Category Archives: Meetings

Three Team Members

Who is on your team?

The first type of person always shows up early, helps to arrange the chairs, sits on the edge of their seat and is a frequent volunteer. This is the person I call the Eager Beaver.

The second type of person is never early, but never late. I call this person the vacationer. They are very happy to sit in meetings, because after all, they are not back in their cubicle at work. Responding to a discussion, sometimes they will participate, sometimes they won’t, doesn’t really matter to them, because, after all, they are on vacation.

The third type of person is precisely punctual, sits in the back of the room with arms folded, daring any person around to engage them in conversation. Body language is simultaneously defensive and aggressive. This is the person I call the hostage.

Which of these three has the insight, the brilliant idea that will save the day?

As the manager, we don’t know. No manager can afford to have a single team member disengaged. We need maximum participation, no coasting, everybody plays.

How often do we sit in meetings and watch people check out? One ear open to the meeting, one eyed glancing at a report they were supposed to review yesterday. One brazen team member, laptop open, supposedly taking notes of the meeting, but more likely checking e-mail.

Who is responsible for creating a different atmosphere, a different context? Who is responsible for creating the crucible in which a problem can be explored, alternatives generated and a solution selected? Who is responsible for creating the kind of meeting where each team member is engaged from beginning to end? Who indeed?

If that’s you in the mirror, the next question is “how?” How can you create maximum participation from every person in the room? How can you create full engagement?

How to Pick Up the Energy in a Meeting

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I am a new manager. I hold a weekly meeting that goes pretty well. We say the things that need to be said and make our plans, but the meetings seem to bomb at the end. They just stop. The energy in the room is flat. I tried to give a motivational rah-rah speech at last week’s meeting but it fell flat on its face. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. The meeting is missing something at the end. How can we finish on a high note?

Response:

Follow your own advice and keep your mouth shut. Unless you are one of the rare charismatic managers, your attempts to raise the energy level will feel contrived and pointless.

Why?

Because the energy is all coming from you. You need some help. Try the following exercise.

At the end of the meeting, distribute 3×5 index cards. Have everyone write down one action item they plan to do based on the meeting. Then make your way around the table, asking each team member, in turn, to publicly state (in one sentence) their commitment to action. You will be amazed at the rise in energy as you adjourn the meeting.

This is no hollow rah-rah. The reason this works is because it is real and every person participates. -Tom

Up Front

“As a participant in any meeting, Sheila, have you ever walked out at the end saying, Darn, I wish we had done this at the meeting.”

“Well, yeah. Almost every meeting I go to, is like that. Sometimes, it wouldn’t take much to make a meeting more meaningful,” she replied. “Almost every time, it misses the mark.”

“So, you think a meeting would have been better if it had just included some unspoken element?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Then, up front at the beginning of the meeting, does it make sense to get those unspoken elements out on the table?”

Sheila tilted her head. “How would you do that?”

“If you are the leader of the meeting, early on, after establishing the purpose for the meeting, simply ask, What is your condition of satisfaction for today’s meeting. What has to happen, by the end of the day, for you to say, this meeting was worthwhile, to say, you are glad you came, you are glad you contributed?

“As the leader of the meeting,” I continued. “You might as well know that up front.” -TF

Before the Meeting

“They could have done two things up front that would have made the meeting worth attending,” Sheila started. “First they could have published the goals for the meeting. It’s like it’s a big secret. Why not just tell us what they are trying to accomplish with the meeting?”

“And what else?” I asked.

“You know, I said they could have put it all in an email. They could have published all the INFORMATION stuff up front so we could look at it before the meeting.”

“You really read that stuff?”

Sheila smiled. “No, well, yes, I would have at least skimmed it beforehand to get a basic idea of the details.”

“So, what else? What else could have guaranteed the meeting would get you engaged?” -TF

Waste of Meeting

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“It was a waste of time,” Sheila complained. “Some of us had to travel to get here, we lost two days of productivity back at the office. All for this BIG meeting. They’re rolling out this new program, but for my time, they could have told us all about it in an email.”

“What did you learn?” I asked.

“Well, I learned how not to run a meeting,” she replied.

“So, when you run your own meetings, with your department, you now know what NOT to do?”

“Well, yeah, but I didn’t need two lost days to learn a lesson like that.”

“Is it possible, that after all the expenses, all the planning and all the effort that went into the meeting, that your company failed to accomplish what it set out to accomplish?”

Sheila started to chuckle. “You’re right, they probably didn’t intend to have a bad meeting. I am sure they had some goals for the two days, they just didn’t share that with us.”

“Tell me, Sheila. What could they have done differently, to have the impact they were looking for?” -TF

My Fault

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

My last meeting was a one day-seminar working a live case with creative breakout sessions. A warm-up on the beach, 3 coffee breaks and a large lunch break. Instead of 15 minute breaks, the team takes 30 minutes. Instead of 30 minutes for lunch, the team takes 45 minutes. So they found creative techniques to mess with the timetable, and the content of their solutions was not that great.

