Ah, meetings. It’s not common to hear people raving about them, wistfully wondering why there can’t be just one more meeting this week. Although many companies have made significant progress into streamlining their meetings and eliminating the unnecessary ones, some companies are still decades behind the curve when it comes to meetings. There can be reluctance to change under the assumption that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, or a fear of under-informing employees.
Unfortunately, more meetings does not mean more effective communication, and what usually happens instead are some institutionalized weekly boredom sessions. Here are some signs that your meetings have become stagnant.
- The agenda never changes
- The majority of the time in the meeting is spent reviewing information
- People don’t show up on time, or at all, and if they do they spend the time ‘multi-tasking’ (i.e. checked out)
- No one can articulate the purpose of the meeting
- Nothing changes as a result of the meeting occurring
There are some great resources out there to holding more effective meetings. I strongly recommend Patrick Lencioni’s Death by Meeting for some innovative methods to completely revamp your approach. Organizational tolerance to some of Lencioni’s suggestions may vary but his underlying premise can be applied in any setting, and that is that the basis of any good meeting is constructive conflict. In other words, meetings should drive change and improvement, and this can only be done by challenging the status quo, speaking truth, being respectful, and examining other points of view.
I completely agree with this, and would hold that in addition to change and constructive conflict, another purpose for meetings is to foster team unity. Many people insist that this can only be done in person, but I’ve experienced excellent team building through virtual meetings. The fact remains that a properly facilitated meeting can bring people closer together, create shared experiences, and increase morale and unity.
Here are some things that I’ve found effective in accomplishing the objectives of creating change, achieving teamwork, and avoiding stagnation.
- When building your agenda, consider what will be the most productive use of time. Reviewing numbers (after the team understands a P&L statement, of course) is something that can be done before the meeting. Discussing variances and best practices is a much better use of time. If you can’t trust your participants to review the material before the meeting, you have other work to do.
- Another agenda item to include in big, bold letters is the intended outcome of the meeting. Put it right there on top: What do you hope to accomplish in this meeting? If you don’t have an intended outcome, other than ‘review x,y,z’ do you really need to have the meeting?
- Set the expectations of your meeting clearly, and review as needed. Some of the expectations I like to set in a meeting are that people don’t look at their devices (and I include breaks to alleviate withdrawal symptoms), no sidebars, and minimal ‘piggybacking’ (restating someone else’s point).
- Create an agenda where all the participants are talking equally. If you’re the manager and the one doing all the talking, you will probably be the only one who enjoyed the meeting.
- If it’s a recurring meeting, change up the meeting every six months or so. Your cue to change the meetings up will be the level of energy and participation.
- Get comfortable with silence, and force yourself not to answer it.
- Team building and trust are critical if you hope to generate innovation in your meetings. It’s risky to volunteer a new idea, and people won’t do it in an environment where they don’t feel safe. You can’t force the trust, but you can increase the likelihood of it occurring by introducing exercises where the team gets to know one another more deeply. This should be an ongoing exercise. It’ s almost impossible to hate someone when you know their story, so as much as you can encourage this to happen, the more close knit your team will be.
- Unique exercises. Some meeting outcomes that have always been important to me are brainstorming new ideas, and looking for positive occurrences in others. Because of this, I usually end up having two recurring agenda items in my meetings. One I call ‘Stupid Ideas that Just Might Work’, where people are encouraged to bring forth the most creative ideas possible. I called it that after noticing the tendency of people to say ‘this idea might be stupid, but’…the name of the exercise was ironic, and meant to drive home that all ideas are worth discussing and no one will die if the bring up an unfeasible one. Because we all know that all ideas are NOT good ideas. But that’s okay. Another is ‘Lines that Should be Mine’, where basically participants report on something a colleague said or did that they admired.
These are just some ideas, and there are countless more. The biggest piece of advice I can offer managers who are responsible for planning and executing meetings is to always keep it front and center that your role is to best serve your employees. Keep asking yourself what your employees need, and how do they need to hear it, and you won’t go wrong!
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Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm providing comprehensive organizational development solutions for companies who are growing and who truly value their people. With certified Executive Coaches, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM) practitioners, SPHR-certified HR professionals, and Organizational Development Specialists, Carrie’s team brings a unique perspective and a cross-functional approach to providing workplace solutions that work. Carrie can be reached for consultation at email@example.com