Meeting goals: 5 steps for setting up meetings that matter
October 12, 2023
Meetings are a constant feature of professional life. We’ve seen them all — the productive ones, the inspiring ones, and the ones that should have been an email.
Teams meet for a variety of reasons. A 2020 survey of global business practices estimated internal meetings/trainings and “small, simple” meetings comprise 32–43% of all corporate congregations, followed by product launches, conferences and tradeshows, and senior leadership meetings.
But here’s the thing — not all meetings are created equal. The worst ones actually do more harm than good. A 2023 Microsoft survey of 31,000 workers in 31 countries cites inefficient meetings as the leading barrier to productivity in the workplace. More troubling still? The number of meetings and calls workers muddle through per week has 3x’d since February 2020 — a nearly 200% increase.
One thing is clear — for teams to claw back all that lost productivity, meetings must be better. And that starts by setting a goal for each meeting. Regardless of the type of meeting you’ve got on tap, these steps will help you set impactful, transparent goals to stay both productive and on track.
What are meeting goals?
Meeting goals are the primary objectives that guide the purpose, contents, and outcome of a meeting. The goals of a meeting provide direction and focus to ensure that meetings are purposeful, efficient, and achieve a team’s desired results.
Why are meeting goals important to have?
Increase clarity and define the purpose: Setting goals clarifies the purpose of the meeting, allowing participants to understand the "why" behind their involvement. Think about it: would you want to join a meeting where there’s no clearly-defined goal or purpose? What’s the point?
Greater accountability: Understanding why everyone is taking time to meet will help set expectations for pre-work, preparation, and expected outcomes. Participants are more likely to prepare and actively contribute when they understand what’s being asked of them.
Improve focus and productivity: Meeting goals help to direct the team's attention toward specific outcomes, reducing distractions and ensuring that discussions remain on track. If your team gets distracted or too focused on the details, you can always bring them back on track by clarifying how the topic relates to the core meeting goal.
Setting clear and specific goals for meetings helps provide direction, ensures that time is used efficiently, holds participants accountable, and fosters motivation and engagement among attendees. Most importantly, clearly-defined goals help teams work better together.
5 tips for setting clear goals for any type of meeting
1. Recognize that different meetings require different types of goals
Setting goals provides something that many meetings lack: focus. Not all meetings need a brainstorming session, nor do all meetings need to have a point where the team makes a key decision.
Goals can be as simple as a directive to start and end on time or come up with X number of potential solutions to a problem. This helps teams make the most of limited time and leverage their conversations for real results. Like magic.
But team leaders must also avoid the common mistake of painting meetings with a broad brush. Different meetings call for different goals. If you enter a brainstorming session with the expectation that you’ll have a working prototype by the end, you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure.
Instead, we recommend setting goals based on the type of meeting you hold:
Planning meetings are all about setting a roadmap for a project or initiative. By having specific goals for these meetings, you ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the project's direction, scope, and responsibilities.
For example, you might set the following goals for your planning meeting:
Establish clear project timelines and milestones
Allocate resources efficiently
Create detailed action plans
Identify potential obstacles and solutions
Brainstorming & ideation meetings
For brainstorming sessions, the primary aim is to tap into the collective creativity of the team. By setting goals specific to these meetings, you can better promote an atmosphere of innovation and problem-solving than you would during a feedback session or decision-making meeting.
Decision-making and alignment meetings require a focus on reaching conclusions and achieving consensus. By setting distinct goals for these meetings, you can reduce the catching-up needed for decision-making, minimize ambiguity, and create a framework for implementation. This approach prevents meetings from becoming bogged down in discussions and ensures that decisions are made efficiently.
These example goals should help you get started:
Reach consensus on important decisions
Ensure all participants understand and commit to the chosen course of action
Align team members with organizational strategies and goals
Define roles and responsibilities in executing decisions
Culture and team-building meetings are all about fostering relationships and nurturing a positive work environment among your team. Setting specific goals for these meetings helps create a safe and open space for team members to connect on a personal level.
Your goals for an informal, culture-building meeting should look similar to these examples:
Working sessions are all about getting things done. Most working sessions are suggested with a specific goal already in mind, but it’s worth your time to clarify what your intended outcomes are. This ensures that participants come prepared to work together efficiently and accomplish tasks within the allocated time.
