understand what you will have to do differently?” (Do not accept a simple “yes.” Instead, ask for concrete answers, such as “Yes, we will have to do X and Y.”)

Avoiding abstract communication

  • Do not let people wonder what it means for them. Tell them.
  • Do not describe concepts but actions. For example, do not say, “ethics is a core value.” Instead, say, “we never compromise on ethics.” Even better, describe actions and tradeoffs, such as “we never compromise on ethics, even when our competitors do.
  • Do not use comparatives but quantitative descriptors, if possible and appropriate. For example, do not say “we should be more responsive” but “we should answer all client inquiries within one business day.”
  • Assume you will be misunderstood, and ask yourself in which ways. Then, proactively address such possible misunderstandings while speaking.
  • Your job is not to communicate but to facilitate action. You didn’t do your job if you communicated a piece of information. You did your job if people understood what that information should mean for them.
  • Your job is not to be clear enough to be understood. Your job is to be so clear that you cannot be misunderstood.

A short exercise

  1. Take your last email in which you communicated a process, policy, or core value. If you never did that, take one you received from your boss or your organization.
  2. Copy/paste its text into a word editor or print it out.
  3. Then, read it, and underline all points in which the text could have been more concrete. Where are people left wondering, “what does it mean, concretely?”

Quiz – Concrete communication

Question #1

Another office of your company has recently been the victim of a cyber attack. You need to communicate to your team that they should pay more attention to implementing cyber security best practices. What are good ways to do that?

  1. “Cyber security is important.”
  2. “Please follow cyber security best practices.”
  3. “Please all follow cyber security best practices.”
  4. “Never click on suspect email links.”
  5. “Never click on email links linking to anything other than our own website and tools. If a colleague sends you an external link, always call them first to verify they really meant to send that link (it’s not an impersonator, and they haven’t been hacked).

The best answer is E.

A is too abstract.

B and C are abstract, too – if people really read the best practices, you wouldn’t have to remind them. Don’t refer to manuals; tell them what the manual says. C is slightly better than B because it explicits that everyone is expected to follow the best practices, even if their job isn’t specifically about them.

D is better but still not concrete enough. What does “suspect link” means? What if a trusted colleague sends them the link?”

E is concrete enough. It mentions a specific action and proactively addresses common misunderstandings.

Question #2

During one of your team meetings, your colleague just concluded a project update, mentioning there’s a risk of delay due to bureaucratic approval. You asked them if they’re addressing that risk, and they replied that “they’re keeping a close eye on it.” What should you say next?

  1. “Great, thank you.”
  2. “What do you mean concretely, keeping a close eye?”

The correct answer is B.

A is too generic – unless you have 100% trust that your colleague knows what they are doing, you should ask for a more concrete reply. Doing so isn’t micromanaging. If you replied, “I would also do X and Y,” it could be micromanagement. But asking “what do you mean, concretely” is never micromanagement.


Abstract communication is confusing – especially when communicating down the hierarchical line. Talk in terms of concrete actions rather than abstract concepts.

How to keep meetings relevant

Whenever I ask an audience of managers what’s the #1 pain point in meetings, I get answered with “a lack of agenda.” But if I ask an audience of non-managers instead, the top answer is “irrelevance.”

How often, during a weekly team meeting, a project update degenerates into a ten-minute discussion that is only relevant to the manager and the person making the update while everyone else in the room wonders what they’re doing there?

Too many meetings are irrelevant. Or, to be precise, too many meetings contain too many discussion points irrelevant to most attendees.

The following video will teach you how to keep meetings relevant to attendees.

Some highlights from the video:

  • Consider splitting large meetings into smaller, more targeted ones. For example, instead of having a team-wide 60-minutes Monday Morning Weekly meeting, have a 30-minute team-wide one and, after that, another 30-minutes sales-updates meeting only attended by the relevant employees.
  • During a meeting, strive to only discuss what is relevant to all participants. If you find yourself discussing something only relevant to a few people and it’s taking more than half a minute, consider saying, “this is not relevant to most of the attendees, so let’s discuss it later,” and take a note to follow up with the relevant people.
  • Alternatively, interrupt the discussion to explain how the current discussion is relevant to the whole team. For example, “the issue John is facing might also happen in any of your projects…” (more details on this in the video above).
  • Either way, after each meeting, ask yourself whether a portion of it felt boring or irrelevant to a significant portion of the attendance. If so, take action so that the next meeting will be more engaging and relevant.
  • There are two paths to engagement. The first one is fun and surprise. The second one is relevance and concreteness. Do not confuse the two: the former is a nice-to-have, whereas the latter is a requirement. If you make your meetings more engaging by being fun, you will not increase their usefulness. Not even indirectly – telling a joke at the beginning of the meeting might wake people up, but if the company update that follows is irrelevant, people will fall asleep as if the joke hadn’t been there. If you want to add a joke, great, but that won’t remove the need to be more relevant while talking business.

