Productive Meetings 101: Tips and Tactics for Successful Collaborations

Author: Whitney Koch

Productive meetings are essential for teams and organizations to align, collaborate, and drive progress on key initiatives. However, we’ve all experienced meetings plagued by a lack of focus, preparation or clear next steps. 

During a recent #USAMfgHour chat on X led by virtual assistance service provider – VirtuDesk and business owner and entrepreneur Pavel Stepanov, manufacturing professionals shared their top tips for hosting productive, collaborative meetings that engage all participants and lead to actionable outcomes. From setting clear agendas to encouraging active participation to evaluating effectiveness, this recap covers best practices for successful team meetings.

Problems That Hinder Productive Meetings

The chat began with co-host VirtuDesk asking participants to share problems they have experienced that have hindered productive meetings.

“No agenda!” exclaimed Whitney Koch from Keystone Click.

Responding in sympathy with Koch, host VirtuDesk said, “Totally agree with this which often results in some key points not being discussed during the meeting.”

Nigel T. Packer from PelaTis Online shared a long list: “Poor chairmanship. No agenda and meeting notes. Individuals dominating the meeting. Disinterest from some. Lack of to do/action lists. Not enough beer! (Checking to see if you read it all).”

“Your list is spot-on, Nigel!” replied Koch. “In addition to no agenda, the lack of action items at the end is my pet peeve.”

Replying to Packer, Ruby Rusine from Social Success Marketing said, “Ha! We only have coffee, Nigel.”

“I read that entire list, Nigel,” added Suzan Bostick from DCSC, Inc.

Co-host VirtuDesk concurred with Packer, stating, “Totally agree with all of this, Nigel. And you have beers after?”

“Some meetings have driven me to have beer during!” Packer joked.

Rusine added a list of problems she and her team have experienced. “Sudden loss of power and connectivity (or fluctuating connections), unexpected events, noise, and others,” she said.

“That is definitely challenging, given that so many meetings are virtual or hybrid now,” commented Koch.

Co-host VirtuDesk agreed, adding, “Ooh, yes, especially for remote workers.”

“The ends of a couple spectrums!” asserted Anna Scheller from Capri Temporary Housing. “Agenda (None or TOO detailed!) [and] Chatter (No chatter management or ZERO interaction).”

Wanting more, host VirtuDesk inquired of Scheller: “I’m wondering if you have tips for creating an effective agenda? It’ll be great to share it here.”

Scheller shared her top three tips. “1: Keep it focused and following a logical order. E. G., Don’t put the action item creation time BEFORE the solution brainstorming. 2: Keep it time-appropriate! If you’ve only got 30 minutes, don’t build a 4-page agenda. 3: Build in chatter time.”

“Weather!” declared Amy Anderson. “More than one meeting has been sabotaged by impending weather – especially during tornado season in the deep south…”

Anderson’s comment started a side conversation about the negative impact weather has had on meetings.

“That’s true. We can’t control the weather,” said co-host VirtuDesk.

Rusine asked Anderson, “Have you experienced this?”

“Yes!” Anderson answered. “It’s amazing how often team building, education focused meetings were cancelled for weather (both before and after team members made special efforts to come in just for said meeting) and then never rescheduled (causing problems the meeting would have preempted).”

Rusine commiserated with Anderson. “That’s terrible. Was there anything done to augment those events?”

“Unfortunately no,” stated Anderson. “Emergencies [were] handled on a case by case need, but most would not have become emergencies had planned meetings occurred or been rescheduled and occurred. A situation where a meeting would have been a more effective use of time, but it was what it was.”

“What would be your recommendation in cases like these?” wondered Rusine. 

Acknowledging Rusine, Anderson replied: “Good question. Flexibility and follow-through are management basics. When a business runs in [a]  continuous crisis atmosphere, basics often are seen as not urgent. This becomes a growing snowball. Take care of basics, take care of people, breathe.”

Before transitioning to the next question, Stepanov shared his answer: “Common issues include distractions, unclear agendas, and tech glitches. Ensure a focused environment and pre-set goals.”

“It’s all about planning ahead and setting everyone up for success during and after the meeting,” emphasized Koch.

Scheller concurred, adding, “Like sending the general agenda and brainstorm concepts to individuals who are quieter and need more time to think up ideas and solutions. Set 👏🏻 Your 👏🏻 People 👏🏻 Up 👏🏻 For 👏🏻 Success.”

Encouraging Active Collaboration and Participation

Participants were then asked to name strategies they have used to encourage active participation and collaboration among meeting attendees. 

“In our live office, we assign every team member to do the opening salvo for our meetings,” Rusine contributed. “I (Ruby) encourage my team to ask questions if there are things that aren’t clear. And I also make sure to inform them when there’s something that needs to be improved or done differently.”

Host VirtuDesk affirmed Rusine’s practices, stating, “That’s a great strategy, Ruby.”

