Meetings are a major pain point for many of my clients striving to achieve organizational health. The remedy, however, is not fewer meetings; it's more regular and specific ones. Sounds fun, right? Let me explain.
The real work of teams is done in meetings. If you're developing a new marketing plan, for example, you can do that through an email exchange, a series of one-on-one sessions, or a team meeting. Each of those will have a different outcome, with the team meeting the most effective--both from a time and a result standpoint.
Below are five rules for reclaiming control of your meetings--and making them a productivity tool and competitive advantage.
Rule No. 1: Meet regularly.
Healthy teams use meetings to discuss important decisions. They engage in some heated back-and-forth. The plan often changes because of the team's input. And consensus is neither assumed nor achieved with any regularity. In the end, though, everyone feels like they've said their bit, and they're able to back up the decision because of this.
Rule No. 2: Hold different meetings for different types of information.
The meeting model we use at the Table Group was developed by Pat Lencioni; his book Death By Meeting talks about it in depth. It argues that successful teams hold different meetings for different types of information. You don't mix the administrative (what big client meetings you have this week) with the tactical (how you're going to roll out the new sales plan) with the strategic (what exactly the new plan entails). The reason? Our brains are not that adept at flipping quickly from one type of information to another.
It's also true that most teams that don't dedicate time to strategic topics don't ever actually address them. Have you ever spent 35 minutes hashing out the details of a client proposal, only to run out of time for discussing how the change in a competitor's pricing strategy may impact the business? You’re not alone.
Rule No. 3: Build a real-time agenda based on a lightning round of input from each team member.
The structure Pat developed for weekly tactical meetings is powerful, mainly because it has no preformulated agenda; the people in the room build an agenda on the basis of what's important to them and to the business in real time. The meeting script doesn't result from a circulated email and it's not based solely on the meeting leaders' strategic priorities, and that is important. This is a powerful change, because it means that team members are discussing things that are important to them. To do this right, only discuss those issues that are on the team’s scorecard. Focus on the things that need focusing on.
Rule No. 4: Assign a moderator who's able to tactfully but firmly guide the meeting.
The other thing that plagues many meetings is our old friend the tangent. On healthy teams (those teams that have developed skills in the areas of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results), people are ready, willing, and able to point out when a team is off-topic, and it's not taken personally when someone nudges the team back on track. If the team is working on these issues but is not quite where it needs to be, choose a meeting leader who feels comfortable setting up the meeting with the reminder that he will actively keep the meeting on track. And then do it.
Rule No. 5: Spend the last five to 10 minutes of the meeting recapping decisions and actions and agreeing to what the team will tell its direct reports about what was discussed.
For productive meetings, the end is just as important as the beginning. Don’t let people get away with silent disagreement; if the leader is unclear about someone's commitment, ask! (Nothing is more deadly than silent disagreement that quickly results in a totally dysfunctional meeting after the meeting in which "real" opinions are shared behind closed doors.) It's important that everyone is on the same page about what you will and what you won’t say outside the meeting. Not everything will be ready for prime time, and that’s OK, so long as everyone finds out information within the same time frame.
Remember: Great teams embrace meetings--but getting there can be a process. Just don't give up before you get the benefit.