Great Meetings Highlighted Productivity Tips and tricks

How internal and external meetings differ and how to make the most of them

Ahhh meetings. Many of us spend at least five hours a week in meetings — a figure that is much larger in some industries than others — so it’s little wonder that these stalwarts of working life have acquired their own importance, their own tools and technologies, and even their own insider jargon.

“Hey Jane, can you reach out to Patricia and have her add a check-in and an icebreaker to the agenda for next week’s all-hands? They were my action items from our last team stand-up.”

“Sure thing, Chris. Do we need a whiteboard for brainstorming or is everyone dialing in, so we can just do virtual break-outs? Also, is the following week’s meeting a town hall or a 1 to all?”

It can sound like an entirely different language altogether to the workplace outsider — the corporate language of Meetinglish.

So what about ‘internal’ and ‘external’ meetings? While COVID may have highlighted the contagion-related benefits of outdoor activities, unfortunately, ‘external’ does not refer to the location of meetings, although holding team stand-ups in a nearby park sounds like a great way to increase employee happiness. Internal and external simply refer to whether a meeting is between colleagues from the same company rather than those who work elsewhere, be they clients, candidates, suppliers, agencies or partners.

While that sounds simple, sometimes it isn’t quite so straightforward. For example, freelancers, consultants, and agency partners you regularly work with may blur the lines between employees and externals. Ultimately, however, whether participants have the company domain on their email addresses matters little. It’s the impact their status has on the meeting that is most pertinent. In this regard, there are lessons we can learn from both internal meetings, external meetings and the difference between them.

Finding balance

Most employees appreciate that a certain amount of internal meetings, from one-on-ones with direct managers to team check-ins, are necessary and constructive for their job. Still, many organizations tend to over-index on internal meetings. Almost a quarter of employees say that fewer meetings would help them better manage their workloads, with 38% of employees blaming upper management for their meeting-heavy calendars, while 16% lay the blame on their line manager. The message here is that too many internal meetings get in the way of actual work.

On the flip side, meetings with clients, candidates and leads are precisely where the real work is done for client-facing functions above all. This is where organizations generate value and revenue. Therefore, finding a way to minimize internal meetings to free up more time to spend in external meetings should be a priority for all companies. 

Prepare to succeed

Few client-facing employees will head into meetings with clients with a strategy based on “just winging it.” Usually, there will be at least an agenda for the meeting, but also, potentially, some pre-reads will be shared in the days beforehand. Agencies and sales teams may even prepare amongst each other before heading into external meetings. 

If only we could say the same about internal meetings. While it’s crucial that some internal meetings do feel more informal and like an opportunity to share stories with colleagues, most internal meetings should be given the same importance, structure and forethought as external meetings.

Almost 90% of professionals believe that they lose time each week to poorly-organized and unproductive meetings. For two-thirds of employees, a clear agenda and clear objectives are the best ways to address this and ensure that discussions are constructive and successful. So make sure there’s always an agenda that’s followed, ensure someone is taking notes and assigning action items, and share any relevant information before meetings, so participants can scan the details before the meeting rather than trying to read them during the meeting itself.

The secret’s in the schedule

One of the fundamental differences and advantages when scheduling internal meetings is that — thanks to all employees sharing the same email and calendar tooling, such as G-Suite or Microsoft, for example — it’s generally easier to find a convenient time and date for all participants to attend. Most tools will even suggest the most widely-available slots based on your preferred time and date for the meeting to take place. It’s a relatively minor feature that saves us all untold time each week.

Of course, the process is complicated slightly when trying to schedule time with or between senior executives, whose diaries are filled up six months in advance. It’s also not always convenient to deal with those freelancers, consultants, agencies, or partners you may work with exceptionally closely. They may even be your main points of contact each day, but you have no insight into their availability as they’re not on the org chart. 

Most challenging of all is externals, be they clients, leads or candidates. These are the people you need to talk to, where a quick and seamless meeting scheduling process is most vital. But trying to organize a time to meet usually results in countless rounds of time-consuming and inefficient email tennis, as you bounce days and times back-and-forth till you finally find a convenient slot or completely lose the will to live… whichever comes first.

Online scheduling tools like Doodle are, therefore, quite literally lifesavers on these occasions. While Doodle’s AI is more than a match for Google and Microsoft when it comes to scheduling internal meetings, it’s these frustration other use cases where it truly comes into its own.

  • Doodle Polls allow senior execs, or their assistants, to choose the most convenient slots for them, including times that they could cancel or postpone some less urgent appointments already in their diaries.
  • Doodle is entirely platform-agnostic, meaning that participants don’t require a company email or to even use the same email or calendar tool as you for you to enjoy the same at-a-glance ease and efficiency of finding a convenient meeting time.
  • Doodle’s Bookable Calendar feature allows busier employees, such as those in client-facing roles like sales, recruitment, customer success or business development, to create and custom calendars prepopulated with their availability and meeting preferences. These can be shared and booked directly. 

Location, location, location

With the rise of high quality, user-friendly and affordable meeting and conferencing tools, like Zoom, Teams, Meet, Webex and the likes, companies have embraced online meetings like never before. However, until the COVID-19 pandemic turned our working lives upside down, the virtual meeting was still primarily the internal discussion domain. It was a chance to bring international colleagues together or for employees in more forward-thinking organizations to occasionally dial-in to team meetings from home. 

When it came to the serious business of pitching clients or the final rounds of job interviews, for example, it was seen as lazy, a little uninvolved even, to do such things via webcam. If the pandemic changed these behaviors out of necessity, it’s a change that seems set to stay. Online meetings are, in many cases, more convenient for all concerned. Participants can join from anywhere: home, office, airport (whatever they are!), hotel room or co-work space. Nobody loses hours commuting to and from the meeting, which means that client-facing employees can spend more time facing clients rather than facing the headrest of an airplane seat or the backseat of a taxi.

So, there you have it. Internal and external meetings have some differences, but both also have advantages that can carry over. Merging internal meetings’ ease with the preparation and efficiency of external meetings is the golden ticket that will see your organization’s meeting culture survive, thrive, and deliver actual value.

Matt is an experienced journalist-turned-marketer, with content in his blood and a particular affinity for tech, SAAS and B2B. Originally from the UK but now a proud Amsterdammer, he's never knowingly late for a meeting, but does think that 30 minute meetings should be the norm.

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