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Making Team Meetings More Effective

April 24, 2009 by Jill Geddes, Partner, Trillium Teams Inc

How would you rate your regular team meeting? Informative, an effective and productive use of your time, a positive way to share information and get instant feedback on relevant issues? Or as a social gathering that does not accomplish much, a constant communication battle and waste of time. When was the last time you really thought about the purpose of why you meet? We have all experienced more than our share of both good and bad meetings. How can your team meeting be more effective?

How Meetings Can Affect Team Success

A lot can be said about a team simply from evaluating their weekly team meeting. After working with many teams, our experience is that most of the team challenges can be told from assessing the team meeting. The outlook everyone has when they arrive at, and leave a team meeting is a good indicator of how the team is functioning as a unit. If people feel that meetings are well run, productive, and a good use of their time, they are most likely operating well as a team. If people are attending meetings with dread, feel that their time is being wasted, most topics do not pertain to the whole team or that too much time is wasted trying discussing silly decisions, the team needs some help working to create a more cohesive unit.

Properly conducted and engaging meetings make teams function more efficiently. If you feel that your team meetings have gotten too far off track to even know where to begin, it can help to have a third party vendor reset team norms to get you working more productively.

The Benefits of Team Meetings

Is it even important that teams meet on a regular basis? Yes, definitely. Meetings are important for more reasons than just getting the job done. They provide regular communication among team members to align everyone on a common understanding of team activities and needs. They provide an opportunity for group innovation and creative brainstorming. They also help develop work skills, deepen interpersonal relationships, and boost team morale.

When meetings are perceived as nonproductive by the team, they have a negative impact which extends beyond the actual meeting into everyday work. When team meetings are lacking focus and perceived as a waste of time, this negative impression carries over into team dynamics and a loss of confidence in the team.

Tips for Making Team Meetings More Effective

Everyone has suffered through far too many meetings that have taken up far too much time and accomplished far too little. Unfortunately, this sad state of affairs has happened so often that you may find yourself becoming numb to the fact that your meetings aren't what they should and could be; if you just had some way to fix them.

Other than the obvious points about starting on time, being prepared, and ensuring the whole team is involved, here is a list of other things to help you improve your regular team meetings.

Maintain focus.

Why is the team meeting? Are you meeting only because you think that is what teams do? Or is there a clear focus as to why you are meeting? Is each person reporting on what they have done that week and is that important to the team? This format can be an easy target for getting meetings off track and interrupted. Often teams say that this style is a waste of their time. Team members are looking to these weekly team meetings for several reasons. Ask your team what they want to see in your weekly meeting. Ask the group, what the team needs to Start Doing, Stop doing, and Continue Doing in the weekly meetings. Empower the team to come up with what they think the weekly team meeting should look like.

Less is more.

Often teams meet several times a week either as an entire group or as subgroups to discuss the same issues and concerns. Have fewer, but better meetings with your team. Can issues or goals be addressed by having one-on-one conversations, a telephone call, or an email exchange? Meet less often and improve the quality of your meetings.

The agenda.

An agenda can play a critical role in the success of any meeting. Many meetings play multiple meeting functions. Agenda item #1 may simply be an informational briefing, while item #2 is a decision-making item, and item #3 is a problem-solving item. Your agenda needs to clearly specify what kind of item it is. This tells people; Here is what we expect from you during this agenda item. When this is not clear, people may engage in dysfunctional behaviour even when trying very hard to be a good team player because they do not understand what they are being asked to do. Be sure to distribute the agenda in advance to allow participants to prepare for the meeting ahead of time.

Facilitating versus Chairing.

When hosting a team meeting, decide whether you are chairing or facilitating the meeting and discuss that distinction. A very common role arrangement is to have the meeting leader use a chair approach to start the meeting, deal with the agenda, housekeeping and information sharing portion of the session then switch to facilitative approach to get feedback from the group, problem solve or make decisions.

Be action oriented.

When action items arise from the team meeting discussion, assign them immediately. Select an individual, a priority level and a due date for the action item. Immediately after the meeting, summarize the outcome of the meeting in a quick email, as well as assignments and timelines, and send a copy of this summary to the team. Time requirement is only 10 minutes, but having a written confirmation of the verbal can make all the difference.

Get feedback.

All team meetings have room for improvement. Check in with your team on a quarterly basis on the status of your meetings. You can use a simple evaluation email form to solicit feedback, have an open discussion as a team, or simply speak informally with your team after the meeting to get their input. Some suggested questions are:

  • Do you feel that our weekly team meetings are productive?
  • What would you like me to be doing that I am not?
  • What has to happen for you to rate our team meetings a 10?
  • What do you think we need to start, stop and continue doing?
If meetings are poorly run and do not produce results, team members may lose interest in their team and their work together. By making a concerted effort to make your team meetings more effective, not only will you get more done as a team, but you will also find that your team will operate better as a unit on a day-to-day basis as well.