With this particular group, this happens a lot. I asked for their expectations up front, but that doesn’t work. Normally when I make agreements for a session like this, with other groups, we have no problems.

Response:

So, what is different about this team? The answer to your predicament is not some technique on how to handle a group in a meeting. The answer is in what’s different about this group.

I work with groups all over North America. While I have very consistent program material, I have learned that every group I work with is different. And my first job, as a facilitator, or your job, as a manager, is to discover that difference.

If I fail to discover that difference, the level of engagement suffers. When the group is not engaged, they will do something else to fill the time. It appears as misbehavior, taking long breaks, falling asleep or playing with Blackberries under the tablecloth.

Is it the group’s fault? Or is it my fault?

It’s my fault. I failed to engage. I was too impatient, I didn’t listen, I rushed into the content without drawing in the group.

So, over the next few days, we will explore how to do that. -TF

A System Problem

The conference room was comfortable. New leather chairs and a marble top. Nothing like success to create a little overhead.

Sam had assembled a cast of the brightest minds in the company. Marketing was represented, sales, customer service, production and accounting. Everyone looked armed with official looking reports, charts and graphs, ready to defend the slightest attack.

Sam was good. He wasn’t looking for a scapegoat. He knew the problem wasn’t from someone being lazy, or even a wrong decision. He knew it was more likely that the organization’s system needed some attention.

He began by explaining what he had observed, and asked each member to accurately report the real figures behind the events. Unfortunately, four weeks worth of excess finished goods had translated into an eight-week inventory turn. Something had put the brakes on the market.

“So, take a piece of paper,” Sam began, “and write down your condition of satisfaction for this meeting? What has to happen in the next two hours that will indicate time well spent?”

Customer Focus Gap

Joel posted this question in response to yesterday’s post.

Question:

I am assembling a “Mission statement/mission focus” plan, and I have a question: I think my team simply needs a more positive and customer driven focus. Misbehavior is not the main problem (as far as I can see), but if I can tune up any issues at the same time it would be fine. What changes would you make to the above plan?

Response:

Widen the question. How can we, as Managers, create a discussion about any topic to stimulate thinking, and a positive response in behavior?

Using this skill is one of the most important activities of the Manager. I use this process in the classroom and in most meetings I run.

It’s a simple Gap Analysis, containing three parts.

  • What is the major benefit if we solve [this problem], make progress in [this area]?
  • What is stopping us from solving [this problem] or making progress in [this area]?
  • What can we, as a team, do get [this problem] solved?

Here is what it sounds like related to customer service issues.

  • What are the major benefits if we are able to create a culture that focuses on the customer?
  • What are the conditions, what are the elements that stop us from focusing on the customer?
  • In what way can we, as a team, make changes to create a culture that focuses on the customer?

Get your team together. I usually allow seven minutes for each question, with seven minutes as a wrap-up. This is a powerful thirty minute meeting. -TF

Mission Accomplished

“Yes, but if people are afraid to participate, afraid to contribute their ideas in a meeting, how do you deal with that?” Reggie asked.

“Do your team members have ideas?” I responded.

“Well, yes, some sort of an ideas.”

“So, the problem is, to get the idea out of their head, with zero possibility that it might be rejected by the group? How would you do that?” I stared at Reggie while I reached over and pulled a pen out of my pocket and set it on the table.

“Get them to write their idea down?” Reggie guessed. I nodded. “But still, how do you get them to share their ideas with each other, with the group?”

“It’s too late, the idea is already out of their head. By the way, what happens to the quality of any idea as it moves from the mind to a piece of paper?”

“Well, it improves.”

“So, now, each person owns a much improved idea on a piece of paper in front of them. Divide the group into teams of two or three and have them share their idea with that small group. I guarantee, there will be no hesitation in that small group.

“The next step is to have the small groups report their ideas to the large group. The quality of ideas will be very high and everyone will have participated. Remember, the purpose of this meeting was simply to get your people discussing ideas with each other.” -TF

Losing Control?

Raphael was glum.

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“I have been having difficulty with my team meetings. Everyone comes in looking ready to go, but about 15 minutes in, it’s like the energy has left the room, and I still have lots of stuff to cover. It’s a weekly meeting and is supposed to last for an hour, but people just seem like they are going through the motions.”

“How would you rate the engagement level on a scale of 1-10?”

“Well, it starts at around a 6, but it doesn’t take long to drop to a 2,” Raphael replied.

“What do you think is the problem?”

“It’s like I am talking, yet losing control at the same time.”

“What does that tell you about control?”

Raphael was stumped. “Do you mean, whenever I am talking, I am losing control?”

“Maybe. Think about it this way. In any conversation, who is in control, the person asking questions, or the person responding to questions?”

Raphael was quicker on this one. “Well, that’s easy, the person asking the questions.”

“So, if you want more control, stop talking and ask more questions.” -TF