Quiz – Keeping meetings relevant

Question #1

Which meeting format is more efficient?

  1. One long weekly team-wide meeting.
  2. One short weekly team-wide meeting and a few short sub-team-specific meetings (e.g., a sales meeting, a project management meeting, etc.).

B is correct.

A is only more efficient for the manager.

B is more efficient for everyone else, as they only have to attend agenda items relevant to them.

Moreover, specific meetings allow for more concrete communication, whereas in large generic meetings, speakers must address everyone and thus cannot be too concrete, they must remain somehow abstract.

Question #2

During a weekly team meeting, one of the attendees brought up a problem in one of their projects. A second attendee proposed a solution, and now the two have been discussing the way forward for more than thirty seconds. As the manager running the meeting, what should you do?

  1. Let them continue the discussion until the other attendees show the first signs of disengagement.
  2. Interrupt them and ask them to continue the discussion in private.
  3. Interrupt them and remind the team why what is being discussed is relevant to everyone.

Either B or C is appropriate, depending on the discussion at hand.

A works in theory. However, in practice, unless you’re a top-5%-body-language-reader, by the time you notice that people are disengaged, they have been disengaged for a while, and the damage is already done.

B is always a good option. Some might worry that it sounds confrontational, but that is only true if you are inconsistent in its application. If you always interrupt people who started a sub-discussion during a meeting and have been clear beforehand that such sub-discussions should be avoided, it won’t sound personal anymore – that’s what you do with everyone.

C is a good option when everyone could benefit from listening to the conversation. In that case, unless the relevance is obvious, spell it out (hint: managers have a privileged overview of the business and thus overestimate the obviousness of relevance). Some might worry that explicit explanations are insults to the intelligence of the attendees, but making them feel like they’re wasting their time is a larger disrespect.


Strive to keep meetings relevant to their attendees. Do so by keeping discussions concrete, explaining what matters and why, and keeping meetings as small as possible.

Avoiding shortcuts

Some highlights from the video:

  • If you tell a joke at the beginning of the meeting, you will engage people, but only for the duration of the joke. Whether the attendees will be engaged while discussing business depends on whether the business is discussed clearly, concisely, and concretely.
  • Telling a joke or bringing some fun into the meeting are nice-to-haves, but don’t compensate for lack of communication skills.
  • Strive to be relevant, concise, and concrete. Coach your people to do the same.

How to ask for active commitment

How often does the following happen during team meetings?

  • Manager: “I need you all to start using this time tracking software.”
  • Attendees: *silently nodding.*
  • Manager: “Great. Now, let’s move to the next point of the agenda…”

Will the meeting attendees start using the time tracking software? Perhaps they will, perhaps they won’t. We don’t know because the manager didn’t ask for active commitment but was satisfied with passive commitment.

Active commitment consists of explicit promises, such as “I will do it.”

Passive commitment consists of the absence of vocalized objections, such as silent nodding.

Passive commitment isn’t a real form of commitment, nor does it mean there aren’t objections. It just means that people didn’t vocalize any objection, not that they don’t have any.

Good managers are never satisfied with passive commitment. They know it might hide concerns and might not result in action.

Great managers always ask for active commitment. After uttering an order, they follow up with some of the following:

  • “Will you do it?”
  • “Any reason for which you might not do it?”
  • “Any question, concern, or objection?”
  • “What will you do?”

If they get replied with a concern or objection, great! The concern or objection would have been there anyway; at least it is now known and can be addressed.

Never “punish” people for raising objections or concerns. You want to avoid them learning the lesson that next time they should hide their concerns.

Though, once you address these concerns (or after you decide that they should take action despite these concerns or objections), feel free to call them out if they didn’t take action as ordered (assuming the action demanded is ethical, of course).

