Every team I've worked with wonders: How to lead effective team meetings and How to make team meetings effective? In this blog I provide hints and tips to help you improve your weekly team meeting whether you're at the office or working from home.
Many teams have adapted ideas from Agile, opting to use the15 minute stand up, or Kanban meetings as a way to keep themselves informed on priorities and moving forward. Others use a more formal Weekly Action Review meeting which is usually 60-90 minutes in duration, held to keep everyone on track, build teams, communicate key information and nip brewing challenges in the bud.
What happens in these meetings depends on the context or functional area in which you work. For example, an IT Service Desk might be looking at different things than an Internal Audit team.
How to Make Team Meetings Effective
Let's use the more structured Weekly Action Review meeting. Even if you're running your meetings using Agile principles or formats, you may find these suggestions helpful.
First, understand the purpose of a Weekly Action Review meeting. It's meant to help a team:
- Hold each other accountable to commitments
- Identify and make decisions on how to resolve emerging work challenges
- Share experience and lessons learned on challenging situations team members have navigated.
To this end, the meeting should include three basic elements:
- Information sharing
- Creative discussions
I describe each of these elements briefly below.
Information sharing is typically a one-way discussion: questions for clarification are welcomed while discussion and debate are avoided. The objective here is to be short, to the point and to have everyone else actively listening.
Time is allocated for each team member to share three things:
- Since our last meeting, I accomplished …
- Until our next meeting, I’m working on …
- Here’s what’s getting in my way, or keeping me from doing my job …
As the meeting lead or facilitator, your focus is on capturing key points from each person. Mind mapping on a flip chart if you're in the same room, or using an online mind mapping tool like Mindmeister is a great way to do this as it provides a visual record of what each person has said. This tool also helps to keep everyone engaged in the information shared.
We recommend to our clients that they treat the information sharing activity as a data gathering exercise. While questions for clarification are welcome, the main focus is to take in the information, make a list of key points, and defer judgment or comment until everyone has shared. Then, the manager or team lead, with the help of the facilitator, can decide which key points need to be addressed in a separate meeting and which can be addressed in the next part of the weekly action review meeting, the Creative Discussion.
This part of the meeting is much more interactive and requires creative thinking. It is about exploring challenges and opportunities, and solving the problems associated with getting important work done. Creative discussions need creative thinking and creative problem-solving.
Here the meeting lead focuses the team on the challenges identified in the Information sharing portion of the meeting, and on generating, developing and implementing ideas to get them resolved. Alternatively, team members can share lessons learned on challenging situations and the facilitator can lead the group through a discussion on how to integrate ideas and insights derived from their experience.
If your team isn't familiar with how to use rules, guidelines and tools to facilitate creative thinking and problem solving, we have an online toolkit that helps teams collaborate and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Find out about our training and how to Get the Toolset.
During the decision-making portion of the meeting, time is allocated to decisions that need to be made to move work forward.
Have you ever wondered why some teams excel through decisions and some get completely paralyzed by them?
It’s important here to have clarity around who is the decision-maker and how decisions will be made. Will decisions be made by the manager or team lead? Or, will the team be invited to make decisions through consensus? Different situations may require different approaches to decision-making.
Decision-making is a privilege and carries responsibility. And making effective decisions relies on the availability of relevant information. This means that if the meeting requires decision-making, there could be information participants need to review and preparatory work to do. See what I have to say about meeting logistics below.
How to Lead Effective Team Meetings
The assumption behind Weekly Action Review meetings is that there is a team work plan and everyone understands their role and priorities for its success. This gives you a starting point for developing the meeting plan and structure.
Below we suggest that you use an agenda for the meeting and give you the basics of what it should contain and thereby, it sheds some light on how the meeting should be structured. You can adapt to your circumstances.
Think about Logistics
What do you need to run a productive meeting? It's not as simple as sending a meeting invitation and asking everyone to show up. It takes planning to lead an effective team meeting, and, if you're leading a suddenly remote or virtual team, you may have some tech issues you need to work through.
