Meeting Facilitation & Time Management For Product People

Have you ever found yourself lost in a never-ending meeting, unclear about the decisions made? Or perhaps you've witnessed team members act contrary to what was agreed upon? These are common struggles in the realm of meeting facilitation, especially in product management and leadership roles.

In my career, I've spent up to 90% of my time in meetings, a figure not uncommon in upper management. Numerous studies highlight the drawbacks of excessive meetings, such as dwindling productivity and motivation.

That's why I'm sharing this guide on meeting facilitation. I've navigated these pitfalls and I want to help you avoid them too.

By the end of this blog post on meeting facilitation for product managers and leaders, you will be able to:

  • Prepare effectively for meetings, ensuring the right people are involved
  • Facilitate discussions to drive desired outcomes aligned with your project goals
  • Foster accountability among team members for delivering on commitments
  • Build a culture of efficiency and effectiveness in your meetings

But that's not all! I'll also share actionable tips on how to better organize yourself and declutter your calendar, optimizing your daily routines.

Remember, most of us have daily meetings. Why not apply what you learn here as a test in your everyday meetings? After all, change begins with action, and inaction leads to stagnation. Let's improve our meeting facilitation skills together! 🤝

Before we jump right into the details, I have one question for you. If you can relate to what's written above, in which meetings do you find yourself losing the most time?

Effective Meeting Facilitation Starts with Good Preparation

The essence of successful meeting facilitation lies in meticulous preparation, particularly for product managers and leaders. Here are seven key points to think of before you schedule meetings:

#1 Identify the Purpose of Your Meeting 💡

Are you scheduling a meeting for brainstorming or discussing? Or aiming to align, agree, or decide? The latter is more specific, such as defining initiatives to increase conversion rates, and often more productive in the context of meeting facilitation.

#2 Define the Desired Meeting Outcome 🎯

Knowing the anticipated outcome is crucial. What do you want to achieve or what actions do you want to initiate after the meeting?

#3 Question the Need for a Meeting 🤔

Challenge yourself to determine if a meeting is necessary. Sometimes, an email or one-on-one conversation can suffice. Remember, the more attendees, the higher the cost in terms of time and productivity.

#4 Choose the Right Meeting Participants 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♀️

For effective meeting facilitation, limit the number of participants. More than eight can lead to unproductivity. Less is often more!

#5 Prepare the Necessary Materials 👨‍💻👩‍💻

Ensure you have the appropriate slides, documents, etc., tailored to your audience. Senior staff may prefer clear plans, while mid or lower-level attendees may focus on problems and challenges.

#6 Manage Your Time Wisely ⏳

Consider "speedy meetings," with 25 instead of 30 minutes, or 50 instead of 60. This practice often leads to better time management, allowing for breaks, coffee, or prep for the next meeting. You can set this in your Google Calendar “Settings.”

Give it a try :-)

#7 No agenda? No meeting! 📝

An agenda is essential to manage expectations and allow attendees to prepare, even for brief chats or 1:1s. Even a single sentence to describe the meeting's purpose is enough.

Proper preparation is the cornerstone of effective meeting facilitation, whether for brainstorming, aligning, agreeing, or deciding on projects within product management or leadership roles. In the next chapter, we'll explore techniques to further enhance your meeting facilitation skills.

Outcome-Driven Meeting Facilitation: A Guide to Effective Discussions

This section is packed with insights. We'll explore the 3 key elements of outcome-driven meeting facilitation:

  • Intro/Kick-off
  • Leading the Discussion
  • Follow-Ups and Action Items

Let's dive in!

#1 Kicking it Off

Start by investing the first 1-2 minutes to clarify the meeting's purpose. This recap, though brief, ensures everyone is on the same page.

I've been in numerous meetings where participants immediately delved into the topic, assuming everyone was prepared. This isn't always the case!

In your introduction, cover:

  • The topic and its current state
  • Previous discussions (if applicable)
  • The expected outcome (essential!)

Reminder: Don't forget to ask if there are any open questions after your intro.

#2 Facilitating the Discussion

After setting the stage, your role is to guide the conversation. Here's how:

-> Starting the Discussion 🎬

Initiate with an open question, such as:

  • "Who would like to start or present?"
  • "What do we need to progress or resolve?"
  • "How do you feel about our current progress?"

Pro Tip: Give people time to think. If they're uncertain, they'll let you know.

-> Involving People in the Discussion 🤝

Ever been in a meeting where conversations seemed disjointed or where quiet team members held back valuable insights?

Promote engaging conversations by directing questions to specific individuals:

  • "[Name], what are your thoughts on [topic]?"
  • "What's your opinion, [name]?"

Though it may feel like micromanaging, remember, you're striving for the best outcome.