Avoiding common mistakes in asking for commitment

  • Never be satisfied with a silent nod when delegating or ordering an important task. If people nod, always follow up with a “will you do it” or “any reason why you won’t do it?”
  • It’s okay to accept a silent nod after having asked, “will you do it,” but not after having just explained what must be done. In the first case, the nod is an explicit “I will do it.” Conversely, in the latter case, it might mean “I understood what you say” with no commitment to action.
  • If you feel that asking “will you do it” is too commandeering, ask “any reason for which you might not do it?” The latter is less confrontational and more likely to surface concerns or objections.
  • If you get replied with a concern or objection, always directly address it. There are three outcomes possible:
    1. “It’s a valid concern, so I don’t expect you to do it anymore.”
    2. “It’s a valid concern, and we can address it this way […] Any other concerns?”
    3. “I understand, but I will need you to do it anyway because […] Will you do it?”

The outcome of the discussion should always be explicit and unambiguous: do you expect your interlocutor to follow your instructions or not?

Quiz – Asking for active commitment

Question #1

Due to inflation, your company must raise prices. You instruct your team to call their customers and communicate that future orders will see a price increase. Your team members nod in response. What might the nod mean? (Select all that apply.)

  1. “I will do it.”
  2. “I might not do it – not now, at least.”

The correct answer is “A and B.”

The nod might mean either. You won’t know which it is until you ask for active commitment.

Question #2

What are appropriate ways to ask for active commitment? (Select all that apply.)

  1. “Will you do it?”
  2. “Any questions, concerns, or objections?”
  3. “What will you do?”

They’re all correct answers. The point of asking for active commitment is to surface any potential objections so that they can be addressed before they result in your orders not being followed.


Great managers are never satisfied with passive commitment (unless for the most trivial tasks or with the most trusted colleagues). Instead, they ask for active commitment, with questions such as “will you do it?” or “any questions, concerns, or objections?”

How to follow up after weekly meetings

If you assign a non-trivial task during a weekly meeting, you must follow up on it. (During the next team meeting or outside of team meetings – it doesn’t matter.)

Especially in the case of experienced colleagues, a follow-up may seem unnecessary or even disrespectful. However, if you do not follow up, people to whom you assigned a task might get the impression that you made them work on something whose outcome does not matter – something way more disrespectful.

Hence, always follow up on the tasks you assign – if anything, just to thank them for having completed them so swiftly and reliably. Never let them doubt that they wasted their efforts on something that didn’t matter.

How to keep track of follow-ups

The best system is the system that works for you. If you already have a system to track the tasks you delegate, and it’s effective, then great! Just skip the rest of this section. Otherwise, here is what I found worked for me and many of the people I work with.

I always take with me to any meeting a sheet of paper divided into two columns. I fill the left column before the meeting with a bullet list of the outcomes I want to achieve during the meeting. For example, “advance and derisk the Acme project, request potential clients list, and brainstorm cross sales ideas.” This is like a to-do list for the meeting but focuses on outcomes over actions (“it’s not done until it’s achieved”).

I fill the right column during the meeting with a list of any task I assigned and its deadline. For example, “follow up with Mark on the potential clients’ list by 27/8” and “send meeting notes by tomorrow.”

After the meeting, I copy the right column items into my to-do list. I know that if I don’t do this, I might not check the meeting notes again and forget about the follow-ups.

Of course, the process outlined above is what works for me. If you have something else that works for you, please keep using that. However, if you don’t yet have something that works for you, consider giving my process a try. It is simple, effective, and many have been using it with good results.

Avoiding common mistakes in following up after weekly meetings

  • Make clear that follow-ups are to surface obstacles and misunderstandings early. If you believe that follow-ups are just for accountability purposes, you will feel ashamed of following up with your most experienced and reliable people. But if you do not follow up with them, you ensure that any obstacle or misunderstanding will remain hidden until it’s too late. Instead of following up with sentences such as, “did you prepare the report I asked you,” use sentences such as, “how is it going with the report I asked you? Any questions or concerns?”
  • Follow up early. Do not wait until the deadline to follow up. If you do, and there’s been a delay or misunderstanding, there will be a lot of blame thrown around. The conversation will be frustrating and destructive. Instead, follow up early. If you assign a task to be completed within a month, follow up after a few days, a week at most. If the follow-up surfaces a misunderstanding, the delegee won’t have spent an entire month working in the wrong direction. And if the follow-up surfaces an obstacle, there’s still plenty of time to address it. Either way, the discussion will be more constructive and less frustrating than if it happened later.
  • Set up an early check-in. Whenever you delegate a major task (say, one that takes at least a few weeks to complete), consider scheduling an early follow-up (the “check-in”). The key is to schedule it early (at about 10% to 20% of the time between the assignment and the deadline). Moreover, make clear that it’s not to generically check progress against the full task but to make sure the task got started, that there is a good plan towards completing it, and that eventual bottlenecks have been addressed ahead of time. (I will describe how to set early check-ins in my future guide on following up. Meanwhile, you will find a concrete example in the quiz below.)
  • Tell people when you will follow up. If you don’t, you might take them by surprise (“I didn’t start working on it yet”). More importantly, the fear of taking them by surprise may prevent you from following up. Instead, do yourself and them a favor, and while you delegate the task, explicitly mention when you will follow up. For example, “Please prepare the presentation by Friday” or “I need the presentation by Friday, but please send me a draft by Thursday.”
  • Do not wait for the next meeting. For example, if the best time to follow up on a delegated task is Thursday, but your next meeting is planned for Monday, do not wait for Monday. Instead, pick up the phone or send a quick email on Friday. Follow-ups don’t have to be formal, but they do need to happen early.

