“I hate meetings”. I heard it again yesterday. I hear it frequently, because many meetings suck the energy out of staff. If your meetings are about status updates, your people are withering on the vine, losing interest in your company and your leadership.
Because you care about productivity, you created an environment where there is more to do than can possibly get done. That is a good thing, as it drives people to produce and innovate. Employees want to do good work and know they are accomplishing something that matters. And then they see the weekly 9am meeting on their calendar, and they are filled with dread. Week after week, they attend these meetings that drone on. They feel that ninety percent of what is discussed doesn’t apply to them, and that which does could’ve been sent in an email. “Do you want me to get the job done, or do you want me to waste my time in this meeting?”
When done right, meetings are the most important and most exciting part of the work week. They are where the organizational bus is driven. How can you convert your meetings into something that energizes your staff instead of deflates them?
Create a vulnerable team
Effective meetings are a food fight of ideas. In one room, you gather all the people who have the best information on a topic. Those people then debate and defend what they deem important and share their insights. That is, they debate and defend IF they are vulnerable enough to say what they really think. Most people don’t. They don’t like how VP Mike always condescends to them. Or they were taught to not hurt anyone’s feelings, and so they never say anything controversial (and somehow see that as a good thing). Or they know that the leader has already made up his mind and feel it is no use to say why we’re about to make a bad decision. That can wait until after the meeting, when I complain to my cube-mate about how leadership doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Effective meetings depend on the willingness of team members to step up to the plate and be honest about what they are thinking. There are many reasons, however, that team members are unwilling to be vulnerable. Has your behavior as a leader shut them down or made them think their opinion won’t be heard? Are there factions across departments that haven’t been publicly addressed?
Creating a vulnerable leadership team takes bravery. As a first step, you have to address tough issues publicly in the group. You need expertise in handling difficult conversations, where you allow just enough blood and guts to get out on the table, then you give just the right insightful perspective to help people understand the other side and see their own contribution to the lack of trust in the room. Then you lead them into seeing each other as a team, with the same goals. You want just enough of a kumbaya experience to bond these folks together and not so much that you create touchy-feely aversion.
And once you have successfully addressed the elephants in the room, the tough work begins. Daily life happens, where people do things that unknowingly break trust and make me question someone’s motives. The job of the leader is to continually remind people that we are on the same team with the same goals, showing how each incident of presumed bad motives are actually actions of someone caring about the company but from a different perspective.
When people trust each other, they can share their thoughts openly. Vulnerability is a fundamental requirement for the path to effective meetings.
Encourage differing opinions
Many managers act as though they are threatened when someone disagrees with them. Yet disagreement is the fertile ground where better decisions are made. Prove to your team members that you want them to share their thoughts by welcoming their differing opinions. Welcome is too weak a word – crave what you are missing. When you know you are right about a path and someone disagrees with you, don’t get defensive. Instead, get excited. The discussion ahead is about to make the path even better. Understand why the person disagrees. What danger do they see that you skipped over? What customer’s need is not going to be met by your solution? What tweak to your path could we make to better compensate the concerns of the other person? It is your reaction to disagreement that determines whether your people will speak their mind during a meeting. Prove to them that you want their thoughts on the table.
Make the agenda about tough decisions
Most meeting agendas that I see are status updates. While it is helpful to the leader to have everyone in the room at one time sharing their statuses, it is usually much less helpful (and certainly less engaging) to one department leader to hear status updates from another department. Instead, the team members would become engaged with active discussions about decisions, where they feel their opinion is valued and they are contributing to the company’s direction.
Additionally, regularly place some difficult conversation about people issues on the agenda. While you don’t want to use the public meeting as a place to triangulate about people not in the room, you do want to show the team that it is ok to discuss hard topics publicly. By talking about people issues with your full team, you create a terrific opportunity to both brainstorm on people solutions and to teach them company culture and leadership traits you want them to have.
Use team meetings to engage your staff. Meetings will either deflate or energize them. It depends on whether you have built an environment for them to be vulnerable, with the freedom to disagree and the empowerment to engage on strategic topics.
To learn more about creating organizational health, download TAC4 Solutions’ eBook about 6 team behaviors that suck the life from a CEO.