Death by Meeting (Free Printable, 5 Steps to Better Meetings)
How many meetings are on your calendar this week? Three or more? Meetings are an important and consistent feature of professional life, but few of us have ever been taught how to have a productive meeting. While we can certainly learn what not to do in a meeting through experience, this is a situation where making a few intentional decisions can positively impact your employees, your time and your workload.
For those of you who need to run to a meeting right now, here’s the short version. Click the picture to download Scott HR’s 5 Steps to Shorter and More Effective Meetings. Print it and apply these principles to your next meeting.
Death by Meeting
Want to read more about meeting management? I highly recommend reading Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. This leadership fable is a fast read and focuses on finding a cure for the common, useless meetings we all know.
How do we know if we’re having good meetings? Patrick’s answer might surprise you. Patrick outlines four criteria for an effective meeting.
The measure of a good meeting:
- Is it dynamic?
- Is there passion?
- Is there focused engagement?
- Are we extracting the collective wisdom of the team?
A Passionate Meeting?
Meetings need conflict and drama to be fully spirited and increase engagement.
Organizations must stop focusing on agendas, minutes and rules to accept the fact that bad meetings start with the attitudes and approaches of the people who lead and take part in them. The best news: For organizations that can make the leap from painful meetings to productive ones, the rewards are enormous. Higher morale, faster and better decisions and inevitably, greater results. Typically speaking, meetings don’t contribute to the success of the organization and that is why we must have healthy debates with drama and conflict.
The reality is that most meeting leaders go out of their way to eliminate or minimize drama. This also avoids the healthy conflict that generates results. This book advocates the provocation of drama and confrontation among team members to create interest during meetings. Leaders must be miners of conflict. There is a balancing act to not let the conflict cross a line that endangers the foundation of the relationships.
There is only one thing more painful than confronting an uncomfortable topic, and that is pretending it doesn’t exist. When an issue is ‘avoided,’ there are whispers and arguments going on in other ways that are more damaging to the team and organization. (To learn more about healthy conflict in the workplace, look into the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.)
To have passionate meetings with healthy conflict, the leader must announce to the team that more conflict will be expected from them – active, healthy debates. When conflict arises, encourage them that what they are doing is good.
Now or Later
Allow time for meetings done right (which is sometimes less time and sometimes more time than normal.
Consider this “when we fail to get clarity and alignment during meetings, we set in motion a colossal wave of human activity as executives and their direct reports scramble to figure out what everyone else is doing and why.” It’s as if the executives are saying, “Can we wrap this up so I can run around and explain to people what I never explained to them after the last meeting?” It is at once shocking and understandable that intelligent people cannot see the correlation between failing to take the time to get clarity, closure and buy-in during a meeting versus the time required to clean up after themselves as a result in the absences of drama.
Creating a Hook
A jolt is needed to inject drama into meetings. This might call for the leader to illustrate the dangers of making a bad decision or highlight a competitive threat that is looming, by appealing to participants’ commitment to the larger mission of the organization, impact on clients, employees or society at large.
Dramatic opening scene:
Okay everyone, we’re here to talk about cutting expenses, which doesn’t sound like much fun. But consider that there are plenty of people out there who have a vested interest in the way we spend our money. Our competitors are hoping we throw our money around carelessly. And they’re certainly looking for ways to reduce their own unnecessary expenses. Our customers don’t want to have to pay higher prices for our products to cover our lack of discipline. Our families would rather see more money in our paychecks than in our travel and entertainment budget. So, let’s dive into this issue with a sense of urgency and focus, because I certainly want to make sure that we’re using the resources in the way our investors and shareholders intended.
The Art of Mining
You have to mine for buried conflict. If you don’t and the conflict goes unresolved, people will come back in six months and say, “Well, I never really agreed with that decision when we talked about it before.”
