Are your team meetings dragging?  Does everyone simply nod in agreement and never offer a dissenting opinion?  Do people leave your meeting unclear about the decisions that were made, and never follow through on actions? 

If you answered yes to any of these, it’s time to Take Back Your Meetings!

I recommend the following 10 tips to keep your team engaged and to generate productive outcomes. These recommendations are addressed primarily to the team leader, and can also be used by an external facilitator.

1. Give people time to settle in

Many of us rush from meeting to meeting, which results in a frantic energy and makes everything seem urgent.  It doesn’t allow us to bring our full attention to the issues at hand.  Take 5 minutes at the start of the meeting to check in with each other; give people time to breathe and shift their minds to this meeting.

2. Explain the purpose of the meeting

People need to know the desired outcomes of the meeting, so they understand where the discussion is heading.  To paraphrase Lewis Carroll: If you don’t know the goal, any road will take you there.  Explaining the desired outcomes will help you to determine the steps you need to get there, and get everyone focused on the goal

3. Identify the agenda

Everybody wants to know what topics are on the agenda.  The team leader may have his/her topics, but you also want to solicit agenda items from your team, ideally in advance of the meeting.   Put the agenda on the board or flipchart, or hand it out to everyone, so that people know the sequence of topics.  It’s always a good idea to ask: Is there anything missing that you’d like to add to the agenda?  In order to not go over time (see #4), you may need to prioritize the agenda items

4. Timing

You, and the team, need to learn the discipline of managing the time spent on each item as well as the total time of the meeting.  If you realize that you don’t have enough time, ask people what they want to do: stay later or come back to the topic next time.  Don’t be a slave to continually going over the end time;  otherwise people will get frustrated and will probably lose focus.  Keep to the times that you established at the outset. 

5. Encourage participation of team members

Team leader:  If you raise a topic for discussion, invite team members to speak.  If someone asks a question, hold back from responding first; allow others to respond first.

  • Invite people to speak up; go around the circle from time to time so everyone knows they’ll get to contribute. 
  • Encourage people to ask questions of each other.  Collective inquiry creates a tone of curiosity and openness, and builds cohesion between team members.  Asking questions helps us to get clear about the root cause of problems before starting to brainstorm solutions.

6. Diverse perspectives

Do people feel free to express their disagreement or opinions?  Does everyone readily agree with each other?  It’s well known that having a diversity of perspectives enriches the end result.  We all have our filters and can’t see everything.  Ask the team:  How would someone from another department think about this issue?  Consider inviting an external person to a specific meeting so that they can provide a different perspective.  They will not be beholden to any “groupthink”.

7. Decision making

Do you explain how decisions are going to be made?  Who’s making the final decision – the leader or the team?  People need to know how their input is going to be used and how the decision will be made.  If they discover that you made a decision without considering their viewpoints, they’ll stop giving you the benefit of their good ideas and thinking.

8. Decisions

Sometimes we each walk away from a meeting with a different understanding of what was agreed upon.  Take a few minutes to recap the decisions and ask if there are any questions.  Better to hear that now than later when you find out that no action was taken.

9. Action steps

Review the action steps that have been discussed at the end of the meeting, specifying who’s going to do what by when.  Make sure each person’s role is clear, and what action they each are responsible for, as well as the deadline or timeframe.  Train the team to hold each other accountable by revisiting the action steps at the beginning of the next meeting.

10. Evaluation

If you’re trying to improve the productivity and effectiveness of team meetings, get into the habit of evaluating your meetings.  Allocate 5 minutes at the end to ask: How did this meeting go?  What did we do well today?  And, what could we do better next time?

Bonus points if you also ask: What did you appreciate about how the team worked together? 

Summary: Try out these tips and tricks, and your team will feel engaged and energized.

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