Surveys have shown that less half of meetings are useful. Many people complain they last too long, and are time wasters. We all have experienced lame meetings and perhaps they are the norm. When meetings waste time or are poorly run, do people speak up? Rarely. They grin and bear it and appear to be engaged.
Most people (myself included) tend to have coping mechanisms to put up with the meetings. One of the most common is doing emails, working on the computer or the smartphone. Some people doodle and many have side conversations during the meeting. How do you cope with lame meetings?
Given that over 80% of the full team interaction takes place during meetings, its imperative to get meeting effectiveness right in order to be effective as a High Performance Team. I never quite understood that, as smart and brilliant as many leaders are, they rarely get the meeting effectiveness right.
There is not one way to run a meeting. However, there are a few guidelines that can go a long way to achieve success.
Creating and focusing on the right agenda is fundamental. Sending the agenda out in advance is important to get people to come prepared. Otherwise members just show up not really knowing specific areas for discussion.
Many fine teams have come to realize that pre-reads are a very efficient way to make meetings more effective. How many presentations have you attended where lots of background information is presented which is not germane to make the decisions at hand.
If team members sent out pre-reads of key material in advance, they have no need to present it. The discussions can focus on the important areas which need consideration as a team, as opposed to an information dump. Instilling the discipline of pre-reads sounds perfunctory, yet they can save oodles of time.
The other part of preparation is asking team members to prepare and be ready to discuss certain topics. The out-dated way to conduct meetings is to present all the information, and have team members passively listen and comment. A more efficient way is to ask team members to prepare where necessary, and to “be prepared to discuss”. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting participants to do some thinking time in advance. The preparation part of effective meetings can be tedious and not always high on people’s priority. Yet rest assured they will contribute to much more effective meetings and allow meetings to focus on discussion of key issues and decisions as opposed to reporting and informing.
2. Meeting logistics
This is an area often overlooked yet critical to a meeting’s success and it relates to how you organize and control the meeting. I suggest appointing separate individuals who are rotated every meeting, to take on the following roles:
2.1) Scribe – to take notes and circulate. Part of the scribe’s role is to highlight decisions taken and action planned.
2.2) Timekeeper – keeping meetings on track is a perennial issue, and the timekeeper’s role is to alert the group. This implies that the agenda also has time allotted for each area. One less intrusive way to do this is to hold up a paper – a) when five minutes is left, and then paper, b) when time is up.
2.3) Rabbit Hole – often topics get off track, or get lost in detail. The person in charge of rabbit hole needs to call it out, and get the group back on track.
2.4) Facilitator – this is the person in charge of the overall meeting, and it may or may not be the team leader. The facilitator moves the meeting from topic to topic, introduces the agenda etc.
2.5) Observer – this is key role, which essentially helps the team to reflect and keep the overall meeting discipline. She will observe how much the team is recognizing each other, celebrating successes, and how much people are showing up and contributing. Some observers are quite active and even give a short summary at the end of the meeting on how it went. In essence the observer is also playing the role of the meeting coach. Its effective to send a short summary out to all team members after the meeting.
You’ll be surprised how effective and efficient your meetings will become with just these simple logistics. After getting used to it, you will wonder what you did without them!
3. Focusing on the Right Agenda
Stepping back, what are the right agenda items to focus on? More than half of the time in most meetings consist of reporting fests on results, projects. While some reporting is necessary, much of it can just be emailed or communicated out of meeting environment. In your leadership team meetings you’ve got the brains of the organization in one place. Are you truly involving them and unleashing their creative potential, or are you underutilizing your resources.
When we talk about regular weekly, monthly or quarterly organized meetings, structure is crucial. I like to think of meeting agendas covering the following areas:
3.1) Key drivers of the success of the business: 20 - 30%
This refers to the Wildly Important Goal concept or WIG, and may involve, brainstorming, planning, review and reporting of status / results.
3.2) Decisions that require group discussion: 20-30%
Decision making plays an important role in the leadership team, and it is best to focus time on those areas which affect most team members and where discussion is required. If it involves one or two people, it can be handled separately. What are the major issues/challenges facing the team which require decisions by the team?
3.3) Updates, follow up and need-to-know areas: 20-30%
If it’s a functional/regional issue that only affects a few people, why spend team time on it? Focus on the important things, such as key initiatives, projects, KPI’s, policies, and trends. Most teams spend over 50% ‘reporting’ and updating. With pre-reads, preparation and discipline, much of this can be avoided
3.4) Team Quotient (TQ) Areas: 10+%
This refers to keeping the keeping team focused on those areas which will drive a High Performance Team. This may be the TQ dashboard items, team governance areas and team initiatives, sharing, icebreakers, etc. Its an opportunity to reflect.
3.5) Ad-hoc items - try to limit to no more than 10%
If you revise the content of your meetings to focus on those important things, you will find people are much more engaged and involved. You can expect them to contribute more and show up prepared and ready to engage.
4. Sharing lessons, thoughts and wisdom
Most meetings launch right in to the presentations, often the updates. Of course everyone is busy, and agenda items are packed. How can we have time for anything else? If you structure your content as mentioned above, you will have time to do more than the basic content.
There are many ways to share. You can come up with your own version. I recommended sharing along a few different ideas:
• Success and failures. Have executives share one success and one failure and what they learned?
• What were lessons learned over the past week/month which he/she has come to realize?
• What has been done to enhance contribution to the leadership team or the team managed?
• What has she/he learned about being a better executive? What have they needed to discontinue or to let go of?
Usually I conduct this sharing at the beginning of the meeting; one minute each, no long winded monologues, meaning you are only investing 10-15 minutes of time, and its fall under the category of “TQ Areas”. You’ll be surprised how just this little thing brings the group closer together and creates mutual inspiration and learning! Try it and see what happens.
5) Non - business activity - Energisers, challenges, icebreakers, movement
Part of the task of building a High Performance Team is in the area of deeper trust and relationships. Yet it is always amazing to me how these things get relegated to cocktails, dinners, offsites etc. Building in a little time to do something non-business will add spice, fun and energy to the team.
Who in the team is responsible? One idea is to have everyone be responsible for a new activity at each meeting, thereby rotating responsibility and getting more engagement. You’ll be surprise how much energy people put into it, when it’s ‘their activity’. Meetings can be very stressful and engaging. This is a time to distress. You really only need about 10 minutes per meeting. A good time to do it is after the break.
By the way, some High Performance Teams choose to end every meeting with a social get together, drinks/dinner. It’s a good way to unwind and discuss informally away from the rigour of the meeting environment.
As discussed, the vast majority of a leadership teams time together is in the meeting environment and High Performances Teams treat meetings as a precious investment in time and energy. If you follow the guidelines and discipline above, you are guaranteed to have High Performance Meetings.
Douglas Gerber is Founder and CEO of Focus One, a consulting firm that helps leaders create High Performance Teams.
After 23 years as a corporate executive, he developed a reputation for building successful teams. Later, as a consultant, he has personally worked with leaders from over 70 companies to develop their own winning Teams. Drawing from his own extensive background and 10 years of research, Douglas innovated the concept of “Team Quotient” (TQ). He is a thought leader in the area of team transformation. Learn more about Douglas and his upcoming book Team Quotient: How to Build High Performance Leadership Teams that Win Every Time on www.douglasgerber.com