You can download our meeting logistics worksheet to get an idea of the scope of things you should consider from who's attending, to how you'll invite them, as well as what tech and other tools you need to lead the meeting effectively.
You may also want to check out our blog How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote.
Know Your Role
Next, you'll need to know your role in the meeting and that of the others attending. Many people overlook the significance of this and find they get into trouble when it comes time to make decisions.
You can use this as a guide. Think of everyone attending the meeting as holding one of three possible roles: meeting facilitator, “client,” and resource group:
First you need someone in the role of meeting facilitator. This role is responsible to plan and support the process of meeting. The facilitator is content neutral, has no decision-making authority and focuses instead on creating a balance between participation and results, using fair, open and inclusive means to help the group accomplish their work.
The Client role is filled by the manager of the team or team lead. This role has decision-making authority and owns responsibility for the work of the team. The Client supports the team by providing background information and context for their work, along with support to resolve emerging challenges.
The Resource Group role falls to the members of the team, typically the people reporting to the manager. The resource group is responsible for contributing thinking, ideas, insights, energy and fresh perspectives to get their work done.
In these Weekly Action Review meetings, the manager or team lead often fills the role of meeting facilitator; however, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. As explained above, meeting facilitators are concerned about group interaction. A manager or team lead in the facilitator role could present some challenges because they likely also have decision-making authority and would need to engage in the content of the meeting.
Thus, one trick to creating more productive Weekly Action Review meetings is to move responsibility for meeting facilitation to another team member or an outside resource. Or, the team lead could play a dual role of facilitator and Client, as long as they're explicit about what role they're playing when.
The meeting lead or facilitator, is responsible for assessing the needs of the meeting with the “Client” and planning appropriate group processes to make it happen productively. The trick here is to assess the needs of your Weekly Action Review meeting, design a structure or template for the meeting, and focus everyone's attention on activities that will get you the result you need. Make sure everyone understands their role as you start the meeting so there's clarity around how they are expected to contribute and how decisions will be made.
Use an Agenda
Whether for a Weekly Action Review meeting or different kind of meeting, an agenda is needed and it serves to answer four critical questions for participants:
- Why are we meeting?
- What will we be doing?
- How will we be doing it?
- And if I attend, what’s in it for me?
An agenda also helps you:
- Home in on who needs to participate
- Communicate how you’ll make good use of everyone’s time, how they can contribute, and what they need to do to prepare
- Increase engagement
- Give people the opportunity to opt in or out
A standard agenda should include:
- Title of the meeting
- Logistics: location, time and date
- Context / Background
- Agenda items
- Information sharing
- Creative discussion
- To Do / Prepare, including documentation for review, pre-work that must be done to participate in creative discussions or decision-making.
Manage Time and Activities
The amount of time allocated to each activity on the agenda is guided by the total duration of the meeting and the number of team members who need to participate in information sharing.
Remember if you've got a 90 minute meeting and 9 people on your team, you better be clear on how much time each person gets to give their weekly update. If you don't monitor this timing, and hold people to it, you could easily eat up all your meeting time in Information Sharing and not be able to get to any other Creative Discussion and Decision-making activities that will actually help you advance your work.
Also, make sure your meeting doesn't turn into a contest of who's busiest. The most important aspect of a Weekly Action Review meeting is taking the opportunity to get help from the team to stay on track and keep moving forward. If you spend all your time talking about what you did, without what you need to do, you'll get lost in the weeds and miss out on taking the strategic actions necessary to achieve your goals.
Capture Action Items and Next Steps
Finally, be sure to allocate time to capture decisions, action items and next steps so that everyone leaves the meeting with clarity on their next responsibilities to the team. And, make sure everyone understands they're accountable to reporting on these in the next meeting.
Need help designing or facilitating your team meeting?
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