Work meetings can take up an exorbitant amount of our work time – sometimes as much as 30 hours per week – yet the thought and time put into considering the success, dynamics and outcomes of work meetings are usually given minimal thought – often times because we’re running to our next meeting. For team managers, juggling a busy schedule, taking the time to intentionally consider the purpose and agenda of a team meeting can seem trivial and unnecessary. However, without defining the meeting and considering your team throughout the process, a successful team meeting is unlikely.
Team meetings in a work environment typically involve a group of individuals that regularly and consistently work together on long-term goals and projects. These are arguably the most important types of meetings. For managers, the work output, health and morale of the team depends on the manager, and therefore the meetings they run. For individuals on the team, their teammates are the people they interact with, often on a daily basis, and have significant influence on the success or failure of collaborative projects. Having productive and efficient team meetings is vital to encouraging strong team relationships and fostering an enjoyable work environment, the most important factor affecting work output.
Because team meetings often involve a more dependent and familiar group of people, these meetings can be hard for a variety of reasons. Regardless of a team’s dynamics, the most common and problematic aspects of team meetings involve a lack of direction and purpose, wasting time on unnecessary topics, or getting stuck on a topic; therefore, not being able to draw conclusions or make meaningful progress. Creating healthy and productive team meetings is difficult, and the process for doing so can be challenging.
Following are several keys to running a successful and efficient team meeting:
Define a Meeting Purpose
To consistently run efficient and productive team meetings, team leaders need to think critically about the purpose of the meeting and those involved. There are two steps that every manager should take. First, define the meeting, and second, put the team first.
With teams, it is vital to define the meeting in order for meetings to be intentional and focused. Without taking the time to define the meeting beforehand, the meeting is likely doomed before it begins. There are various types of meetings, the most common being: Status Update Meetings, Information Sharing Meetings, Decision Making Meetings, Problem Solving Meetings, Innovation Meetings, and Team Building Meetings. If you find yourself planning or attending meetings that try to tackle more than one of these topics, there’s a problem. Meetings that try and tackle multiple issues often lack focus and fail to deliver the desired results. Defining a meeting means team leaders can pinpoint the necessary topics and purpose of the meeting, while flushing out unnecessary items.
In trying to define your meeting, consider the following questions: What needs to be accomplished during the meeting? Who needs to be at the meeting? Is this something that can be in an email or addressed in town hall? Each type of meeting requires a different agenda, mindset, set of participants and preparation. For example, a Team Building Meeting would probably require full team participation, not a lot of preparation by the team, and a strong leader or manager to lead the meeting. But a Problem Solving Meeting might only involve select members of the team, heavy preparation and multiple discussion facilitators. There is extensive research and guidance online focusing on different types of meetings and what they each necessitate, so we won’t get too much into it. At its core, a successful team meeting involves defining the type of meeting in order to fully recognize the necessary preparation, structure, and purpose.
Putting the Team First
After defining your meeting, team leaders need to make they’re taking a team-first approach. Putting your team first means everyone is confident and comfortable with the direction and purpose of the meeting, thinking about the role that each of your team members will play in the meeting, and recognizing the team’s “pulse.”
Putting the team first does not necessarily mean ensuring everyone has the best meeting experience of their career, but if leaders really want successful teams, they need team members to understand the purpose of the meeting, as well as their role in it. At least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, team members should have access to an agenda that includes the defined purpose of the meeting, necessary prep work, expectations for the meeting, and what needs to be accomplished during the meeting. Team members need to feel confident that they fully understand the agenda and purpose of a meeting before it begins.
In addition to the meeting content, every team member should fully understand their role in the meeting. Even if the team does not want to assign specific roles to individuals, it is important to recognize each member’s purpose within the meeting. Depending on the type of meeting, these roles may include discussion facilitator, note taker, decision maker, etc. There are often cases in which team members need to be informed of project progress or the decisions made at the meeting, but they do not need to be present at the meeting. These individuals should be briefed after the meeting but should not be required to be at the meeting.
Taking the Pulse of Your Team
A conscientious team leader must also be good at assessing how team members feel about a meeting’s construct. In other words, are they happy with the information they’ve been given in advance of the meeting? Are they comfortable with a meeting’s structure? In order to track how team members feel about meeting prep and possible outcomes, team leaders are encouraged to continuously request and incorporate feedback. Prior to or during a meeting, take a moment to read the room and notice your team’s health. Are people engaged and participating? Are they on their computers, not listening? Are they frustrated with the content of the meeting or with individuals in the room?
Fully understanding the answers to these questions can be difficult, and may require asking for direct, potentially uncomfortable feedback from individuals. In addition to reading the room and asking for feedback, here are some quick tips to get the most out of your team: Be cognizant of people’s time. If you schedule an hour for the meeting, don’t go over. Understand how your team likes to operate. If your team often gets off track, discussing topics unrelated to work, try and schedule five-minute breaks throughout the meeting for teammates to mingle. Follow up the meeting with key takeaways and acknowledge successes or difficulties. Often times, meetings can be stressful or discouraging. If so, be sure to acknowledge the hard work and effort of individual members or the team overall, and leave on a positive or encouraging note.