“Never tell anyone who proposes an idea they are wrong,” Packer commented. “Ask them to prepare a proposal document for the next meeting agenda.  If they are serious they will work at it. It will also encourage them to voice other ideas and not keep them quiet.”

Scheller described the strategies employed at Capri Temporary Housing. “It depends on the attendees, but in most cases, we like to start our meetings with a few minutes of chatting and talking through how things have been going lately before we draw things into a focus so everyone feels more comfortable together,” she said.

“That’s a good idea,” Koch replied to Scheller. “Some people need a little time to warm up and feel comfortable to be more engaged.”

Host VirtuDesk agreed, adding, “Great tip, Anna. Chatting can build rapport and remove the barrier so everyone can share their real thoughts with the team.”

In that same vein, Felix P. Nater from Nater Associates commented, “Sending out the Meeting Agenda ahead of time created opportunities for those less incline (sic) to meet with the Meeting leader ahead of time.”

“That’s a good question!” asserted Koch in response to host VirtuDesk’s initial question. “I think it’s important for the meeting leader(s) to ensure each person has the opportunity to speak so they aren’t steamrolled by others and so the expectation is set that everyone participates.”

Expressing their agreement with Koch, host VirtuDesk replied, “This! It’s so important that everyone on the team is heard so they will be comfortable sharing!”

To close out this portion of the discussion, co-host Stepanov recommended these strategies: “Try utilizing interactive polls, breakout rooms, and direct questions to engage with attendees.”

Rusine wondered whether Stepanov’s strategies would apply to in-person meetings, to which co-host VirtuDesk answered, “Yes!”

“I like the idea of interactive polls!” declared Koch. “And I have been in some larger meetings that utilized breakout rooms – that was a nice way to ensure each person had the opportunity to share without the meeting taking hours.”

Rusine endorsed Koch’s response, adding, “I like this, too, especially if there’s a large number of attendees.”

Recommended Tools and Technologies

The chat continued the topic of active collaboration and meeting participation by naming the tools and technologies they would recommend.

“It’s not a tool per say (sic), but we like to use education about things like Emotional Quotient to improve our understanding of our team members and therefore create an atmosphere they can thrive in,” Scheller shared.

Co-host VirtuDesk replied to Scheller and asked, “Do you have any recommendations on how to measure EQ?”

“Yes!” Scheller answered excitedly. “There’s a company called TTI that actually has a quiz for measuring it as well as courses on the concept itself and how to improve your own EQ.”

Piggybacking on the earlier discussion on interactivity, Koch names specific tools. “I have used @polleverywhere before and will be experimenting with @Mentimeter in our quarterly meeting tomorrow!”

“We use a tool for collaboration where we put all our tasks and deadlines,” added Rusine.

Packer included recommended reading in his response. “Spend some time reading this book: Robert’s Rules of Order,” he said. 

“It’s not an actual tool but when I conduct meetings with our team members, I explain the goal and then ask their opinion on how we get there,” Kirsten Austin from DCSC, Inc. chimed in. “It is amazing how knowledgeable team members ~ even the more introverted, actually come up with really good ideas. As a Leader sometimes I just let everyone give me input and I write it down and ask them questions.”

Austin’s answer prompted a back-and-forth between her and Packer.

Replying to Austin, Packer noted, “Some of the best solutions come from those around you and not necessarily on the board. The guys on the shop floor have some excellent ideas.  It is always important to recognise their contribution.”

“100% listen to those on the floor!” affirmed Austin. “Your ground soldiers know more than talking heads sitting in offices. Sometimes it’s as simple as one new tool, one minor adjustment or a little tweak.”

“I picked up some brilliant ideas from my shop floor team when I was a manager at a production company,” Packer stated.

“Me too! When you allow people to feel comfortable enough to contribute and you listen instead of talking, AMAZING, things get done. You must start somewhere,” Austin declared.

As for co-host Stepanov the tools he highly recommended included “platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and collaborative docs like Google Docs.”

Handling Conflicts and Disagreements

With meeting productivity and collaboration covered, co-host VirtuDesk moved the discussion to a hot topic – how to handle conflicts or disagreements during meetings and how to maintain a positive atmosphere. 

“Yes, being in the technology business sometimes smart people bump heads and try to prove themselves vs. solving the issue,” explained Austin. “I try and reign (sic) them in by stating, this is simple, slow down, let’s talk like grown-ups. What is the problem and how do we resolve it?”

Scheller mentioned also having experienced challenging meetings. “Absolutely! In many cases, it’s over how to move forward on a specific issue/project,” she said. “It’s usually helpful to defer to the individual leading the meeting OR to take note of both options and make the decision at a later date so neither side feels slighted.” 

“Great tip, Anna,” co-host VirtuDesk commended Scheller. “We do believe delays will subside the anger inside.”

Speaking from her past experiences, Koch answered: “I try to listen to understand and take the position that conflicts or disagreements might not have to do with the meeting content. If possible, I think a follow-up meeting is a good idea to allow things to cool down.”

