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Episode 8: Get More Out of Meetings

meetings podcast Feb 15, 2022


"Now that our roles on the team are getting clear, it seems like our weekly team meetings aren't that effective. How do I decide when we should meet and what we should meet about?"

You’re not getting the same effectiveness out of those meetings that show up on your calendar every day. They might have been working for a season – but seasons change. 

Let’s make meetings better . . . make meetings matter.

What Should We Meet About?

I was in a meeting last week – when someone shared their screen and walked everyone in the virtual room through the report line by line reading directly from the report. Not my favorite kind of meeting and probably not yours either. 

If you are reading a report, giving a status update, or sharing information. You can probably do an email and don’t need a meeting.

What surprised me in my meeting last week, though, was the last bullet point in the report. It raised some questions from the group. Followed by some great discussion – and necessary clarification. My ears perked up. Multi-tasking stopped. I was tuned in, listening and waiting to contribute. 

THAT’s what happens at necessary meetings. People are dialed in, focused and engaged. If you aren’t seeing that kind of response, then you need to ask, “Is this meeting necessary?” 

Who knew that this status report would turn into a rich conversation? 

Well, maybe we could have known because the last bullet was something new. That was the CLUE! Anyone in the room could have probably identified the last bullet needed discussion before the meeting even started. We could have cut the time of the meeting by getting right to it and left the other information to be shared in an email.

I know what you are thinking. People don’t read emails. That’s why we need to read reports in meetings. If you think about it, though, by reading it in a meeting it's enabling the behavior and reinforcing that they don’t have to read their email!

Here’s the tension. We don’t want to enable that behavior AND people might not read their email. So, what do you do about meetings, then? Try an experiment. Open with a question: “We are going to open discussion on item four of the report I sent out on Monday. Before we do, does anyone have questions on items 1-3?” Keep it short and move on to the discussion quickly. If they want to contribute they will need to read their email.

So, if status updates isn’t a good enough reason for a whole meeting, then what necessitates a meeting?

Well in my story – the discussion on that last point really needed a meeting. It was a topic that required some collaborative problem solving, sharing of ideas, evaluating how it was working and deciding on how we wanted to make a minor shift.

What are the things on your meeting agenda that gets people sitting on the edge of their seats ready to contribute, where ideas are flowing and better decisions are made? Those are the things that should get on your whole team agenda. Find another way to communicate the rest.

A Note About "Who"

You probably used to need meetings to collaborate because there was more fluidity in the roles and in the discussion you were able to decide who was going to do what.

Team roles are getting clearer now. Not everyone needs to be involved in the same level of detail. 

An example could be a leadership team that’s gotten clearer on their functional roles. Someone is in charge of operations, another programs, then communication and another development or finance. Your leaders are getting more specialized and focused in their areas. 

It’s a tricky transition – try this. Take your typical agenda for the team meeting. Create three columns on your paper and divide your agenda items into one of these columns:

  • Whole team discussion and collaboration
  • A subset or working group 
  • Empower that leader to decide in their specialized area

One team changed it up. Instead of meeting once a week as a whole team, they started meeting every other week as a whole team and then on the opposite weeks they set up some working groups that were subsets of the team to work on crossover projects – like finance and programs working on whether they should launch a new initiative or not; operations, development and communication planning a fundraising event. Whole team meetings still involved input, but not everyone had to get involved in all the details.

And as long as you are thinking about who needs to be at meetings. Don’t forget to challenge yourself…

You might decide a meeting is necessary AND decide that it’s not necessary for you to be there. You can be involved or included in another way – whether its an email update, a 1:1 meeting, or some other team-wide communication. The more your team specializes and roles are clear, the more you want to empower them to do “the what” of a meeting without you.

When Should You Meet?

I already started to answer this with the example of the whole team meeting weekly, then moving to every other week and using the in-between week for work groups.

What I like about that is you aren’t just adding the working meetings onto the weekly meetings. I’ve seen that a lot as organizations grow they start adding more meetings – that are needed – but they don’t subtract (or re-evaluate) other meetings. It starts to impact productivity when we have too many meetings. 

When you decide to meet – set your agenda and facilitate it well. Too many meetings are just open discussions – and really if you want your meetings to meet the needs of your team and be worth the time, you need to facilitate them well. That means things like:

  • Set an agenda in advance – even a framework that you repeat every meeting
  • Start it on time and end it on time
  • Use a parking lot when discussion gets off topic
  • Don’t be afraid to pause and delegate a complex topic to a separate group 

That doesn’t mean it isn’t relational!!! You don’t want to lose the camaraderie of the whole team that you’ve gained up til now. Nurture the relationships because everything hinges on that.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Then, ask for feedback and adjust. 

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