Make meetings great
Gayle Allen continues to serve up some of the best leadership professional development I consume. If you attend meetings, lead meetings or consider yourself a victim of weak meetings, listen to this Curious Minds interview with @stevenrogelberg – Professor of Organizational Science, Management, and Psychology at the University of North Carolina or share this post with your meeting leader – possibly? Afterwards, add the podcast to your todo list. At the the end of the post – there is a treat for you to.
Not a meeting – an event
Steven Rogelberg has over two decades invested in researching meetings so when he says that getting rid of meetings is a “false goal,” I do not consider his advice to be self-serving, rather our goal should be to “eliminate bad meetings,” and I think we would all agree on that. According to wider research, most employees invest nearly 15 hours a week in meetings and yet, nine out of 10 employees admit to daydreaming, attending meetings is the number one most complained about activity within companies, quod erat demonstrandum, schools?
Not overlooking the direct and opportunity costs of weak meetings (attendees could be doing something else with their time) Rogelberg suggests that bad (I prefer weak) meetings have a greater cost – frustration, disengagement and ‘meeting recovery syndrome’ where staff ruminate and co-ruminate, often destructively.
Hosting a productive meeting is nuisance and it is complex – and it is much more than having an agenda.
Less than 20% of managers receive any training on how to lead a meeting.Dr Steven Rogelberg – Curious Minds podcast
I would have fallen in that rather worrying low percentage.
Interestingly, the first point Rogelberg highlights is that meeting leaders need to get feedback on… their meetings. I’d say they need to get feedback full stop. However, he also offers three questions, very similar to those I shared just recently, on what to ask for; I added one method of how to ask.
- What I am do well?
- What should I continue doing?
- What should I start doing?
One of the issues sensitively reviewed by the interview pairing, was handling conflict. Suggestions included often attendees to writing their responses, keeping the focus on the ‘ideas’ and not the person that raises the idea, plus there were a few points later on in the interview that could be considered (seating). Rogelberg also spoke about meeting safety, again similar to the concept of psychological safety. It is possible to connect the role of leader as host here; meeting and greeting attendees, ensuring they are welcomed and appreciated and making introductions where appropriate. Conceiving the role, not as meeting leaders, rather embracing your role as a steward of “other people’s time.”
Who should be there? Who needs to be there? Then evaluating one’s own stewardship of the meeting.
The research shows, that having an agenda, in of itself, does not predict meeting effectiveness. What is on the agenda? How do you choose what items / questions to put on the agenda? How you facilitated the agenda – does.
Structure the agenda by “questions to be answered.” This was probably one the key takeaways for me. Recrafting the agenda item from problem to finding solutions, and hence the tone of the expected responses. eg
Year 8 girls not staying on their designated areas during wet breaks – becomes…
How do we ensure Year 8 girls use their designated space respectfully during wet breaks
Sending agenda questions sent in advance give attendees the opportunity to a) know what success we are aiming for b) decide whether they have anything of value to contribute or learn. I would add, that with shared documents, not only can the agenda be sent in advance, it can be;
- answered in advanced of meeting with responses seen by all parties. In fact, we found that items / questions were struck off and concluded prior to the meeting being held in some instance
- the agenda, the minutes, and as it is live, the monitoring document that does not need to be sent at the end meeting – it is live.
Rogelberg goes on to say that “meetings as events,” changes our framing of meeting and minimises “repeated disfunction.”
Rogelberg noted that approximately 50% of all agendas are recycled from the last meetings.
Agenda items / questions at the start of an agenda get a disproportionate amount of discussion time – prioritising, scheduling or time reference agenda items / questions.
Not every attendee is required for all and every item or question. Schedule the agena, and schedule the staff, so that they only only where appropriate. Adjusting meeting group attendance has additional benefits too.
Conversation flow and conflict (most often with the person sitting across from you) can be managed by thinking where attendees sit.
Attention in longer meetings can be expected / directed, when short breaks are afforded.
Closing really matters. Who are the “directly responsible individuals?” What are they responsible for? As I noted, the meeting document can be much more than merely an agenda. Sharing the meeting minutes, if you use a shared document, is no longer a concern.
Parkinson’s law – as a meeting extends, so does the dysfunction within the meeting. Schedule the meeting strategically, precisely, as attendees are more productive at the start and when placed under a little pressure. Plan for short breaks, then insist on attention and focus.
We certainly experienced this benefit when holding SLT meetings within the school day as opposed to at the end. Meetings starting at 3:15pm would often be delayed, then trundle and meander through the agenda, with AOB items casually tagged on at the end. Tight meetings scheduled within the school day (period 4) were punchy, staff made a real effort to get there promptly, many coming straight from the classroom, and we were less tolerant of distraction and interruption. As we adapted to collaborative agenda construction, pre-meeting updates / comments on the shared document, staff leading their agenda items, meeting delivery speed up dramatically. One meeting was almost cancelled completely when 6/8 items were struck off before the meeting.
Meeting size – when I here about meeting size, I am reminded of Jeff Bezos’ pizza meeting rule. Meeting leaders err on inclusion. Rather than that invite everyone to the meeting, offer extended colleagues the opportunity to;
- pay-it-forward and contribute comment ahead and to of the meeting group
- share the agenda question, for which a response will be shared
- offer to share the meeting minutes and encourage their reflections
- or, as noted, invite the extended team member a scheduled agenda topic and allow them to leave. (Note this requires sensitivity from the meeting host, as in my experience, in education, leaving a meeting early is still perceived as improper).
Standing or sitting meetings? Both are equal effective, standing meetings much shorter. However, if it is a longer agenda, seating may be required. See Parkinson’s Law.
Silence is a powerful meeting tool and one I was really interested in hearing more about as I have only ever attended conversational meetings. Rogelberg talked about the use off online voting tools to capture the feedback of all attendees. (I have used post meeting forms to capture staff meeting feedback). Also silence to use meeting to for learning – eg reading, in silence, a white paper before discussing it. (Not sure how I feel about that.)
Remote meetings – suffers from attendees multi-tasking. They need to be tighter and shorter.
Hospitality shows you value for your attendees time.
Morning huddle, post day wash-up or meeting? Over to you.
As a senior leader, we should really investigate how new leaders intend to lead meetings. Given the time committed to them and the potential impact of weak meetings. Ultimately, our success as a leaders – eventually comes down to our ability to get the most out of others. Meeting are a key leveraging opportunity, if we get it right for the attendees.
Participate or Else! The Effect of Participation in Decision-Making in Meetings on Employee Engagement Yoerger, M., Crowe, J., & Allen, J.A. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2015