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Death by Meeting is a Serious Condition

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Staff issues are one of the top 5 stressors for business professionals.  Often what compounds the stressful experience is putting all of your team members in one room for two hours (or more) where they have the opportunity to share their ideas, tell you what they think, or worse, what they feel.  As a business owner, you’re told you need to have them- staff meetings that are.  As a leader you know it’s important to gather your team together and ‘communicate’.  But as an office manager, the thought of standing in front of your team can be equal to or worse than standing in front of a firing squad.

First Question

Let’s answer that first question: Do you need to have staff meetings?  Answer: No.  If you hate staff meetings then don’t have them.  There’s nothing saying you have to have staff meetings, especially if they aren’t effective.  If there is no control and order to the meeting and it turns into the proverbial ‘bitchfest’ then they are probably causing more harm than good.

Here’s the reality.  Effective teams are on the same page.  If you don’t have meetings, how will they know what page they are on?  High performing teams are connected to the same goal and understand their role in achieving said goal.  How will your team know their role and what goals are in place?  Stellar teams communicate openly, even challenging each other’s perspective.  If you don’t communicate during meetings, then when?

If you choose not to have staff meetings then you definitely need to have other processes and systems in place that allow for all of the effective objectives that a meeting would bring.  You must have a Plan B.

If you do want to continue to have meetings, and turn them into something highly productive and effective, follow these tips:

 1. Always have an agenda and follow it strictly.

Put out a blank agenda sheet in the break room a week before the meeting so your team has an opportunity to offer suggestions on what’s important to them.  Have them list their name next to any suggestion they list.  A day BEFORE the meeting has a conversation with each person in private about what specifically they want to talk about around each issue.  This way you can see if it’s something you want to bring up publicly.  Often you can put the issue back on your employee by asking them to do some research around the topic, only bring a solution to their problem to the group, etc.  You can control/influence what get’s discussed with a little bit of planning and 1:1 time.

2. Don’t be afraid to cancel the meeting.

Review the agenda and determine if it is worth having a meeting.  Death by Meeting is a serious condition!  If the topics the team wants to discuss are better served in private or 1:1 then don’t have a meeting. Topics around policy changes, healthcare benefits, money, personal time off, etc. are better done in private. An excellent resource for you is booked by Patrick Lencioni, including Death by Meeting.  Absolutely a must!

3. Get comfortable with interjecting.

Interjecting is a nice way of interrupting someone when the conversation is going in the wrong direction (employees and patients). During a staff meeting, if the meeting is taking a negative tone, politely stop the discussion and either table it or let the team know the direction they are going isn’t on the agenda.  Get them back on track or move it along.  It could sound like this, “Excuse me guys/gals/team.  I want to interject here because I find us going off-topic.  The topic we are to discuss is important we stick to that.  If we want to talk about [blank] at a later time we can add that to the next agenda.”

CAUTION: Sometimes there is a tendency for leaders to allow for certain topics to be expanded upon when it suits them and other topics they don’t like they stop.  If you are going to stick to an agenda, be consistent.  Interject and keep the team on topic for ALL discussions.  If it’s a discussion you would like to further expand on, make sure to add it to the next agenda yourself or if time allows pick it back up at the end of the meeting.  Another choice is to say the following, “Team, our discussion has gotten off-topic and we have a strict rule here to always stay the course.  I’d like everyone’s permission/agreement to change up the agenda this and continue our conversation even though it’s taken us away from the original point.”  That’s one way to turn team members around from compliant to committed.

4. Keep time.

That’s right, set a timer.  When you meet with team members prior to the start of the meeting, ask them how much time they think they need for their specific topic. Once agreed, keep to it.  If it’s 2 min, 5 min, or 15 min set a timer and hold firm.  If a topic isn’t completed, table it for next time, agree to meet your employee in person, or assign the topic for someone to do some follow up and report back to the team during a morning huddle.

5. Set ground rules that apply to everyone, including yourself. 

A list might be:

  • Everyone attends.
  • No cellular devices.
  • Respect all views, even when challenging them.
  • If the meeting has started you are late and will not be permitted to participate in the meeting.  You will also not be paid for the time.
  • Two missed meetings will result in a warning.
  • Add your own here…

Wasteful meetings are just that…wasteful.  Productive meetings are also just that…productive.  Be proactive,  influence, where you can and ensure every moment your team is together, is worthwhile.

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