Quiz – Following up after weekly meetings

Question #1

On Monday, during the weekly team meeting, you asked one of your senior employees to prepare a report by the end of the week. Today is Wednesday, and they just sent you an email with the report. It is good, as all their work usually is. What should you do now?

  1. Reply to the email now, thanking them.
  2. Thank them during your one-on-one on Friday.
  3. Thank them publicly during the following Monday’s team meeting.
  4. Note it down and add it to the list of things to thank them during the next performance review.

The correct answer is A.

B is also appropriate, but only in addition to A, not in place of it. If you only do B but not A, on Thursday, they might wonder whether you even looked at the report or whether they wasted their efforts by preparing it. As a result, they will put less effort into the tasks you delegate to them in the future.

C is only appropriate for major successes, and anyway, should not be a reason not to do A (and, perhaps, B too).

D is never appropriate. Never wait for a performance review to acknowledge your people’s good work.

Question #2

You just asked one of your colleagues to organize a customer event in two months. What is an appropriate way to set up an early check-in?

  1. During the next team meeting, ask them about their progress in organizing the event.
  2. While assigning the task, ask them to prepare a plan outline by next Friday, which you will review together.

The best answer is B.

The problem with A is not that asking for a progress update during a team meeting is wrong per se. It’s that if you do that without informing them beforehand, you might catch them by surprise, and the first update may get awkward and/or useless. Moreover, unless the customer event is relevant to all participants in the team meeting, it might be more engaging to review its plan during an ad-hoc session.

Meeting audit cards

Consider printing this checklist and reviewing it after your team meetings during the next couple of months.


  • Did anyone arrive late?
  • Did anyone speak too long?
  • Did anyone speak too abstractly?
  • Did any discussion get irrelevant?
  • Did any participant look tired or distracted? (If so, it’s not the distracted people to blame but the poor speaker.)


  • Did people walk out of the meeting with a clearer idea of what to do next?
  • Did the meeting surface problems and misunderstandings?
  • If so, have they been concretely addressed?
  • Was the meeting helpful to its attendees? (If you didn’t mandate attendance to the meeting, would your people still participate?)


(Why do I call this checklist an “audit card?” You will learn during my future mini-guide on audits. Spoiler: audits shouldn’t be tools for compliance but to surface opportunities for improvement.)

(Do you want me to drop into your next weekly meeting, send you a mini-report with areas for improvement, and perhaps coach you on implementing them? That’s one of the services I offer. Email me if interested.)


In this mini-guide, I showed you how to improve team meetings. Here are three of the most important action points.

  1. Focus on meeting effectiveness. Rephrase agenda items as outcomes. Keep discussions relevant and concrete. Strive to make meetings helpful for their attendees, not just you.
  2. Coach. Coach. Coach. Your people need the skills to contribute to the meetings effectively and engagingly, and it’s jour job to provide them. The best way to do this is not through training but coaching (the latter is individual and focuses on immediate practice and feedback).
  3. If you manage managers, coach how to coach others. Share this guide with them. Do like this guide: don’t just “teach” but also use concrete examples, ask them to practice, and give them feedback.

If you need help with any of the above or would like some targeted advice, I can help.

The path forward

I hope you enjoyed this guide on effective meetings.

If you have questions, feel free to send me an email. You might also be interested in scheduling a one-on-one meeting with me to receive personalized advice.

If this has been useful to you, please share it with your friends and colleagues. It would mean a lot to me. Thank you!

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