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Do your team meetings empower your team?

During the course of my career, I’ve been part of many different teams and I’ve attended some brilliant meetings that motivated, inspired and empowered. At the other end of the scale, I’ve sat through mind-numbing, demotivating meetings that did more harm than good in terms of the work that followed. This has led me to consider the factors that make the biggest difference to how well a meeting can empower a team to do great work.

I think there are 3 key elements to this:

1. A common purpose

2. A clear agenda with good chairing and clear outcomes

3. Discussion in an atmosphere of psychological safety

When meetings take place remotely, through video call, it is more difficult to bring in these key elements of success, but also it’s even more important that efforts in these directions are made. Team members can feel isolated, undervalued and easily demotivated when they are having little face to face contact with the rest of the team. Leaders really need to ‘amp up’ their efforts to make everyone feel included and valued.

1. A common purpose

A team, by definition, is a group of people who come together to work on a particular goal or in a particular area. In my experience, the common purpose of the team isn’t talked about or revisited enough. In practice, different team members sometimes have different ideas about what the team is working towards and how they should work together.

Also, as time goes on, goals and objectives change. This has particularly been the case with the pandemic. A key element of a team’s agility is its ability to pivot, and change its purpose to one that is now more pressing and urgent. I’ve written more about agility in another blog which you can read here.

Does your team have a clearly stated purpose? If you’re unsure then it’s worth asking these questions of your team:

  • ‘What brings us together as a team?’

  • ‘What is our common purpose? Do we all agree on that?’

  • ‘What are the specific goals that we are trying to achieve? What is the timeline on those? When will we revisit them?’

  • ‘What does each member of the team bring to our common purpose? Do we all have different roles to play?’

2. A clear agenda and good chairing

As a leader, I know that the most effective meetings I have led on have been those where the agenda was clear, and we had specified amounts of time for each item. I have found it particularly useful to assign the roles of chair, time-keeper and minute-taker to different members of the team on a rolling programme, so that everyone gets a sense of the importance of each of these roles. I think that when meetings over-run, it is really unfair to team members.

Being a good chair is a difficult role, as you have to know when to let someone continue speaking, and when to step in and stop a conversation mid-flow for the benefit of the team. It requires gumption as well as excellent listening. Having a time-keeper is great for sharpening the focus, so that the whole group get reminders like, ‘we’ve only got 2 minutes left on this item’. Having clear and concise minutes is important too. Having a record of what was discussed and the actions that were agreed upon is crucial, as everyone will come out of the meeting with slightly different perceptions of what was said and decided upon.

Giving each member of the team the opportunity to suggest agenda items is empowering and gives a sense of ownership. This does need to be carefully managed, however, to ensure that the team stays focused on their common purpose and effective in their use of time. Circulating the agenda and documents ahead of the meeting will allow key items to be read and considered. This will make discussion more meaningful and timely.

3. Discussion in an atmosphere of psychological safety

Psychological safety is ‘the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation’.

Amy Edmonson

Having a firm foundation of psychological safety within a team is crucial to the team functioning at an optimal level. People need to feel that it’s ok to come forward with an opinion or idea that challenges the thinking of the group. If that safety isn’t there, then innovation and risk-taking will be inhibited. If people are afraid to say what they think, they are also unlikely to feel a sense of belonging within the team.

Building psychological safety can take time, but there are some simple things that can be done. For example, the leader asking for feedback on how the team is operating, and how meetings are running, is a good way to start. Some good questions include:

  • What am I doing that is helping the team to feel empowered?

  • What am I doing that is detracting from our success as a team?

  • What else could I do to make our meetings more effective?

Looking at an agenda and predicting the amount of discussion each item will both require and naturally give rise to is an important leadership skill. A good team meeting will always include an element of discussion. Leaders should be prepared for dissent, alternative opinions and questioning, otherwise the team is in danger of ‘groupthink’. Kim Scott, in her book ‘Radical Candor’ uses the example of Steve Jobs who ‘got it right by being willing to be wrong and insisting that the people around him challenge him’.

Having standing items on the agenda can also be useful, where you go around the table, and give each team member the chance to talk about a particular thing. This can help bring a sense of equity and belonging, as everyone’s contributions are seen to be valued. An example I have used is ‘Failing Better’ (inspired by the Samuel Beckett quote, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’) Each team member was given the chance to share something they were working on that wasn’t going well. The idea was that each person could gain support and encouragement from the team, and also get the message that it’s ok to take risks and make mistakes.

If we lead a team, we want them to feel empowered to do their best work. If team meetings are to be effective, time and effort needs to be put into preparation and creating the culture and conditions where each team member can thrive and contribute. I have attempted here to draw out what I think are the most important factors for this.

There are lots of good books on the subject of making meetings more effective. I would really recommend ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott, Dan Coyle’s ‘The Culture Code’ and Amy Edmonson’s ‘The Fearless Organisation’, which all deal with building cultures that support effective teamwork, of which meetings are a part. Graham Allcott’s ‘Productivity Ninja’, which I am a huge fan of, also has some really practical advice on managing meetings.

If you are a leader who wants to develop more effective team meetings, then team coaching could be an approach which might help. Please feel free to book in for a complimentary consultation chat (using the link below) where we can discuss how I could help your team become more effective.

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