I rarely encounter a leader that shares, “our team meetings are so engaging that people look forward to them.”  It just doesn’t happen, and if it does, it is not consistent.  Meetings are one of the most dreaded words in most businesses.  People rarely say the word “meeting” with a smile on their face.  That’s because meetings have proliferated and now dominate our lives and our calendars, consuming far too much of our time.  If you ask successful people for advice, they often will share that they are very intentional with their time, choosing who and what to meet about in person vs. other forms of communication, or to meet at all.

Most meetings could be replaced with another form of communication

This is why meetings are frustrating.  They feel like a waste of time because they are.  Clients I work with are now replacing many of their meetings with emails or communication hubs through an app, their company websites, or private social media platforms.  Things like policy updates, reminders, or presented information can much more easily be digested independently than in a team meeting.  If you plan to talk at people about slides that have all the information on them already, try sending it to the team as a pre-read, and open the meeting with what questions they have about the information.  The team is empowered to learn on their own time, and there is still a safe place to field questions rather than a boring talk at you meeting.  People want a dialogue, and the pre-read goes a long way to freeing up the time to engage the audience and ask questions.

So, how do you facilitate a meeting that people want to go to?

For starters, create an environment where people know what is expected of them, they have a voice, and everyone is heard.  Here’s are some guidelines I have learned from leaders with effective meetings:

  • Send a high level agenda and thought question in advance. A few days prior to the meeting, send an email/memo/text/social media/whatever communication method works for your team outlining the key topics for discussion and a question to reflect on.  Set the expectation that everyone will share their answer to the thought question.  With less communicative teams, send reminders, or touch base personally to ensure they received the message.  Some people take time to process, and putting them on the spot can create negative outcomes.  Avoid that with diligent preparation.
  • Start with a teambuilding activity. This helps people transition from the tactical, get it done work mode, to a safe place for sharing and collaborating.  Depending on the size of the group, this can take a few minutes or a few hours.  There are many options – from an icebreaker about a funny childhood moment to a hands on offsite ropes course.  A trusted colleague of mine, Des Garcia, specializes in this, and believes that the experience is most impactful when it is aligned with the organizations overall values and goals.  While the activity is usually fun, it creates a mindset for people to collaborate more freely after.  It has a lasting impact on performance.
  • Brainstorm solutions to a real-life business problem together. Collaborative problem solving is way more effective when the problem impacts the team, and the team has the ability to solve for it.  Start with a simple one, or better yet, ask the team to submit ideas for problems to tackle together to gain even more buy-in.  When you let go of the control, and get out of the way, letting the team solve their own problems, the results are staggering.  Team member commitment improves, engagement increases, and the team starts to more proactively solve more problems day-to-day without the meeting.  It builds a positive problem solving culture, where leaders are doing less firefighting and more preventative coaching.  I like to use sticky notes for collaborative problem solving, where everyone has a big stack of notes to write ideas down.  The facilitator, not necessarily the leader, collects the notes, and displays them on a wall or white board, and packages them into buckets of similar ideas.  Each team member sees their idea on the board and how it snowballs into a collective idea.  Then, you can score, vote, or debate which idea wins.  Alternatively, if the team wants to be more positive, sharing best practices is also a nice collaborative meeting.  Everyone is expected to bring at least one to share, and like the sticky notes, the ideas flow and build off of one another.
  • Stop the meeting with five minutes remaining to reflect on key decisions. Ever have a meeting after the meeting, where people that pretended to agree in the meeting try to sabotage and change direction after the meeting?  Of course you have.  It’s called resistance, and the only way to combat this is head on.  Meetings tend to run late, so make a habit to call time at five minutes til, to recap key decisions.  To gain commitment, make it a practice to have all team members agree with a simple head nod or vocal “yes” to confirm they are on board.  This reinforces accountability and makes it really hard for team members to do things differently if they agreed in the meeting and everyone saw them.
  • Summarize meeting outcomes. Designate a point person (or yourself) to take notes and share them within 48 hours after the meeting.  The summary needs to hit the highlights so that if someone missed the meeting, they get the jest and can ask questions to get up to speed, and also to capture the decisions or outcomes of the meeting.  This creates a paper trail for key decisions to reiterate and hold people accountable over time.

A Case Study

Meet Allison.  Allison was a participant in my leadership course.  She had a diverse team that was semi-engaged.  She knew her team meetings were less than engaging and wanted to spruce them up.  She followed many of the key steps noted above, and experienced game changing results.

First, she sent an email to her team a week in advance outlining the new team meeting structure.  She included all the pesky policy updates or things that the team was not doing right in the email with a positive tone.  Then, she asked her team to review the list and come to the meeting with questions.  She then outlined the business problem she wanted each team member to contribute ideas to help solve.  She gave each team member a stack of sticky notes, and set the expectation that they would come to the meeting with at least five sticky note ideas.  Additionally, she followed up frequently via a paper memo of the email, and in person to explain the why behind the new meeting and to gain buy-in and field questions about the new meeting structure.

The day of the meeting arrived.  Allison excitedly prepared the meeting room ahead of time, clearing a wall to collect the sticky notes, and creating areas for small group discussions.  She opened the meeting with the agenda, and asked for questions on the updates she had sent as a pre-read.  A few asked their questions, and less than five minutes into the meeting, they had already accomplished everything they normally would accomplish in an hour meeting.  It was a success.  From there, she introduced the hands on activity, one of my favorites, the marshmallow challenge.  Twenty short minutes later, with the energy up, she reiterated the business problem they were there to solve.  Allison broke the team into small groups to discuss their ideas, and gave them time to add more ideas.  The room was filled with robust discussion.  She then quieted the group, and had individuals place their sticky notes on the wall.  She organized them based on the team’s input, and together, they brainstormed titles for each basket of ideas.  Everyone’s voice was heard.  The power of the sticky note.  The power of good leadership.

With five minutes remaining, she summarized the outcomes and key decisions made that day, and asked everyone to say one thing that they learned that day.  Allison captured all the notes and sent to the team as a pre-read for the next team meeting.  It was a rousing success, and team enthusiastically began to ask about the next team meeting.  Engagement and performance increased from there.

Good leaders have good meetings that people WANT to go to.  How will you lead your next team meeting?

#teammeetings #collaboration #leadership

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