Make Team Meetings More Effective
You know the story - there’s the meeting, then the meeting after the meeting which is often complaining about what happened or did not happen in the meeting, and frustration that these regular meetings take time from your busy schedule where you could be working productively on your own. What’s not working?
There was an interesting study in Harvard Business Review about the incongruence between the team leader’s self-assessment of the effectiveness of the meetings they facilitated with how the participants viewed the leader’s effectiveness. A telephone survey of more than 1,300 managers found that while 79% of them said that meetings they initiated were extremely or very productive, only 56% said the same about meetings initiated by others—clear evidence of an “I’m not the problem” attitude. (In HBR, “Why Your Meetings Stink—and What to Do About It” by Steven G. Rogelberg). https://hbr.org/2019/01/why-your-meetings-stink-and-what-to-do-about-it?referral=03759&cm_vc=rr_item_page.bottom
Figure that many team leaders do most of the talking in meetings, meaning they are engaged even if the other participants are not.
In addition, if you aren’t running effective team meetings your ability to influence is at risk. There’s also a potential that your team doesn’t buy into initiatives if they aren’t contributing to the big decisions that need to be made.
So what can you do?
1. Create the rules of engagement.
How do you want to be as a team, with respect to team meetings? Things to consider are managing distractions, the timeliness of meeting start and end times, accountability for next actions that come from the team meeting, how you get looped in if you miss a meeting, hearing from everyone, not just the most dominant team members, how long or brief to speak when it’s your turn, etc.
An important thing to discuss is how to handle disagreement. Disagreement or productive conflict is important to critical thinking and solving challenges. Having these agreements will go a long way to help manage expectations.
Finally, consider the rules of engagement to be a dynamic living set of agreements. In other words, if something you agreed upon isn’t being honored then it should be addressed rather than ignored.
2. Create an agenda ahead of time and distribute it.
If there isn’t a stated purpose in the meeting then the meeting should be canceled. Having a prepared agenda that’s shared with the team ahead of time and created in collaboration with the team serves the meeting well.
First, the team can prep for the meeting and do some thinking ahead of time on brainstorming or decision making. Second, it serves as a roadmap for keeping the meeting on track (another skill set of running effective team meetings).
As the team leader, set the agenda items with a designated time allotment. With that said, you don't need to be rigid if the conversation is productive. We’ve all been in meetings where an agenda item takes up way more time than expected and as a result, other agenda items don’t get addressed. Sometimes that’s fine but often there’s someone who needed to have their agenda item discussed and maybe disgruntled if it’s tabled.
I like having the spirit of “practice” with running team meetings. When you set the agenda and allocate times for each item you are practicing and getting feedback as to whether you were accurate in your estimation. You and the team will get better at estimating how long it takes to cover agenda items.
Another thing to consider is, does this agenda item pertain to the whole team? One of the causes of team member disengagement is when the topic being discussed doesn’t concern them directly. I’ve personally been in meetings where the discussion has nothing to do with my responsibilities and I find myself multi-tasking and wishing that the conversation was scheduled for outside of my time with the 4 people it involved other than me.
Finally, it can be helpful at the beginning of the meeting to check in regarding the agenda as there may be items that aren’t relevant anymore or are lower priority and conversely, there may be an important discussion that needs to happen that arose after the agenda was created.
Every challenge a leader faces in their work requires self-management and reflection. If you aren’t requesting candid feedback from others and making it safe for others to provide feedback to you, you are missing opportunities to grow and improve. Your effectiveness in running meetings is no exception. This self-assessment can start with eliciting feedback from your team members about how they experience the meetings. Be clear that you are looking for honesty rather than confirmation that you are doing a great job. It is helpful to frame the conversation by stating you are looking to improve in this area and need their help.
In the meeting be mindful of your body language. Nothing says “it’s OK to disengage” when the leader appears un-present in the discussions. I’ve worked with leaders who are clearly multitasking in virtual meetings and not tracking the conversation and guess what? Everyone else follows suit! Also, if you are stuck on your perspective in a given discussion and not open to new perspectives or data/information, then that will be reflected in your body language. If you notice yourself feeling that way, consider calling that out transparently and if you don’t see the value in having the team contribute to ideas in this area, don’t continue the discussion as it doesn’t respect their time.
If you want to have an open discussion in an area where you are biased toward a particular perspective, then you can reset when you become aware of your feelings. Again, being transparent and saying something about wanting to be open models candidness which increases trust.
Here are some questions to ask yourself after every meeting: Was I distracted? How did I manage team member distractions? How did I do in keeping the meeting on track? Who spoke the most? What was my level of openness in the discussions? Did we stick to the agenda and get to everything we intended to? What parts of the meeting had the highest energy? This next question will indicate whether your team had a productive conflict - were the opinions expressed similarly? If yes then there should be a concern.
4. Be clear about the next actions including time frames for completion.
This point is probably obvious but needs to be stated. Without clear next actions that include who is responsible and due dates for completion, the meeting will have failed. And as the leader, your personal tasks need to be followed through on so you can model accountability to your team.
Attention to this very important aspect of leadership (that’s rarely taught or assessed) can have a positive impact on your total leadership.
One of my coaching clients worked with me to improve his meeting facilitation and was surprised that doing just a few things differently led to his team members evaluating him higher on his leadership skills. Another client would get very passionate during meetings to the extent that he did not listen well to others. When he increased self-awareness around this it led to giving himself cues on how he wanted to behave in meetings he ran. The notes he wrote on his own copy of the agenda were: Listen, Collaborate, Openness which led to better ideas and problem-solving because he incorporated the whole team’s input and not just his own ideas.
Originally published at CHRIS COWARD on January 29, 2020.