We’ve all been to meetings that felt like a complete waste of time. But really, meetings should be a key planning and strategy tool. Here’s my 5 top tips on holding meetings that matter.
Meetings get a bad wrap, often because it feels like they are held just for the sake of it. They can waste time and create meaningless extra work. But when they’re working, team meetings should keep everyone on track to achieve their goals, provide an opportunity for ideas and innovation and create a safe space for workshopping ideas.
1. Be Clear on Purpose
Many years ago, I was in a management team and we would have a meeting every week that went for around two hours. It was a cross-functional meeting, I was there representing HR, someone was there from finance, someone from facilities, etc. We would go around the room and explain what we were working on that week.
This was useful for our manager, who got a weekly update on what everyone was doing. But what did the rest of us get out of those meetings? Well, not a lot. My colleagues and I would roll our eyes and groan as we made our way to the meeting room because it was not a good use of our time. We just didn’t need that level of detail on everyone else’s work. Spending a lot of time preparing for that meeting every week was not very efficient either.
Lead Purposeful Meetings
Let’s contrast this with another approach. I’ve attended management team meetings that were scheduled every three weeks where we had a set agenda. We would discuss our goals and KPIs and our progress against them, how we were tracking, what was going well, what challenges we were facing, and how team members could provide assistance for each other. We’d also look at what else was happening in the industry, asking questions like, what are we doing to listen to the market right now?
Sometimes people tell me they don’t want agendas for meetings. I understand that, but you don’t have to have a three-page document, you can just pick three things.
Agendas: Just Three Things
Make sure everyone coming to your meetings is really clear on the purpose, and provide an agenda, even if it’s just a rough one. Sometimes people tell me they don’t want agendas for meetings. I understand that, but you don’t have to have a three-page document, you can just pick three things.
For example, your agenda might be
- What’s going well?
- What challenges do we face?
- What do you see as an emerging issue or opportunity?
2. Create a Team Charter
A team charter is a set of dot points that you agree as a team on how you want to work together. Team charters provide expectations and accountability and help prevent meetings from heading off track..
As an example, a team charter might say, as a team we’re going to:
- be proactive and positive
- keep each other informed
- focus on what’s best for the team
- be respectful, fair and honest in our communications
- encourage opinions and discussions from all team members.
Find out how to put together a team charter in my post Deliver Results Every Time: How to Build a High Performing Team.
3. Ensure Meetings are Regular, Scheduled & Attended
The third component of meetings that matter is to make sure there’s a strong structure.
How often should you have meetings? That’s up to you and your team to discuss and decide. Don’t just pick weekly or monthly because that’s what you’ve always done, consider what sort of scheduling makes the most sense.
And you may need different time frames for different types of meetings. For example you may have a meeting every three weeks to look at your goals, and another one once every six months to talk about your overarching strategy.
Next you need to schedule those meetings. If you don’t schedule them, they’re not gonna happen! Make sure that you’ve got them on everyone’s calendar.
This may sound obvious, but I often see managers set up meetings with their team and then move them repeatedly. It happens with both team meetings, and one-on-one meetings. They are moved, cancelled or postponed. The message that sends to the team members is: this meeting is not important. I’ve got other things I need to do that are more important than meeting with you.
One trick to avoiding long meetings is to send around pre-reading, and ensure that everyone commits to reading it before the meeting as part of your discussion around scheduling. It is very frustrating to send around pre-reading that no one actually reads. You have to spend the first 20 minutes of the meeting going back over the pre-reading.
4. Provide Psychological Safety
In a meeting, you want to have a space where everybody feels that they can contribute. The idea is to create ‘psychological safety’, a term coined by Amy Edmondson.
What is Psychological Safety?
People in environments that feel psychologically safe feel safe to say no, to disagree, and to put forward ideas without being embarrassed or punished.
Perhaps you’ve been in a meeting where the most dominant person in the meeting, like the owner of the business or the leader of that team, says something that you don’t agree with. There aren’t many people who feel comfortable to speak up and offer a countering point of view.
But in a meeting with a sense of psychological safety, people feel that they can speak up and disagree in a respectful way, without being embarrassed or punished. Psychological safety has been credited, across multiple studies, as the most important aspect in creating high-performing teams.
If you’re interested to find out more about psychological safety, there are lots of great resources on the Re:work website.
Assessments can be great tools for building safe spaces. Examples include:
- Whole brain thinking For thinking preferences
- DISC For behaviour
- Myers-Briggs For personality.
These tools are inexpensive, and provide a common language for a team to understand how each member thinks. I’ve done whole brain thinking assessments for many many years and I’ve found that certain jobs lead to certain preferences. For example, an accounting team usually has a lot of people who prefer left-mode thinking – they like facts, process, policies. Meanwhile a marketing team is often much more right-mode of thinking – preferring creativity, conceptualising and interpersonal skills. These tools can help you recognise gaps, strengths and weaknesses in your team’s approach.
5. Create a Framework
Having a framework for your meeting is a little bit different to having an agenda. This is really about resisting the temptation to talk about your week, or your month.
I have found that even when teams have agendas and a purpose, they will still default to looking at what they’ve been doing, rather than looking at goals, KPIs, metrics and dashboards. Why? Because sometimes those conversations are difficult.
Perhaps the profit isn’t where we thought it was, we’re not getting as many leads as we wanted, our sales are down, we’ve lost a big client, or our staff turnover’s gone up. But we must have these conversations because if we’re not discussing them as a team we are missing emerging issues and opportunities. Safe spaces are critical in discussing difficult issues.
How do we do this?
- Bring a Question – encourage everyone to bring a question to every meeting, for example about how something’s working in the business or what’s happening in the external market.
- Who do you recognise? ask everyone to recognise someone who they noticed has done good work since the last meeting.
Listen in for more on meetings that matter
For more discussion: listen to my FIND. GROW. KEEP. podcast episode on team meetings that matter.
Have your say: Team Meetings that Matter
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