It is understood that the goal is to have a passionate, unfiltered, messy, provocative discussion that ends when the leader of the team decides all the information has been aired. At that point, if no one has made a compelling enough argument for making a decision, the leader breaks the tie. Remember: that regardless of what position people originally took, once the decision is made, everyone supports it. That’s why it is critical that no one hold anything back during the discussion.
Now that you know the rules of an effective meeting, here are the four types of meetings that Patrick recommends.
The Four Types of Meetings
Daily Check-In or Huddles, AKA Headline News
Time Required – 5 minutes
Share the days’ priorities, schedules, and activity (for some organizations this is not practical, but do your best and always commit to the trial for a minimum of 2 months)
- Don’t sit down, Stand!
- Keep it administrative
- Don’t cancel even when some people can’t be there
Weekly Tactical Meeting
Time Required – 45-90 minutes
Review weekly activities, metrics, resolve tactical obstacles, and issues
Lightning Round: 60 seconds per person share what they are working on that week and name 2-3 priorities/primary activities (this will help set the agenda). This helps identify potential redundancies, gaps, and other issues that require immediate attention. KEEP the details to a minimum
Some items will arise that need to go to the ‘Parking Lot’ for a Monthly Strategic Meeting (TEAM will vote on the topics, but you can’t vote for your own topic; each member gets two votes).
METRIC Progress Review: for near-term goals (4-6, revenue, expenses, product development status, key account penetration, turnover, marketing/advertising)
Real-time Agenda: ASK What do we need to talk about today so we can make as much progress as possible this week? (limit conversation to topics that have an immediate impact on tactical issues and goals)
- Set agenda after initial reporting
- Get people hooked in the first 10 minutes then mine for ideological conflict and drive it to a conclusion
- Evaluate best and worst case scenarios and competitive responses to each possible action
- This is disciplined spontaneity which ensures the meeting will be relevant and effective
Monthly Strategic Meeting (or as needed)
Time required – 2-4 hours
Discuss, analyze, brainstorm and decide upon critical issues affecting long-term success
Ad hoc meetings occur when the issue can’t wait for the next monthly meeting, but also needs more time and dedication than the weekly meeting.
- Limit to one or two topics
- Prepare and do research
- Executives wrestle with, analyze, debate and decide upon critical issues that affect the organization in fundamental ways
Quarterly Off-site Review Meetings
Time required – 1-2 days
Review strategy, industry trends, competitive landscape, key personnel, team development. Critical meetings to take a step back from the daily, weekly and monthly grind to review things from a distance.
Allows review of the organization in a more holistic, long-term manner.
- Get out of the office
- Focus on work; limit social activities
- Don’t over structure or overburden the schedule
- Discuss: competitive landscape, morale, team dynamics, top and bottom performers, customer satisfaction- anything that has a long-term impactonf the success of the company
- Include: Comprehensive Strategy, Team Review, EE Review, Competitive and Industry Review
Overall Success Tips
- Choose a regular interval so the meetings don’t fall by the wayside
- Don’t put too many items on the monthly agenda to avoid diluting the quality of the debate
- Proper research and preparation for the strategic and quarterly sessions will ensure success
Focus The Discussion
Patrick recommends not discussing strategic issues that arise in weekly meetings. It seems rational to discuss important issues right then and there. Generally speaking, it is impossible for people to shift mindsets from a tactical issue to a strategic one. It will save your team time and energy to limit the weekly meetings to focus on solving immediate problems rather than re-hashing issues that have already been decided or needs more time to be discussed and researched.
Does This Work?
You may wonder, ‘Can my company really change or improve with enhanced meeting strategies?’
Yes. Any dramatic changes to your meeting structure should be committed to for at least two months. After two months, if you don’t think something is working, then adapt and proceed. Through this meeting process, employees are making decisions that lead to action. The action requires the organization to work together collectively to achieve a common goal because metrics are being discussed, evaluated and measured. This unites your team and creates an environment for more productive, effective teamwork!