Tuesday, April 28, 2009

10 No Bull Tips on How to Lead a Team Meeting

One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is being able to plan and run an effective team meeting. You would think after having sat through hundreds of meetings as a participant, leaders would pick this up through osmosis and trial and error. Yet, it’s been my experience that the art of running a good staff meeting is a neglected part of even the most senior leader’s development.

There’s plenty of information out there on effective meetings…. go ahead, do a search, and review that stuff. It’s all good. And in addition to those standard best practices, here’s 10 tips you probably won’t find. You may find the tone a little harsh… if it comes across that way, it’s because it’s based on personal experience. That is, I’ve made every one of these dumb mistakes, so I’m just trying to stop you from doing the same. Tough love. (:

1. The single most important thing you can do as a leader to improve your team meetings: adjust your own attitude about meetings. I’m appalled at how many managers, at all levels of the organization, are proud to proclaim their hatred of meetings. OK, so help me understand this. In order to achieve significant results, solve problems, make decisions, inform, inspire, and motivate, we have to work with people. Darn, those pesky people. So, we need to get those people together in a room or on a call and actually talk to each other? If you’re a manager, and you hate talking to people, then what the hell is your job? Sitting in your office with the door shut sending emails?
As a leader, try looking at meetings as the manifestation of leadership. Its leadership show time, not something to dread like a trip to the dentist.

2. Don’t delegate the agenda planning to an admin or another team member. As a leader, it’s your meeting. You don’t just waltz in and react to what someone else has planned.

3. Did I say agenda planning? Yes, hopefully every article you’ve read on effective meetings mentioned agendas. Yet, we still show up to meetings where there is none to found. “Planning” is the other thing that’s often missing. Take the time to think about key decisions that need to be made, information that needs to be communicated, who needs to be at the meeting, timing, etc…. “Winging it” is a waste of your team’s time and tells them you don’t really care.

4. Although it’s your responsibility as a leader to plan the agenda, you can still invite team members to contribute agenda items. Send out a call for agenda items a few days before the meeting.

5. Put a little variety in the format. Here are a few things you can do to mix it up:
- Invite guest speakers
- Celebrate something
- Do a “learning roundtable” – have team members take turn teaching each other something
- Watch a video
- Change locations; go off-site
- Bring in some fun or interesting food
- Have a “single item agenda” meeting
- Do lighting round updates
- Bring food (did I already mention that?)
- Do some brainstorming
- Switch chairs; switch anything to break up the monotony!
- But please, no silly teambuilding activities

6. Don’t try to cram so many items into the agenda that there’s no room for discussion or spontaneity. Allow some “white space” for creativity and engagement.

7. Instead of just sharing information, try actually solving a problem, making a decision, or creating something. Yes, it’s challenging and can be messy, but that’s where we get the most value from meetings. Be ready to just roll the dice and be open to any outcome.

8. Get off your throne and lighten up. Being the leader of a meeting isn’t your chance to rule and flaunt your power. Chastising someone in front of the team is a way to do this. Have a sense of humor and humility.

9. Keep track of action items and make sure people do what they say they are going to do. It’s frustrating to show up to the next meeting and find out half the team didn’t bother doing what you stayed late the night before completing. Follow up and inspect before the meeting, and hold individuals accountable.

10. Lastly, be a role model for the kind of behavior you expect to see from others. Team meetings are not a time to let your guard down and kick back with your team. Hold yourself and your team to the highest standards of conduct, which means no off-color jokes, picking on team members, cynicism and sarcasm, and bashing other departments or management. Think about the kind leader your want to be known for, and then show up to each and every meeting being that leader.

How about you? Agree? Disagree? Anything to add?


Mary Jo Asmus, President, Aspire Collaborative Services LLC said...

As usual Dan, you have offered very practical tips.

I would add something very simple, but very hard to do: LISTEN. So many meetings are billed as "team" meetings, where the leader claims to want input - yet talks through the entire thing.

Its quite a burden, when the leader has to be responsible for all of the good ideas.

Dan McCarthy said...

Mary Jo
Agree - let's make "listen" #11.

Vasilij said...

