Use different meeting styles to accomplish different goals

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Dear Joan:
I am a relatively new manager of a few staff members and I am trying to establish a way of being in meetings with them to figure out how I can best be able to assist them throughout the year. 

I’ve set up meetings with each of these individuals, but quite frankly, don’t really know where to start on things to bring up with them. I’m a pretty hands off kind of guy (not to mention swamped with my own work, as are they…) so it’s not like there’s a tremendous need for any kind of intervention. 

Bottom line is I guess I’m curious if there are any ideas you have to get the ball rolling, as I look to establish regular meetings with these colleagues. What types of ideas should I approach? 

Answer:
I’d venture to say that millions of dollars are wasted every day in the work world because of unnecessary, poorly run meetings. All you need to do on any given day is look around a meeting table and calculate what it costs the company in hourly salaries and benefits of each person and then weigh it against the purpose and outcome of the meeting in which they are participating. But with that said, I still believe that meetings can be one of the most powerful tools you have as a leader. 

People who think of meetings as a necessary evil are missing the boat. Meetings are one of the most important tools management has to leverage the organization’s human assets. Just like the budget process provides a structure for managing financial assets and computer technology provides the means to manipulate information resources, meetings provide infrastructure to communication

But you are wise to think through why you are having meetings and what you want to accomplish. Too many managers just have meetings for meeting sake. Start by asking yourself, “What do my employees really want and need?” The answers are universal: 

  • They want to know what the goal is, so they can do work that contributes something meaningful.
  • They want to know what you expect of them, so they can perform well and be successful.
  • They want to know how they’re doing, so they can do a mid-course correction if they get off track.
  • They want help and resources if they get stuck.
  • They want to feel appreciated, valued and rewarded for good work.
  • They want to belong and feel cared about as people.
Now, think about what you need:
 
  • You are accountable for the work of your area, so you need a way to make sure it’s done well.
  • You need to accomplish work through others, so you need to make sure they have what they need to be successful.
  • You are responsible for administrative and human resources practices and policies, such as hiring, performance reviews and promotions, so you need to be knowledgeable about your staff’s skills, motivations and performance.
So, where do meetings come in? While some of this can be accomplished through emails and job descriptions, nothing can replace face-to-face dialogue for creating buy-in, understanding, coaching, problem-solving and all the sophisticated communications required in the modern workplace. 

Here’s an some ideas to get you started: 

Regularly scheduled, one-on-one meetings are valuable, even if you work closely with your staff and communicate informally. The reason? Casual communication has its place but it can get out of control with frequent interruptions and questions that can fill your day and prevent you from getting other work done. 

You and your employees need a forum for discussing projects, problems and performance. The staff meeting is not the right place for that. Most staff meetings waste valuable problem solving time “going around the table” with reports from each person on their projects—90 percent of which is a bore to everyone else. 

Each employee deserves personal time with you, to have an open dialogue about his or her work. This is especially true if they work independently on diverse projects. The meeting frequency could be weekly, in a fast paced environment or less often if the situation doesn’t warrant it. So, your agenda could be quite simple: 

  • They come in prepared with an update on their projects or work in progress.
  • You discuss any problem spots or questions they may have.
  • You provide them with coaching and feedback that will help them or redirect them.
  • You will be able to build a stronger personal relationship with each person and you can use the forum to provide career guidance as well.
Staff meetings are valuable to build teamwork and solve problems. They also help people realize how they connect to the overall goals of the department and the organization. 

Here, you could use the following agenda: 

  • Share the Big Picture. You share what you know about changes in the organization and how it could have an impact on the group (that often come from your staff meetings with your manager).
  • Progress on Ongoing Work. Keep this short and only do brief updates on high priority projects that everyone needs to hear about. Next steps and action plans should be outlined or created. (Who, what, why, when, where and how.)
  • Problem-solving Together. Excellent teams don’t just react. They give each other the “heads up” when they see smoke on the horizon or sense the troops are restless. They use staff meetings to brainstorm solutions or discuss one person’s “case study” that the entire group can learn from. The more of this you do, the more valuable your meetings will be.
  • Anticipating Issues and New Work. Sometimes topics come up that can take your staff meetings off track for the rest of the hour. Resist the urge to go down that path by putting those ideas and projects on a running list. Some teams call this list the “Parking Lot” or the “Issues List” and they use it to create future agenda items or separate projects.
Quarterly meetings for the whole department, including all employees and stakeholders are useful because they force people to step back and see the entire picture and how they fit in. 

The agenda could be: 

  • Revisit the goals.
  • Report out on progress made toward the goals.
  • Recognition for those who have made excellent contributions.
  • New issues or priorities and what the department’s response will be.
  • Input, questions and ideas from the group. (You won’t hear a word from a large group unless you get them in small huddles for each group to generate a question or comment.)


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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