Meetings are supposed to improve a business’ operations, whether it’s getting the team up to speed on an important project or improving productivity through collaboration. Unfortunately, meetings are rarely meaningful. Employees, on average, spend 31 hours in unproductive meetings each month, so depending on the size of your team, you could be wasting thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on bad meetings.

So what is it you need to make a meeting truly “successful,” anyway?

Successful meeting

The Most Important Ingredients

These are the minimum ingredients you’ll need if you want to have a successful meeting:

1. An appropriate format

Not all meetings need to be in-person, one-hour team conferences. You can meet over the phone or have a small walking meeting. You could meet over an instant message platform or video conference. Choosing the right format is imperative if you want to be effective.

2. Useful tech

Meetings can be made more dynamic and flexible through the use of technology—but only if you have the right technology in place. Anyone who’s attended a video conferencing meeting can tell you there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it; if your video chat cuts out intermittently, or has poor audio or visual controls, it could make the entire meeting a waste of time.

3. A constrained timeframe

When scheduling a meeting, many managers are tempted to err on the side of length, scheduling an hour for a meeting that might only take 30 minutes. However, shorter meetings are oftentimes more productive. With a tighter timeframe, participants are forced to work faster to achieve their goals. Otherwise, the meeting duration may swell to fill whatever time was allocated for it.

4. Only the necessary participants

It’s tempting to think that more is better when it comes to meeting participants. More voices mean more diverse opinions and more brainstorming power, right? However, each new participant adds a human cost to the meeting, and potentially slows things down. It’s much better to only include meeting participants who are truly necessary.

5. A clear agenda

A clear agenda is important for several reasons. First, it will give attendees a precise idea of what they can expect during the meeting, helping to weed out unnecessary participants. Second, it will provide the group a document they can closely follow, so the meeting never drifts off course.

6. Prepared attendees

The whole point of hosting a meeting is to collect different perspectives and opinions. If your attendees aren’t prepared for the meeting, they won’t be able to provide any new information or insights. Sending preparatory material in advance (such as key items to prepare or key points to go over), and setting an expectation that all attendees will be prepared is the solution.

Strategic meeting

7. Goals and action items

What is this meeting going to accomplish? What new accomplishments will your team be able to achieve because of it? If you aren’t able to define the goal of your meeting, or if you don’t have any action items that should come as a result from it, it may not be worth having the meeting. By the end of the discussion, everyone in the room should have some new responsibility to handle, or at least some new information they can use for their existing responsibilities.

8. A point person or leader

Every meeting should have a leader in place, who’s in charge of accomplishing the meeting’s main goals and keeping everyone organized an on point. They can call out deviations from the meeting agenda, prevent distractions from taking over the meeting, and ultimately ensure the meeting’s key objectives are met by the end of the allotted time period.

9. Complete participation

If your meeting is full of people distracted by their mobile devices, or with their heads down, you can consider it a failure. Successful meetings are capable of holding everyone’s attention, with all attendees participating throughout the meeting.

10. A recap

Finally, your meeting should have some kind of recap or follow-up, helping participants understand what has been accomplished and what comes next. Otherwise, the point of the meeting might get lost, rendering it useless. If you get stuck here, you can always rely on a template to guide you.

Toward Reform

How do your company meetings stack up against the “ideal” meeting as illustrated here? No matter where you stand, or what your personal feelings on the matter are, this is your chance to make meaningful changes to your approach. Better meetings could lead your team to better results, all while saving you hundreds of hours of time; it’s a practical necessity if you want to cut waste and remain competitive in today’s cutthroat market.