I would also add "Be on time". ALWAYS. Meeting should always start when it is scheduled, no "waiting for people being late".

There should be no tolerance for being late and I found that having funny punishments help, like people who are late are supposed to bring cake next time or sing a silly song.

Dan McCarthy said...

Vasilij -
Right, that's annoying, and easy to fix. If you don't, it becomes the norm. I'll take cake instead of the song, but that's just me. (:

Steve said...

Two more:

a) No mobile phones. Don't allow people to take their phones into a meeting, even if they are on 'silent'. They'll argue that they don't want to miss an important call (in case they get one).

Tell them instead to leave their phone with someone outside the meeting who can answer calls on their behalf. That way they won't be tempted to check emails, or text, or just fiddle with their phone instead of showing respect to the other people who have given up their time for the meeting.

Think about the alternative - I've sat in meetings where call after call has gone unanswered - no doubt frustrating the callers. If only the owner of the phone had left it with someone outside the meeting every call would have been answered immediately, problems solved, orders taken and customer satisfaction increased. And the owner of the phone wouldn't have to waste valuable time after the meeting returning all those missed calls and dealing with frustrated customers!

b) No laptops. For many of the same reasons as no mobile phones - sitting with an open laptop in a meeting shows disrespect to everyone else in the room - unless you are using it to run a Powerpoint Presentation. Checking emails or working on something other than the meeting is the height of rudeness!

If there is information on your computer that you want to share with the group print it out before the meeting and present it for review or discussion.

Just Another HR Lady said...

Hi Dan, I totally agree, I recognized a few weeks ago that maybe we need to look to our employees to remember the "olden days" when we actually went to meetings to accomplish something!


Dan McCarthy said...

Steve –

You’ve raised a topic I’ve been thinking about for the past few days – gadgets in meetings (or training). Being a boomer, I too have had the opinion that fiddling with hand held devices or laptops in front of people (i.e., in a meeting, at a social gathering) is rude and disrespectful. But with the entrance of gen Y into the workforce, I’m wondering if I need to change my attitude? I work with a lot of twenty somethings, and they’ve grown up with these things – they’re attached to them, physically and emotionally. They seem to be able to fiddle and pay attention (although maybe only 80%), and they don’t seem to mind it at all when others do. So who needs to change – me or them?

Ah yes, the good old days. Thanks for stopping by – and good post on meetings. Sure everyone hates BAD meetings - so do I. But it's easier to sit back and complain than it is to do something about it and be part of the solution.

Vasilij said...

I guess that "no gadgets" is a good one. After all, if people start wandering off, the meeting is too long.

Most of the time, even 1 hr delay in response is not a question of life or death (in some industries it can be actually).

So keep your meetings short and laser-focused, then gadgets would become non-issue, IMHO.

Chris Young said...

Hi Dan! I love a "no bull" approach to anything, but especially when it comes to leading an effective meeting!

I have included your post in my weekly Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog picks of the week (found here: http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/2009/05/the-rainmaker-fab-five-blog-picks-of-the-week.html)to share your tips with my readers.

Be well!

Becky Robinson said...

I agree with you #1 is the most important of all. The leader's attitude is extremely influential in setting the tone of the meeting. If we feel it is a waste of time, so will everyone else.

Great add-ons in the comments too.

Dan McCarthy said...

thanks, Chris!

renate said...

This has helped me prepare for my first meeting being new to retail management. Admittingly I wasn't looking forward to it and had I not researched I would have hone about it all wrong as I am finding this role so difficult to a point where I am questioning my role managing people as its so hard. I, with a little help from these type of forums will get there I am sure. Thanks again.

Emily Wilson said...

The only thing I disagree with is no "silly" team building activities. There are many people who actually DO enjoy a well-planned team building activity or interactive experience. It certainly depends on what group you are leading the meeting for, but it not only prevents boredom, it gets people thinking and talking, wakes people up, and provides an opportunity for laughter. I offer staff meeting starters, quick 5-10 minute activities that build relationships and help team members get to know each other better. I try to make them as "non-threatening" as possible and I ALWAYS get good feedback!