Better Meetings

How to run an effective decision-making meeting

How to run an effective decision-making meeting-featured image

In a perfect world, every meeting would be a decision-making meeting — a productive discussion leading to specific next steps and action items.

Decision-making meetings should end with a good decision that satisfies all team members and stakeholders. But as we know, meetings are often derailed: people go off topic, team members disengage, questions go unanswered. Before you know it, the meeting ends without a clear decision or next step.

In this guide, we’ll look at ways to prevent this scenario and empower you to run effective decision-making meetings.

What is a decision-making meeting?

A decision-making meeting is a kind of team meeting, one that aims to reach a formal agreement on an important decision.

Most of these meetings use a group decision-making process to understand the decision required, figure out possible solutions, and reach a final decision. 

Examples of such decisions are:

  • Hiring and firing decisions 

  • Go/no-go decisions for a new initiative or project 

  • How to fix bugs (and which ones to prioritize)

  • What projects to focus on in a specific time period (sprint or quarter, for example)

How to prepare for a decision-making meeting

Preparation is key for effective meetings of any kind, but it’s especially important for a successful decision-making meeting. If meeting attendees show up unprepared, there’s little hope of reaching a clear final decision. 

Here’s how to prepare for your meeting and increase the odds of it going smoothly:

✅ Set an agenda that clearly outlines the decision(s) to be made

Before the decision-making meeting takes place, communicate the purpose of the meeting to everyone on the invite list. The best way to do this is with a thoughtful meeting agenda sent with the meeting invite. 

Your agenda should include the meeting’s purpose, such as, “Who do we hire as our new VP of marketing?”

It’s best to send the agenda as soon as you can, but no later than three days before the meeting. If you’re inviting high-profile attendees, send the agenda two or three weeks in advance. 

If you’re using Vowel for your virtual meetings, it’s easy to share an agenda with attendees. There are many agenda templates to choose from, and invitees can see the agenda in their meeting invite — no need for separate documents!

Share meeting agendas in Vowel

✅ Provide context and "pre-work" ahead of the meeting

Planning ahead isn’t just about having an agenda. Preparing for a decision-making meeting also means giving enough context for the decisions. 

Tell your attendees why the decision is important in the first place. For example, if you’re deciding on ways to decrease customer acquisition costs, why is that a priority now?

When you provide context (including data, where it makes sense), meeting participants will have enough information to formulate useful suggestions. If you want people to come to the meeting with ideas, make sure to specify this so people have enough time to prepare and share.

✅ Decide on roles

Productive meetings need team accountability to make sure decisions are implemented. Common meeting roles for a decision-making meeting are:

  • Leader or facilitator: This person’s main responsibility is keeping everyone on track and avoiding digressions. Meeting leaders need to remind group members, gently but firmly, when they’ve gone off-topic.

  • Note taker: You’ll want to document decision-making meetings, in the form of meeting notes or minutes. If you don’t want to assign this task, you can use meeting software that takes a transcript automatically when you record the meeting.

  • Decision makers: These are people with the authority to make the decision you’re discussing. If the decision-making process includes a lot of different teams and departments, it’s not a bad idea for each department to bring a representative who can relay the consensus to their department lead. 

Remember: In general, you want to reduce the number of meetings you’re having to avoid video call fatigue. But with decision-making meetings, if you need preliminary discussions or recurring meetings to reach a consensus, have them.

5 ways to run better decision-making meetings

Now that you know the basic steps to running a decision-making meeting, let’s look at some best practices to increase the chances of a productive meeting.

1. Get specific when defining your problem

The first part of an effective problem-solving strategy is specificity. For instance, “Why is our social media engagement low?” is a different question from “Why has our social media engagement been low for the last quarter?” or “What can we do to boost our engagement on social media?” 

Be precise about the specific issue you want to solve and communicate that clearly at the beginning of the meeting so everyone is on the same page.

As mentioned above, the more detail and context you can provide before the meeting, the better. 

2. Use data to make better decisions

Whenever possible, use data to help you make a decision. Data will make it easier to see which of your proposed solutions are realistic and which ones aren’t. 

Problems in different areas will require different data sets and different expertise. If you’re solving an issue with your white-glove customer onboarding, for example, you’ll need input from your customer success department and your web development team.

Show this data during the meeting so that people have the context they need to make a decision and ask the right questions.

3. Stay on topic

When important decisions need to be made, it’s not uncommon for people to become emotional — which increases the odds that they’ll run off topic. You may also find that people have unrelated ideas during blue-sky brainstorming sessions, in which case the meeting leader will need to put a pin in the conversation and note the idea for another discussion.  

In general, do your best to keep the discussion focused. Otherwise the meeting will run too long, people will get bored, and the chance of reaching a clear decision will decrease dramatically.

Set a time limit for each section of the agenda and stick to it so that problem-solving progresses. With Vowel, you can set timers for each agenda item so that as your meeting happens, everyone is reminded of how much time is left.

Agenda timers in Vowel

4. Encourage participation and note-taking

Critical thinking and engagement tend to encourage participation. Make sure to ask for everyone’s input so that no voice goes unheard.

Encouraging participation is also crucial for securing everyone’s buy-in once the decision is made. People will feel more accountable for putting the solution into practice if they feel they participated in the decision-making process.

Vowel has collaborative notes to encourage collective engagement. During your meeting, anyone can contribute to shared notes, and all notes taken are time-stamped for easy reference later. Use this shared space to track ideas, keep a list of questions, log action items, and link to documents or files for reference.

Shared meeting notes in Vowel

5. Ensure you’ve made a decision (and log it) 

Don’t let the decision-making process spill over the designated meeting. Agreeing to “follow up later” via Slack or email won’t work. Once the meeting is over, people are more likely to lose focus.

Ensure you make a decision before the decision-making meeting is over. With a proper agenda, time limits, clear roles, and a lot of data and context about the issue, you and your meeting invitees have everything you need for the final decision.

But what about actually implementing the decision? That’s where good meeting documentation comes in. Vowel gives you an instant meeting recap that includes action items, attendees, and any shared links.

Post-meeting view with transcript

Run sharper decision-making meetings with the right tool

Meetings are crucial for making business decisions big and small, and Vowel can help you at every stage of the process.

Use Vowel to prepare thoughtful meeting agendas to send with the meeting invite — so more worrying about who opened that Google doc and who didn’t. 

During the meeting, Vowel keeps things on track and on topic with an agenda that everyone can see (with timers!). It also makes sure that no good suggestion goes unnoticed with live transcription and collaborative notes.

Try it all out for yourself — and have more successful meetings — by signing up for free!