-> When Things Get Off Track 🚷

If the conversation strays, here's how to refocus:

  • Interrupt and question if the conversation is relevant.
  • If not, guide them back. If yes, allow the discussion.
  • Ask the group's preference to continue or not (use this wisely).
  • Be direct, if needed, and recommend a follow-up or redirect the conversation.

-> Outcome-Oriented Meeting Questions ✅

Focus on solutions, not problems. Hypothetical questions can guide the team towards positive outcomes. These questions need to connect an action with a consequence. Here are some examples to help you drive meetings toward productive results. 👇

Timeline & Hypothetical Questions

1. Happening: Past - Consequence: Past

If we would’ve deployed the service earlier, how would that have helped us back then?

2. Happening: Past - Consequence: Presence

Assuming we’d have decided to build feature B first, how would our users use our product today?

3. Happening: Presence - Consequence: Past

How would we’ve decided [situation] with our knowledge today?

4. Happening: Presence - Consequence: Presence

If we roll back all users to the old version now, what consequence would that have for us?

5. Happening: Presence - Consequence: Future

If the developer Markus would get sick today, what issues would we solve in 1 week when we plan to go live?

6. Happening: Future - Consequence: Future

How much loss will we make in the future if our biggest customer stops working with us in 6 months?

7. Happening: Future - Consequence: Presence

The [NAME] API will be deprecated in 1 year. What can we do today to deal with that?

When should you use which question? Well, that’s something that simply requires some practice and experience. Enjoy the journey! 😉

#3 Ending the Meeting & Defining Next Steps: Accountability and Commitment

The closing moments of a meeting are vital in setting the stage for future success. In my view, one critical question must be posed at the end of every meeting by the facilitator:

-> Who does what by when? 🫵

This deceptively simple question helps crystallize the action items and assign ownership. It's not just about listing tasks; it's about setting clear expectations and accountability.

-> Clarifying Action Items 📋

For each action item, inquire: "Who wants to take responsibility for this topic?" Remember, taking ownership doesn't mean doing all the work. As a meeting facilitator or stakeholder, you want someone to be accountable. This promotes a sense of responsibility and commitment within your team.

-> Setting Deadlines ⏰

Once someone volunteers, it's time to ask the critical question: "When do you expect to have this completed?"

Notice the phrasing here. It's about asking for a commitment, not imposing a deadline. Psychologically, there's a vast difference between someone telling you to do something and you commit to it yourself.

Pro Tip: If the proposed time frame falls behind the necessary deadline, emphasize the task's importance and ask if it's possible to complete it earlier. Then, crucially, wait for their response. Encourage them to provide the date rather than dictating it to them.

Managing Your Time and Calendar Better: Enhance Your Productivity

Ready for another in-depth exploration? In this chapter, I'll provide insights into managing your time more effectively, focusing on calendar management techniques that have significantly saved time in my routine.

#1 Utilizing the Calendar as a Productivity Tool: Beyond To-Do Lists!

What truly propelled my efficiency was creating two types of working blocks in my calendar:

  1. Short 15-minute working blocks, particularly in the mornings.
  2. Extended blocks for focused time, free from distractions like Slack or emails.

In an era of never-ending tasks, I opted to replace traditional to-do lists by scheduling tasks directly into my calendar. If a task becomes irrelevant, it's deleted—forever (or at least until it resurfaces)!

You might be familiar with the phrase "Eat that frog." It represents tackling the toughest tasks first. Embracing this philosophy, I found joy in addressing the tasks I often procrastinated.

Pro Tip: Name your working block specifically, like

“[Topic] Preparation & Planning,”

rather than vague terms like “BLOCKER” or “FOCUS TIME.” Being specific makes it less tempting for others to claim your time.

#2 Planning & Organizing: Harnessing the Power of Color Coding

Another game-changing strategy was to color-code my calendar (ideal for Google Calendar users).

Color coding might seem simple, yet it demands consistency. Upon accepting a new invitation, I instantly update the color based on:

  • Importance (e.g., Red)
  • Teams
  • Projects
  • Departments
  • Ceremonies
  • And More

With a color-coded calendar, I can predict my focus a week in advance. If it looks overwhelming, it might be time for a clean-up!

#3 Meeting and Time Management: Choose Wisely

Remember, it's okay to decline meetings you don't need to attend.

If you're thinking, "Every meeting is crucial; I'm indispensable!" I'd urge you to reevaluate. Assessing the importance of each meeting can be eye-opening. Here is a decision tree I’ve created that helped me a lot to make better “meeting decisions.”

Declining meetings might be difficult, but taking that first step can be liberating.

Conclusion: Time Management and Calendar Mastery

These top three tips boosted my productivity and created more time in my schedule. Are you ready to try them out? I'd love to hear how they work for you. Let’s have a chat on LinkedIn.

Stay calm, and manage your calendar effectively! Namasté 🙏