How to Hold an Ad-hoc Meeting that Gets Results

How to Hold an Ad-hoc Meeting that Gets Results

Last updated: 

February 28, 2023

Maham S. Chappal

Maham S. Chappal

It’s Friday morning. You receive an email from a long-standing client requesting last-minute changes on a project due Monday.  

You quickly send an email to the team working on this project and request an impromptu meeting.

Meeting starts. 

You share the project updates with the team, solicit their feedback, and discuss what needs to be done to make the required changes to the project. 

Armed with a robust game plan, all of you get back to work.

Meeting over. 

Ad-hoc meetings are common occurrences in organizations. There are always last-minute changes to a project that needs to be discussed, shifting employee workloads on last-minute notice, or resolving urgent workplace problems. 

While important, ad-hoc meetings can also cause a lot of workplace problems— such as distraction, unproductivity, and even financial losses.

The solution?

Run effective and efficient ad-hoc meetings. 

As Cathi Rittelmann, senior client partner at Korn Ferry says, “Too often, the answer to any work issue is ’let’s meet’. While collaboration is absolutely what drives innovation and success in today’s global marketplace, it’s time to get creative with how we use our time together.”

What are ad-hoc meetings

An ad-hoc meeting is an unplanned meeting held to discuss a specific, time-sensitive issue or task at hand. They are often short with a focused agenda and a clear goal to address and solve the problem as soon as possible. 

While usually managers hold impromptu meetings, employees in need of immediate support can also call for such meetings.

Regular meetings Vs. ad-hoc meetings

All meetings are the same—people gather in a room and discuss important workplace issues. 

However, there are 3 key differences between regular meetings and ad-hoc meetings.

  • Ad-hoc meetings are on a specific topic

From ongoing projects and recent performance to customer feedback and status updates, a scheduled recurring meeting addresses a range of issues. 

On the contrary, an ad-hoc meeting is held to discuss a specific issue—one that’s time-sensitive, critical, and can’t be put off until the next sync.

  • Ad-hoc meetings are unplanned

Regular meetings are scheduled well in advance and everyone on the team knows when they’re going to be held. 

Ad-hoc meetings are unplanned. Naturally, your team wouldn’t know when they’re going to happen and sometimes, what’s going to be discussed. 

  • Ad-hoc meetings have a simple agenda 

When you’re conducting recurring meetings, you typically have time to prepare a comprehensive agenda. The agenda will have multiple topics timeboxed, metrics and KPIs to review, project kickoffs and updates, and so on.

It’s quite elaborate. 

With ad-hoc meetings, you barely have time to prepare for the meeting, let alone create a formal agenda. So you’ll end up quickly whipping up a simple agenda with an objective for the meeting and a shortlist of things you’d like to discuss.

Problems with ad-hoc meetings

Ad-hoc meetings are excellent at putting out office fires and thinking up quick solutions collectively for critical problems. 

However, they aren’t without disadvantages and drawbacks. 

- Disrupts deep work

Cal Newport, the author of the bestselling book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, describes deep work as, “Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

Newport emphasizes, “tasks done through deep work resulted in much better output than those completed with distractions and interruptions.”

You want to encourage your employees to do deep work to increase productivity levels in your workplace. 

But when they’re in the middle of a task and you suddenly call an urgent Zoom meeting, their productivity levels are going to tank. 

A report by Wundamail reveals that 42% of remote workers surveyed say they're "more productive" when working for an extended period of uninterrupted time.

Tip: Give your team an hour or more to finish the tasks they’re working on, before calling them in for an ad-hoc meeting. Ensure you’re inviting only the right people to join the discussion, not the entire team.

- Causes time drain

Studies show that,

When employees know there’s a meeting, they prepare ahead of time. They’ll take a smaller lunch break, do deep work and finish tasks on time, and generally have their day planned around the meeting. 

Ad-hoc meetings do not allow this luxury. Employees end up working late to make up for the time lost in ad-hoc meetings. 

