Meetings – Reimagine Them or Remove Them From the Schedule

Welcome back, and thanks for checking out my latest blog in the Culture Hacker series. This is a continuing conversation from my last blog about communication. Communication is essential in defining a company’s culture by socializing the team with the right messages. Today, let’s discuss an important communication tool that is unfortunately rendered ineffective too often, and that is the traditional meeting. American author Dave Berry wrote, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings.” The sad reality is that most employees are likely to agree with Berry.

There are three types of meetings that we should discuss; the daily operations meeting, the weekly updates or project meetings, and then the monthly department or team meeting. Meetings are important and necessary, but there are too many of them, and they are usually badly delivered and ineffectively led.

Daily Meetings

Let’s start with the daily meeting. Daily meetings are found in many operations and are used to update the front-line associates on what is happening or expected to happen. This is the most important communication tool managers have for the front lines. Communication must happen every day, and as we indicated in the previous blog, one important element that promotes understanding with staff is to have the right timing and environment for communication. By conducting a daily meeting away from customers and other distractions, managers have the perfect opportunity to communicate effectively. It is one opportunity to share messages, receive feedback, and to inspire the team in an efficient and effective manner; yet, for many teams, it never occurs.

One of the biggest proponents of conducting a daily meeting is New York’s ex-mayor Rudy Guiliani, who wrote, “The morning meeting was the core to my approach to managing.” People who have read his book and his description of the 9/11 events know he never deviated from his morning meeting even amongst all the chaos because he knew that it was his only opportunity to stress priorities and gather information. So, whenever we hear a manager say he or she is too busy to have a daily meeting with the staff, Rudy Giuliani comes to mind, because if ever there was an excuse not to have a daily meeting, 9/11 was it, and yet, Giuliani never deviated from it once.

Here are some points on how to deliver an effective daily meeting for staff:

  • Keep it ten minutes or less, which means managers have to keep things moving quickly.
  • Up to half of the meeting can focus on what is happening in and around the operation or business that day, but the rest should be used for gathering feedback, talking about values and culture, and getting the team ready for the day. The morning meeting should be the switch that ignites the team and motivates them to get to work.
  • Get their attention, get them energized, and get them thinking about what they are about to do.
  • Have the staff lead the meetings on a rotating basis. Have them come up with creative and fun ways to bring each meeting to life so the responsibility is not always on the manager.

Weekly Updates and Project Meetings

The next meetings we should discuss are the weekly updates or project meetings. These are called to bring a group of people together to solve problems or to keep managers in the loop. These meetings often become routine and a waste of time.  They may try to cover too many items, are not organized, last more than an hour, have too many people in attendance, involve death by PowerPoint, and lack purpose. Sound familiar? Thought so. An Economist quote by Thomas Sowell states, “The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.” So, let’s think about challenging the purpose and changing the paradigm for these meetings.

Audit regular weekly or project meetings that happen in the organization and rate them on the following ten items. The rating is simple; give a one for yes and a zero for no. The output is also simple; unless a meeting scores an eight or more, it is a waste of the team’s time and should be removed or reworked. Here is how to assess a meeting:

  1. Is the purpose of the meeting associated with achieving the annual company objectives?
  2. Is there an agenda?
  3. Are participants asked to review or prepare prior to the meeting?
  4. Is there a singular and clear purpose or topic for the meeting?
  5. Does it finish within an hour or before the time expected?
  6. Are there fewer than ten people involved in the meeting?
  7. Does the meeting allow all participants to speak and participate?
  8. Are notes taken and then circulated amongst the participants after the meeting?
  9. Are the company values utilized to help direct the decision-making process?
  10. Does the meeting begin with a recap of the previous meeting and end with the agreed upon ‘next steps’ and tasks assigned?

And, bonus question: does the group often reevaluate whether or not they need to meet regularly?

In other words, the meeting should not be about meeting for the sake of meetings. A project meeting does not usually need to happen each week, so there should always be a willingness to only meet as required. Updates and information can often be shared via email, so focus on utilizing meetings to clarify information and make decisions.

Monthly Department or Team Meetings

Finally, let’s discuss those monthly department or team meetings. These have largely become predictable and irrelevant for a number of reasons already mentioned, but can be an important and useful communication method when delivered correctly.

To make a monthly meeting effective team members must know that they are expected and encouraged to contribute meaningfully. As a leader, ensure the team’s ideas and contributions have consideration and are utilized when prioritizing needs and making decisions. And, as we have already suggested, there must be an agenda. We have reviewed a lot of research over the years to ascertain what an ideal monthly meeting looks like, and we have provided this outline:

Ideal Agenda

  • 00:00 – Welcome and review of agenda
  • 00:02 – Review scores and provide status updates on the work done and information gathered from the last meeting(s). Have someone from the project teams update the rest of the department on progress made.
  • 00:15 – Brainstorm on ideas around issues/needs for the team or department.
  • 00:30 – Culture or team building exercise. Include an exercise, game, or discussion that reinforces the company values. This might also involve a guest speaker or a presentation from another team.
  • 00:45 – Q&A. Ensure there is an opportunity for two-way interaction on any topic.
  • 00:55 – Recognition. Recognize the efforts of individuals or teams.
  • 00:58 – A minute of motivation. Have the team walk out energized and excited.

Learning to implement an agenda and gaining the ability to recap and brainstorm projects and needs for the department can take months of education and practice, but once the team understands how they can prepare and contribute to the monthly meeting, it will become much more interactive and efficient. To help facilitate this process, we suggest managers ensure that each month something from their brainstorming list gets completed so teams can see how their contributions have a positive impact. This will ensure that more people become engaged and excited by the monthly meeting opportunity.

One final reminder is to finish on time. We have worked with some companies and seen best practices in play that utilizes a penalty (like having the manager do a pushup for each minute the meeting goes over) to help ensure meetings finish on time and also to invoke a little fun. Stick to the schedule and create an expectation with everyone that the monthly meeting always stays on track and on time. For issues that need more discussion, take them off-line or set up a meeting with only those who need to be involved.

Please make meetings relevant and worthwhile. Don’t add to the culture and expectation that meetings don’t matter – they do, as long as they are delivered right. Thank for reading, and please reach out to us if you’d like more ideas or insights about company meetings.

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