Meetings can be a good thing

Back to Basics

How does a manager improve staff productivity? Or increase the amount of staff training under reduced budgets? Or instill team spirit, or at least entice staff to work together more effectively and perhaps, if we’re lucky, enjoy the act of mutual co-operation?

These three reasonably diverse questions are each complex enough to keep a manager occupied for a decade or so with well intentioned mistakes. While there are many approaches to each issue, there’s a single, relatively simple strategy which addresses all of the above, requiring only a little sliver of planning and admittedly a bigger slice of dedication. Welcome to the weekly staff meeting.

Having sat through a few meetings in my time I would not be surprised if the initial response to this idea was: “Aargh! Not another meeting! They’re a totally useless waste of time, and used only as CYA (cover your ass) and a way to stop things from getting done, and besides, I don’t have time to sit in a room for hours on end – I have real work to do!”

Nor could I completely disagree with anyone who held a disparaging opinion of meetings, because most of them are aptly described by the above caustic complaint. However, weekly staff meetings serve a different purpose. They are also, strangely enough, most effective in those chaotic environments where everyone -ncluding managers – believes they cannot, under any circumstances, make time for yet another stupid meeting.

Here’s the recipe for staff meetings to serve the needs of teams with about four to eight members. It’s 100 per cent guaranteed to deliver desired results after two months! It’s as seen on national TV! Endorsed by several well-known management gurus and certified by long-haired cult leaders! Your total investment in time and suffering? Not 100 hours, not even 50 hours! Yes, ladies and gentlemen! This management strategy is yours for the incredibly low price of less than five hours of your time every month. If it doesn’t work, send me a nasty e-mail. I’ll file it appropriately.

1. Pick a weekly time slot. Time required? 45-60 minutes. When? Monday mornings or Friday afternoons work best. The former sets the team up for the coming week; the latter provides closure on the week, while the events are fresh in everyone’s mind. My preference is for 10:00 a.m. Monday.

2. Attendance. This is the most difficult ingredient. Every team member, especially the team leader/manager attends the weekly meeting, on time, with an

obsessive compulsive dedication approaching fanaticism. While it is unreasonable to ask for a no-excuses policy – life doesn’t work that way – this is certainly the ultimate goal. It is also the most important ingredient in the recipe. If the meetings are not religiously regular, this recipe will collapse into ruin like a poorly cooked souffl’.

To impress the importance of attending the meeting, and yet provide some limited flexibility you could, if a sense of humour exists in the organization, hand each team member three elaborately designed GOOM (get out of meeting) cards to last them for a whole year of meetings.

3. The Agenda. This need not get too formal. Impose only enough structure to support the process. There are only three items addressed by each participant.

i. What happened with respect to their objectives since the last meeting?

ii. What challenges did they encounter last week and how did they handle them?

iii. What are their objectives for the coming week?

4. Minutes. Record the members in attendance, the stated objectives, challenges encountered, and solutions proposed and implemented.

Admittedly this doesn’t sound like very much, but based upon repeated personal experience, the results are nearly always surprisingly effective.

How does it work? Obviously the public statement of objectives sets expectations and goalposts. By focusing attention on specific goals, it increases the likelihood they’ll be achieved. The airing of challenges allows others to contribute their ideas on how to solve these problems. More importantly, it keeps everyone in the loop. Knowing that others also have problems and expertise increases the sense of working together.

But, perhaps the single most important benefit is the simple act of regularly getting together as a team once a week, to talk and share and learn from the joint work experiences. I’ve yet to find any strategy capable of delivering the same level of cohesiveness for an equally small investment in time.

de Jager is a management consultant and speaker, and he’s in a meeting right now. Contact him