Anyone? Anyone? No, most people do not love meetings. Many people don’t even like meetings. And there are a very large number of people who absolutely dread the “M” word. But it doesn’t have to be that way. How would you like to make 2021 the year of fantastic meetings?
Before we look at how to create meetings that people look forward to, let’s explore why meetings have such a bad reputation. Here’s a short list of reasons team members give for hating meetings:
They’re are a waste of time
I have so much to do, I don’t have time to sit in a meeting
Nothing gets accomplished
Sound familiar? You may have heard some of these statements from your staff, or they may be things that have been running through your mind. Either way, there are two very simple strategies that can transform your meetings from a waste of time where nothing gets accomplished, to a valuable component in your leadership and communications system.
The first strategy is really all about being consistent. Consistent in the day and time of your meeting. Consistent in the format of the meeting. Consistent in sticking to your time allotments. And consistent with your meeting start and end times. Basically, one of the biggest strategies to quality meetings is being able to stick to a schedule.
You might be thinking that consistency sounds too simple to be an effective strategy for improving meeting quality. However, there are many benefits that come from this structure.
First, establish a consistent day and time for your weekly meeting. Everyone on the team should have it on their calendar every week. Other appointments and responsibilities should be scheduled around this time commitment. Make it a habit. If someone on the team is on vacation, do not change or cancel the meeting. Proceed as scheduled. The value of this component is that everyone knows when the group will convene and how to plan their week. This can improve efficiency as all team members know when they will see each other and when issues will be discussed. It can eliminate all the times when someone “pops in” to discuss a situation, hijacking whatever the person being “popped in on” had planned.
Second, have a “set” agenda with allotted time for each item. Implement a timekeeper to ensure that the meeting moves along as planned. Stick to this like glue. You can rotate your timekeeper responsibilities around; but the truth is, some people will be better at this than others. Your timekeeper needs to watch out for meeting hijackers, tangents, and squirrels. These methods of sabotage need to be called out and squelched immediately.
Lastly, when it comes to consistency, your meetings need to start and end on time. Always. This is respectful and ensures that the valuable time of your team is not being wasted. If you have someone who is always late, it needs to be addressed. Are they late because they are dropping kids off at school before coming in? If that’s the case, maybe the meeting needs to be moved back by 15-minutes. Your meetings need to be scheduled at a time that works for everyone. Is the late team member tardy because their default is to always be late? When that’s the case, there needs to be a conversation about the impact they are having on the rest of the team. Always start on time, regardless of who is there. Do not waste the time of those who show up on schedule by catching people up as they come in. By following your set agenda and utilizing a timekeeper, you can ensure that you also end on time. Always.
The other strategy to consider is a consistent and also intentional agenda. Consistent so that everyone knows what to expect. This way they can include items they need to address and avoid just “popping in” and sabotaging someone else’s time. Intentional meaning every component of the meeting has a purpose and serves to strengthen the team’s time together. Here are the categories I recommend you include in your weekly meetings:
Opening/transition = 5 to 10 minutes: Spend the first few minutes of every meeting transitioning from whatever everyone is coming from to the work at hand. This may include positive news (personal, professional, or both), shout-outs, customer or staff headlines, and whatever other tools you think would be good. This segment not only transitions from one part of the day to the next, it is great for connecting with your team on a human level. You give everyone a little bit of time to share their good news, their struggles, their celebrations, and those of their staff or customers. Adding this one component can do wonders for helping your staff feel valued and connected.
Project Review = 5 minutes: This item should list out any active projects, along with the name of the person responsible for it. The meeting leaders will quickly go through the list and the responsible individual will state one of two things: on-track or off-track. When an item is on-track, the group moves on. If an item is off-track and a less-than-one-minute conversation can get it back on track, have that conversation immediately. If an item is off-track and there are bigger issues that need to be addressed, it gets marked with an “I” (for Issue) and you move on. This segment should take about 5-minutes. Your timekeeper will need to work diligently to keep things moving along.
Measurables = 5 minutes: This component is a more advanced tool, that can be very effective. The idea is that everyone on your leadership team is responsible for a leading indicator. Every week you glance through the measurables to see if there are any areas of concern. If not, you move on. If there are, they get marked with an “I” to circle back to later.
‘To Do’ List = 5 minutes: Any action items from the previous meeting are listed. Again, you go quickly through this list. Completed items are checked off and you move along. Incomplete items either need a little more time and stay on the list or, you guessed it, get marked with an “I”. Each week new action items will be added to this section as completed items drop off. If an action item stays on this list for several weeks, it probably needs to be marked with an “I”.
Addressing Issues = 60 minutes: This is where you should be spending the bulk of your time. Items listed under this section include anything that has been brought forward from previous meetings or that team members have requested for discussion. Additionally, any items marked with an “I” will be brought down to this section. It’s good to have a dry erase board or flip chart to post all of the issues that need to be addressed.
Before you dig in, as a group you will choose the top three items that need to be discussed. From there you tackle each one with a three step process. 1) The person who presented the issue will state the problem to the group. Questions and clarification take place to make sure everyone understands the issue fully. 2) Discuss the potential solutions or different sides of the issue. Everyone only states their stance once, this is not about whoever is loudest or most aggressive. 3) Decide. If the group cannot reach a consensus, then the team leader needs to make a decision. That’s it, that’s the process. Then you do it again with the next priority issue, and then the next. If you solve the top three issues in your 60-minutes, pick the next 1 to 3 top issues, and start working on solving them.
Closing = 5 minutes: The timekeeper needs to keep an eye on the clock to ensure you have at least 5 minutes to wrap things up. During this time you will make sure everyone is clear on their action items for the week. (These will be in the ‘To Do’ section of next week’s agenda.) The other element of a successful wrap-up is to determine which decisions or messages need to be communicated out beyond this team. Decide on the best methods for communication and who will take the lead on making sure it happens.
Your meeting doesn’t need to follow this exact format, but it does need to follow a consistent format. And, these are good categories to start with. As you use it, you might find that you need to add something that works for your team, or eliminate pieces that don’t make sense.
A foundational ingredient to holding quality meetings is having a healthy team. By healthy I mean a team that respects one another, is on-board working towards the common goals of the business, and is committed to open and honest conversations. Now if your team is not quite there (or is a long way from there), it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement these strategies. Actually, using these strategies can help shine a spotlight on where problems might exist with your team, giving you the opportunity to address them. Some teams may just need to work on their trust and respect, as it may not have been a focus before. Others may have individuals who are not right for their role or for the company. Strong meeting structure helps in either case.
This article refers specifically to weekly leadership team meetings, but these strategies can be used for all types of meetings. Once your team becomes comfortable with this meeting format, it’s time to let it cascade down through the company. Members of the leadership team should start utilizing the structure with their teams. Depending on the size of your company you may have multiple layers to work the structure down through. Sticking with consistency and a well planned and followed agenda can strengthen every kind of meeting.
This entire system is set up to improve communication, build healthy teams, and increase efficiency. Consider these steps if you would like to turn your staff meetings into the most valuable and productive 90-minutes of your week. Like the idea, but need help implementing? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how we can set you up for a great 2021!