Last week, the New York Times Magazine feature story covered an internal study at Google on what makes teams successful. Their research boiled down to two surprising factors: conversation turn-taking and empathy. Read the feature, and my previous post on it.
A big part of running successful teams is running successful meetings. This is where we connect, we collaborate, we share, we build camaraderie. Yet, for many, there’s a real aversion towards meetings – especially in Silicon Valley (see here, here, and here, for example) – because the prevailing thought is that meetings are a waste of time.
Like all of you, I hate meetings for the sake of meeting. But I like meetings when I get value from them. And I think they’re important to building successful teams: teams that like to work together, teams that can get things done together.
I’ve run a few meetings in my day, from annual volunteer conferences and cross-cultural trainings, to weekly team meetings. Extrapolating from my experiences and the results of Google’s research, I think that successful meetings also benefit from conversation turn-taking and empathy.
Here are the things I keep in mind when I lead meetings – many weave in themes of conversation turn-taking and empathy.
Make sure everyone agrees on the meeting objectives.
This is important because it sets the agenda for your meeting and how everything else falls into place. Is it a regular large team update? Then the agenda will likely be more informational and less collaborative – think about other ways to convey updates outside of meetings too. Is the goal for knowledge-sharing? Then you need to consider the right duration and format to ensure learning objectives will be met. Is it for team-building? Then you need to make sure everyone participates.
Share the working agenda and ask for contributions, especially for regular meetings.
I like to be totally transparent when conducting meetings so I know that team members have some stake in the meeting. When I managed a team previously, we had a Google doc where I added and revised the weekly team meeting agenda between meetings, let others contribute, and take notes for those who couldn’t attend. I found that many times, team members did contribute agenda items and review the agenda before they came to the meeting.
Schedule meetings for an optimal time that reduces interruption.
Meetings can be terribly disruptive, especially if they’re frequent and take place during the middle of what could be a large chunk of working time. I mind meetings less first thing in the morning, right before lunch, right after lunch, or on Fridays. It’ll depend on your team and how they work. Ask, and experiment.
Start on time, end on time.
This should go without saying, but I still attend meetings when the host hasn’t dialed in on time or has some technical difficulties with the audio/video. Where we have to ping a colleague to see if they’re joining. When a scheduled presenter isn’t ready with his/her presentation. This starts with the meeting leader, who has to prepare for the meeting and set expectations for starting and ending the meeting and agenda items on time.
Start meetings with very brief status or “temperature” check-ins.
In some situations, for example – smaller, more collaborative teams – it can be useful to begin with 2-3 minute status and temperature checks. For instance, I did this for bi-weekly team meetings for a team of five. It was a good, quick way to: 1) share and validate with each other what we were working on and our bandwidth, 2) give people a chance to air any obstacles or even bad moods that would otherwise detract from a meeting, and 3) make it easy for everyone to participate.
That bears repeating: Make it easy for everyone to participate.
Hearing everyone’s voices is important when your meeting objectives include team-building. Check-ins accomplish this. Other ways: Facilitating discussion and directly asking team members to contribute. Timely pauses to give folks a chance to digest, ponder, and add their voices. Having a dedicated time for team-share or showcase. At the same time, making sure no one or few voices dominate the conversation. Vary who gets a speaking role, including yourself as team lead.
Use video if there are remote team members.
I’ve worked in many remote team situations, and it’s amazing how infrequently we use video. Yep, it sure is great to work from home in our pajamas and bathrobes. But it’s a small inconvenience to comb our hair and the benefits are significant. This has to come from management. When I led meetings for a small team that included one remote employee, everyone logged in via video so the remote employee could see all our faces. It just became routine, and it made our meetings more effective.
Ask team members how to improve meetings.
As a meeting leader, we’re in a key position that requires respect and consideration of other people’s time. We’ve all got blind spots, so it’s critical to constantly ask team members’ feedback on what value they get from and how to improve meetings. This can be done privately, and at the end of team meetings to get candid, real-time feedback.
With ongoing feedback, continually assess if meetings are too long, too frequent, or even necessary.
Maybe you’ve gotten into a meeting rut. Maybe the original purpose of your meetings doesn’t apply anymore. Or maybe the team has evolved. Don’t meet for the sake of meeting. Continually use meeting feedback and assess your meeting objectives and if those objectives are met. Perhaps, meetings only need to occur bi-weekly instead of weekly. Or the meeting should be done in 30 instead of 60 minutes. Or the meeting should be split between two groups of different stakeholders. Or the meeting can be replaced completely with a virtual “meeting” through Google docs or Slack.
What’s been your experience leading or attending meetings? I’d love to grow this list with your help.