Goals for a working session might include the following:
Accomplish specific tasks or projects
Collaborate intensively on deliverables
Make substantial progress within a set timeframe
Troubleshoot issues or roadblocks in real-time
Feedback & retrospective meetings
Feedback and retrospective meetings are essential for sharing insights and framing opportunities for improvement. Because of this, your goals may look like a blend of a brainstorming session and a culture meeting. By setting distinct goals for your feedback meetings and retrospectives, you create a framework for assessing past performance, learning from experiences, and making necessary adjustments.
Feedback sessions should have goals that look similar to these examples:
Collect constructive feedback on processes or projects.
Identify areas for improvement.
Celebrate successes and milestones.
Promote a culture of continuous improvement
In short, setting goals tailored to the type of meeting spares teams from the dangers of getting too formulaic with their thinking. If the goal of your quarterly product meeting is brainstorming a bold new roadmap for development, the last thing you want is a group simply going through the motions.
Say you need to share the name of your new hire and their start data with the rest of the team. This is an outcome you can achieve with a quick email or Slack message.
But if the real outcome of the announcement is to solicit feedback on the hiring process and begin planning the handoff of deliverables spanning multiple projects, then a meeting to that effect is probably called for.
Identifying the meeting outcome first forces the meeting creator to think critically about their goals. One way to picture this is through the lens of the desired end state. What does the situation look like before the meeting takes place? What about after?
The difference between those two is the outcome. Figure this out to begin planning your goals.
3. Share the meeting objectives with attendees
Communication is key. Ideally, no one attending your meeting should have to wonder why they’re meeting with you or what you’re hoping to accomplish.
By sharing the meeting objectives with attendees, you build a level of buy-in that makes it easy to justify taking time from your team’s busy schedule to chat.
Pro-tip: Consider putting together a rough outline of the meeting’s objectives in a document to share before the meeting starts. This helps your team get ready to focus on the task at hand and even come prepared with their own ideas. It also helps them provide crucial feedback that can influence the scope of the meeting.
4. Keep the objectives actionable
Goals alone don’t make a good meeting. They have to be well-conceived. In other words, they have to be SMART.
SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. They help limit the sort of blue-sky thinking that makes a meeting pass by without so much as a single concrete step or conclusion coming into focus.
How do you know if your meeting objectives are SMART? Simple — run through the acronym word by word to put your goals to the test.
Specific goals are detailed enough to bring focus.
Measurable goals have some sort of quantitative or qualitative element that can be tracked.
Achievable goals are, simply put, things that can be accomplished in the scope of your meeting or as a result of your meeting.
Relevant goals are important in the scope of a larger strategy or direction.
Time-bound goals can be completed within a set timeline.
Creating SMART objectives for your meeting gives you and your team the highest chance of success. It also shows your team that you value their time enough to think things through before bringing them in.
5. Build the meeting agenda off of the goals
With your SMART objectives in hand, it’s time to get to work setting your meeting agenda.
Agendas don’t have to be play-by-play documents that pore over every detail of a meeting down to the coffee break. But, they should provide a logical framework for discussing and achieving the meeting’s goals.
The type of meeting agenda you need depends on the type of meeting you’re proposing. If you’re asking for more than an hour of your team’s time, throwing a coffee and/or bathroom break into the agenda isn’t the worst idea.
But more importantly, meeting agendas are an opportunity to provide clarity around the roles for each of the meeting’s attendees. If you’re asking other members of the team to report to outside stakeholders, tell them what they need to cover and for how long. Mention if they need to collaborate with other colleagues or drop their thoughts in a shared slide deck.
Get started with a template
Use Mural’s meeting notes template to keep your meetings focused. It gives you a shared online space to document your goals and agenda, then track decisions and add action items. You can invite the whole team so everyone can collaborate and add their own ideas during the meeting.
Clear meeting goals are only the beginning
So much about the way we do work has evolved in recent years. But one thing is unchanged — the need for teams to effectively collaborate to achieve their most important goals.
Digital collaboration is a minefield for missteps. Initiatives can be easily fumbled, and teams interacting exclusively behind computer screens might miss that creative spark of in-person communication.
Fortunately, a best-in-class digital collaboration tool like Mural makes it easier than ever before to inspire, inform, and create alignment across remote and distributed teams. In a pinch? Browse Mural's library of free templates to conduct brainstorms, create mind maps, facilitate team stand-ups, and more.
About the authors
About the authors
Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.