Managers: Use These Four Tips to Reframe the Dreaded Team Meeting & Keep It Real

It was 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. I begrudgingly grabbed my notebook, water bottle, and a granola bar to provide some sustenance for what was to come. Another month had begun and with it came the dreaded team meeting. Now, I know how bad that sounds. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with, and I even loved my boss. I should have been looking forward to spending time with the team. I should have been excited to hear my boss talk about our strategic focus for the month. But the cold hard truth is that I could never quite get myself in that mindset when for this particular meeting. At best, I tolerated it. Most of the time even that was an effort.

Why So Many Meetings Flop

In the many years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on why I came to loathe those meetings of yesteryear. With hindsight comes insight. Here’s mine: the trouble with our monthly team meetings was that none of us did our part to keep it real. We’d come with our department reports, paint a rosy picture, share some metrics, and nod our heads when it was our turn to listen. We didn’t talk about the real issues – in the business or on our team. We didn’t share stories of projects gone off the rails. We didn’t bring challenges or big ideas to the group for collaboration. We robotically reported, respectfully submitted, and effectively wasted two hours of precious time every month.

This was odd, because the person in charge of these meetings – my boss – was the kind of leader who had no tolerance for inefficiency or activity without meaning. In every other capacity he was all about action. He made more decisions and crossed more things off his list in the time it took most of us to finish our morning coffee. So why, exactly, did he conduct a meeting month after month that broke from all the things he valued? The answer is one we can all relate to. He fell into the dreaded “this is the way we do it” trap, something even the best of us find hard to avoid at times.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is very easy to make sure your meetings matter!

Four Tricks to Make Your Meetings Matter

Report in advance

Rather than take valuable meeting time to share basic updates, send them in writing via email before the meeting, and ask others to do the same. A quick paragraph will do…set a standard to avoid the War and Peace approach. If discussion of a specific topic is needed during the meeting, pose the question or decision requiring group input in the email so people come prepared with thoughts on the specific issue. Challenge everyone to be particular about the kind of input they seek. For example, avoid: “I’d like to get your thoughts on our current onboarding approach.” Instead try, “I’d like to decide the appropriate length for onboarding.”

Celebrate early and often

Dedicate five minutes at the start for celebration and recognition. Be sure you, as the leader, have thought through what you want to call out in advance. Be authentic and don’t forget to use this opportunity to connect accomplishments back to the big picture, to reinforce the strategy and ultimately drive engagement. Encourage team members to share their own pride points too. Or, better yet, encourage them to thank and recognize other team members who have gone above and beyond. Before you know it, taking time out to celebrate will be part of your team fabric and will be something everyone looks forward to.

Name your elephant

Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Think about what’s happening when you fail to acknowledge the elephant. That elephant is huge. It’s perched smack dab in the middle of the conference room table – taking up so much space, you can’t see or hear each other. If you don’t discuss the elephant, anything else you’re trying to accomplish is meaningless. So be courageous and lead the way. Acknowledge your elephant and invite the team to address it head on.

Save time for buzz

As a leader, there’s a strong chance that when watercooler talk comes your way, it’s been through some sort of filter – that is, if it reaches you at all. Still, it’s tremendously helpful to know what people are really thinking, saying, and feeling. It can inform how you communicate things, how you engage the team, and even how you divide responsibilities and projects. To encourage this kind of openness, dedicate time in your team meetings to finding out what the buzz is. Invite your team to share what they’re hearing and what they think might require action. This is another great way to create individual engagement and ownership. You don’t need to be the one who solves all the issues just because you’re the manager.

Once More, with Feeling

Escaping the dreaded “how we’ve always done it” trap is not insurmountable. It doesn’t take much more than deploying a few of these tricks to completely shift the tenor of a meeting from barely tolerate to completely great. These four tricks can help make your meetings matter. Once you get started, watch for how your team benefits. They’ll soon be taking more ownership, engaging more deeply, and bringing bigger and better ideas to the table.

I’d love to hear from you! What are your best meeting tricks to keep it real?

April 25, 2017


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