“So true. Love your tip of doing a follow-up meeting instead,” said co-host VirtuDesk in response to Koch.

Nater also agreed, adding, “The follow up meeting is a good way of showing those involved you value their input, ideas and opinions.”

“What has been the biggest challenge for you, Whit?” Rusine wanted to know. 

“This has thankfully not happened often,” Koch responded to Rusine. “My biggest challenge is not taking upset personally and letting it impede progress.”

Having also been in tense meetings with conflict and disagreements, co-host Stepanov suggested, “[I]t is best to stay neutral, encourage open dialogue, and focus on solutions rather than problems.”

Preventing Delays and Long Meetings

Long meetings and meeting delays happen. When a meeting is within your control, it’s important to be mindful of everyone’s time and manage the meeting effectively. Co-host VirtuDesk next asked for best practices to prevent meetings from running over or being delayed.

“I have chaired a number of conferences over the years and they have to be kept tight,” Packer said. “I create my ‘idiot book.’ I have a page for every agenda item and my notes. At the top of the page is a time allotted for the agenda item. It is very bad form to go over the schedule.”

“So true! Time is so valuable!” commented co-host VirtuDesk.

Noting her appreciation of Packer’s “idiot book,” Koch responded, “I love this, Nigel! It’s a very concrete way to keep the meeting and yourself organized.”

“The important thing is to never leave it out of your sight,” Packer asserted. “I used to write the minutes and action plan from it after the meetings.”

Scheller mentioned that there are many great meeting time-management best practices and listed several: “Having the meeting agenda broken out by time and available for everyone to see, having a time-keeper, reminding everyone at some point that keeping the meeting on track is about respecting *everyone’s* time… The list goes on and on!” she said.

“This is where an agenda can really help the meeting leader to push the conversation forward,” Koch maintained.” Consider also shortening the meeting time to add a sense of urgency. I have found long meetings to be less productive than shorter meetings.”

Koch’s response evoked agreement from Austin and co-host VirtuDesk.

“I agree with Whitney! Long meetings become boring and unproductive,” Austin stated.

“Yes! Totally agree with that, Whitney,” said co-host VirtuDesk, adding, “We also set a time for meetings and kept that it must not go beyond or else, tasks for the day will be delayed.”

“We have set a schedule for our live office hours so we know when we start and end,” contributed Rusine. “On my end, I use a timer and I encourage my team to do the same so we can really have focused times for all our tasks.”

Co-host VirtuDesk acknowledged Rusine’s response and added: “Great tip! We are also using a timer during meetings or informing the team that they only have allotted time slots for their report and can’t go beyond that.”

“It forces us to stay focused and it’s a good thing because there’s a lot of distractions especially if we’re working remotely,” Rusine replied.

Packer added a tip to this side conversation, stating, “If everyone sent their report out beforehand for reading, the meeting should only consist of any updates since their report was published. This frees time for discussion.”

“Facilitation always works for me in managing the discussions and the time,” Nater said.

Co-host Stepanov’s response was similar to that of many participants: “Set a strict agenda with time allocations and use timers to keep everyone on track. IMPORTANT NOTE: Stick to the agenda,” he emphasized.

Evaluating and Improving Future Meetings

To be successful in anything, it’s necessary to take the time to evaluate past actions, evaluate their effectiveness, and use that information to make improvements in the future. To end this #USAMfgHour, co-host VirtuDesk asked participants for techniques to implement this framework. 

“I LOVE this question!” enthused Koch. “At the end of our quarterly meetings, each person shares what they feel we should do more of, less of, and differently for the next meeting. We also rate the meeting and explain our reasoning.”

Rusine described how she and her team improve future meetings. “What works for us is to know that we have covered all our bases and we assess our work in the coming week to see if there are improvements or otherwise,” she said. “Because we’re a small team, it’s quite easy to monitor tasks.”

Similar to Koch, co-host Stepanov recommended conducting post-meeting surveys to gauge participant satisfaction. Additionally, he suggested “action item tracking to ensure follow-through, and review[ing] goals met vs. time spent to measure efficacy.”

“These are such awesome tips!” Scheller proclaimed. “We’re definitely gonna have to implement some of them. While our meetings tend to run effectively, we don’t have any KPIs for them… Well, we didn’t!”


Meetings play a vital role in driving team alignment, problem-solving, and moving projects forward. However, unproductive meetings can derail progress and frustrate team members. By implementing the expert tips shared during this #USAMfgHour chat, manufacturing leaders can facilitate energizing, collaborative meetings that respect everyone’s time. With some planning and the right practices, meetings can be an asset rather than a time drain for manufacturers striving to innovate and grow their operations.

About #USAMfgHour

Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on X using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.

Are you interested in hosting a #USAMfgHour chat? Contact organizers @DCSCinc, @SocialSMktg, and @KeystoneClick.

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