MIT Sloan Management Review talks about something called “meeting recovery syndrome”

When attendees attend a bad meeting and need time to recover from it and regain their concentration - this loss of time is known as meeting recovery syndrome.

Tip: Don’t call ad-hoc meetings unless it’s really necessary. See if you can use async communication methods—emails, Slack posts, recorded video clips, etc. to communicate and get your team up to speed. 

- Leads to unproductive sessions

Since ad-hoc meetings are impromptu meetings, there isn’t a lot of time to prepare for them.

Remote employees in different zones might not be able to attend. Even those attending are usually unprepared for the agenda at hand and may not have helpful suggestions and feedback to offer. There’s also a chance your team is trying to work on other problems in parallel—making the whole discussion less productive.

Tip: Never call for an ad-hoc meeting without a clear agenda and goal. Use tools like Grain to record, clip, and share key moments with those who couldn’t attend due to time zone differences.  

8 ways to make ad-hoc meetings 10x more effective

  1. Determine your purpose
  2. Decide the right participants
  3. Set the meeting duration
  4. Create a question-based agenda
  5. Set ground rules
  6. Use the right tools
  7. End the meeting on time
  8. Capture and share meeting highlights

Somewhere between 36 and 56 million meetings are happening every day in the United States alone. This data proves that meetings—whether they are ad-hoc or recurring—are essential to running any business. Especially in today’s remote working environment, meetings are part of our workday. 

The goal isn’t to have no meetings but to have effective meetings. Here’s how you can better ad-hoc meetings without disrupting your team’s productivity and deep work.

1. Determine your purpose

The best way to ensure you’re meeting your goals and conducting an effective ad-hoc meeting is by being crystal clear about your goal.

  • Why are you holding this meeting? 
  • What’s the exact problem that needs to be discussed?
  • What’s the expected outcome of this meeting?  

For example, you’re planning your organization’s annual virtual conference and there’s a hiccup—one of the key speakers can’t come and you need to find another one within 2 days. So you urgently call a meeting to discuss options for speakers you can invite to the conference. 

Your goal for the ad-hoc meeting? Finding the right speaker.

Your desired outcome? Designating team members the task of discovering and contacting the suitable speaker and inviting them to the virtual conference.

Once you’re clear about your goal and desired outcome, communicate it to your team as soon as they join the meeting.

Also, figure out if you truly need to call an ad-hoc meeting. 

  • Can the matter be discussed with stakeholders via email? 
  • How urgent (time-sensitive) is the matter? 
  • Can it be discussed over the weekly team meeting or even the daily huddle (if you hold one)?

2. Decide the participants 

The leaner the group, the faster the discussions and decisions. When you’re deciding on the participants to invite, ask yourself,

  • What role does each individual have in this meeting?
  • Who’s input will be valuable?
  • Who is best suited to solve this problem?

Don’t call the entire team, just call the stakeholders and collaborators.

If you’re confused about the right number of participants, remember Jeff Bezos' two-pizza rule at Amazon. 

In the initial days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos instituted a rule—every internal team should be small enough that it can be fed with two pizzas. Limiting the number of people participating would make the meetings more productive. 

3. Set the meeting duration

An Atlassian study found that ninety-one percent of people reported daydreaming during a meeting, while 39 percent had even slept. 

The perils of long meetings.

Your goal for an ad-hoc meeting should be to keep it as short as possible. Can you discuss everything and come up with a solution within 10 to 15 minutes? Excellent. Don’t let it go on for longer than 15 minutes. 

By giving yourself a time limit for the meeting, you can keep yourself and everyone else attending the meeting in check.

4. Create a question-based agenda 

While you might not have time to create a comprehensive agenda, take out a couple of minutes to quickly create a simple one.  

Instead of taking the traditional route, create a question-based agenda. It helps to conduct more effective ad-hoc meetings. 

Instead of jotting discussion points, write down questions around them. 

