Tag Archives: meetings

Idea Connection

“Why can’t I get more participation in my meetings?” Janet asked.

I nodded. “Some say that it is the fear of disagreeing with the boss, but I find it is a more universal fear. It is the fear of floating an idea that carries the possibility of rejection.”

I let that sink in a moment. “As a Manager, if you want to promote deeper, richer, more truthful conversations in your team, try this. As ideas are contributed, create a follow-up comment that expands the idea, creates an insight to that idea or connects the idea to a higher purpose, goal or solution. Breathe life into every contribution.”

Two weeks later, I overheard one of Janet’s team members talking at the water cooler. “Our meetings have really gotten better. Janet makes all of our ideas sound so smart.”

Ideas really are smart when you can connect them to a purpose, a goal or a solution.

Meetings De-Railed

“I’m tired of my team, whining and complaining in meetings. Then, they look at me, like I have to come up with the solution,” Janet shook her head.

“How are you going to fix that?” I asked.

“Not sure, every meeting seems to get de-railed.”

“Then why don’t you de-rail the meeting. Before the whining begins, re-state the purpose for the meeting (the problem to be solved), and ask everyone to write down two possible solutions. Only give them 45 seconds, they don’t need a long time.

This accomplishes two things:
1. It points everyone in the direction of a solution before the conversation has a chance to get de-railed.
2. It communicates that it is the responsibility of every team member to contribute in the solving of a problem.”

The Porpoise

“Purpose?” Phillip squinted.

“Purpose,” I repeated. “The first step to having important meetings is to be crystal clear on its purpose. We tell Project Managers they need to have meetings, and then we wonder why their meetings fall apart. Bottom line is that most companies don’t train supervisors and managers on how to conduct an effective meeting. They just expect it to happen, like magic.”

“So we need to start with purpose?” asked Phillip.

“Everything starts with purpose. Meetings run amuck when there is no purpose, or where people attending have different purposes. Until we get those purposes out on the table, our meeting is going to meander aimlessly.”

“How do we do that? Send an email out before the meeting?” pondered Phillip.

“Yes, it’s as simple as that. But think about it. How many meetings did you attend during the past month where there was no stated purpose and no agenda?”

Phillip didn’t have to think long. “You know, I don’t think I went to a single meeting last month where there was a published agenda, much less, a stated purpose.”

“Now, I know some things managed to get done in those meetings, but they could have been much more effective. Do that one simple thing, and teach your PMs to do the same and you will see an improvement.”

What If You Never Came Back?

“I called my office to see how the meeting went, and found out, just because I was out of town, they decided not to have the meeting. There were important items on the agenda, but they cancelled the meeting.” Bob had just returned from three days on the West Coast.

“What if you never came back?” I asked.

“What do you mean, if I never came back?” Bob replied.

“What if you decided to move to Montana and manufacture dental floss? What would your team do without you? How would they have their meeting?”

“Well, I guess, they would pick someone to lead the meeting and carry on.”

“Look, this is a regular meeting, right? Happens every week? Agenda very similar from one week to the next? It’s an important meeting, but the structure doesn’t change much.”

“You are right,” confirmed Bob.

“Pick your next strongest person, tell them to prepare the agenda for next week. Tell them they are going to lead the next meeting.”

“But, I will be at the next meeting.”

“Exactly, but you will become a participant. If you want your meetings to occur while you are out of town, you have to start identifying the leadership while you are in town. Each week, pick a new person to lead. Publish a rotation schedule. You will still be there to prompt and assist, AND you will test their leadership in a safe environment.”

A Hard Working Bunch

I looked around the meeting room. Raul was quietly talking on his phone. Barry and Jim were sending emails under the table, thumbs furiously pounding. George was reading the business section of the newspaper and Theresa was finishing some paperwork. They were a hard working bunch, but their minds were not in this room. And this was an important meeting.

I made enough noise to get the electronic units shut down, the newspaper folded and the paperwork stuck in a briefcase, but I could see the minds were still charging about the world outside of the room.

“Take a piece of paper and write down two sentences responding to the following question. What do I need to say to myself and to this group to let go the outside world for the next 45 minutes to be fully present here and now?”

There was silence. The sheets of paper remained blank. Pens poised, but not moving. Seconds ticked off and the first response was put on paper. Then another. Soon, the ink was flowing and the pens finished their work.

As we circled around the table, each team member lost their grasp on events outside the room and began to focus on each other. Four minutes had passed and we were finally ready to work.

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

A Little Compromise, Give and Take

“What happened?” I asked.

“It was amazing,” Sean described. “We changed the name of the meeting from the VPs Meeting, to the President’s Meeting.”

“How was that different?”

“It was now clear that, as the president, I would be accountable for the decisions of the group. Before, the group was accountable as a group, sort of, but not really. Now, it is crystal clear. I am accountable for the decisions in the meeting.”

“What happened?”

“The tone of the meeting was completely different,” Sean continued. “Before, everyone was tactful and compromising, give a little here, take a little there. It was quite an agreeable bunch, and they arrived at quite agreeable decisions.”

“And?”

“And, now, without the need to compromise, knowing that I will listen to best advice and the decision is mine, there was quite a difference of opinion. The group uncovered problems that had always been swept under the rug. Some issues surfaced that had been off limits before. The discussion was actually uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable?” I said.

“Yes, and whenever the discussion is uncomfortable, I know we are talking about something important.”

Designing the Work

Chase left our conversation abruptly. Across the plant floor, he had spotted a problem and rushed to make a correction. He was apologetic on his return. “Sorry, but this is why I called you today. I feel like a two armed octopus. There are eight things that need to happen, but I can only work on two problems at a time. Things get out of control about fifteen minutes into the day. And they never stop. At the end of the day, I look at my boss’ list of projects and the important things never seem to get worked on. There is always a crisis.”

“Not really,” I said. “To me, your system is working exactly the way it is designed to work.”

Chase was puzzled. “What do you mean? It’s not working at all.”

“No, it is working exactly the way it is designed to work. The design of your day’s work is to drink coffee for the first fifteen minutes, then run around the floor solving urgent problems. At the end of each day, you check the list to make sure you didn’t do anything important.”

I paused. “Not a bad design. How’s that working for you?” Chase didn’t like what he was hearing.

“If you want to change your day, you have to change your design for the day. I see about four major design changes you might want to consider, but let’s start with just one. Don’t let anyone work during the first fifteen minutes of the day. Instead have a huddle meeting around the boss’ list of important projects. That one design change will be a good start.”

How is your day designed?