For example, if there’s a problem with a client’s website design, rather than writing ‘homepage design flow’ in the agenda, write ‘how can we create a better flow on the homepage to increase conversions?’

An agenda keeps everyone organized, so you must create one before conducting the meeting. 

5. Set ground rules

When you’re conducting a virtual meeting, setting ground rules can help increase the effectiveness of the meeting. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Staying on mute until asked a question. Prevents distracting background noise and makes it easier for everyone to hear the speaker.
  • Raising hands (virtually) during Q and A, rather than interrupting the conversation
  • Having a specific timebox to let everyone ask questions or share feedback and suggestions.

With many companies going the hybrid route post-COVID, there may be times when you need to conduct an in-person ad-hoc meeting. The following rules can help you ensure all attendees stay on track.

  • Have a few minutes buffer before starting to ensure everyone settles in and gets ready to kickstart the discussion.
  • Allotting 5 to 10 minutes to help attendees give their suggestions and feedback or ask any questions they have.
  • Keeping mobile phones silent.

Spend the first 2 minutes of the meeting going over these rules or better yet, share them asynchronously. After the first few meetings, the ground rules will likely become a standard—making it easier to run distraction-free meetings.

6. Use the right tools

Using the right tools can cut your planning and follow-up time in half (or even more!). 

For scheduling the meeting

Google Calendar, an online-calendar planner, is an excellent tool for scheduling meeting times and is available on both web and app stores. Perfect for teams with remote employees who might not be available on the web, but can still get an update on their mobile apps. 

It also allows you to check your team members' availability in a single view!

For conducting the meeting

For holding your online video meeting, Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, all work great. Zoom is what we use internally for all the meetings! 

Some of Zoom’s features include: 

  • Allowing multiple people to attend the meeting,
  • Muting attendees, 
  • Sharing files during the meeting, 
  • Creating breakout rooms,
  • Placing participants in waiting rooms.

For sharing files 

Most video conferencing tools already allow hosts to share files and documents during the meeting. But if you’d like to send bigger files or send team members files before or after the meeting has concluded, you can use DropBox and Google Drive.

7. End the meeting on time

How do you ensure your meetings end within the set duration 

  • Go old-school and use a timer to hold yourself accountable.
  • Conduct a stand-up meeting. This is where you ask attendees to attend the meeting while standing, they’re not allowed to sit. This keeps the meetings short and the ideas flowing!
  • Do not allow unnecessary interruptions or discussions of topics other than the one at hand.
  • Allot all participants a certain amount of time (5 minutes, for example) and encourage them to address all their concerns, feedback, and suggestions within the allotted time. 

8. Capture and share meeting highlights

You’ve conducted a successful meeting. 

Now you might want to share parts of the meetings with different team members to delegate tasks. Or, you might want to stitch together the important moments into a short video clip and share it with those who couldn’t attend some cases, you might even want to share the solution you’ve come up with in the meeting with your client or leadership team for feedback.

But how? Share a large, hour-long recording file that no one prefers to watch? Spend your valuable time writing down the discussions and decisions—just to share it once and throw it away the next day?


Opt-in for a tool like Grain.

Connect it with your video conferencing tool like Zoom and record the entire meeting. Once the meeting ends, go through the recording to highlight and share relevant moments with your team members in short video clips.

You can clip, annotate, and share key moments in real-time using the Grain desktop app—saving you even more time! Your recordings, annotations, and highlight clips are securely saved in a workspace for you and your team to find them later. Just log in to your Grain workspace, and search using keywords to discover and review any specific moment from your conversations. 

Closing thoughts 

Ad-hoc meetings are an excellent way of brainstorming solutions for urgent problems and needs, especially in this remote-first digital world. 

However, as a manager, you need to ensure the ad-hoc meetings are productive and enable your team to solve the problem

Before you start, define the goal and the desired outcome, invite only the right people, and put together the questions to guide the meeting towards the intended outcome.

Get your team to adopt the ground rules and the tools, record the discussion using Grain, lead the meeting as planned, and get the results!

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