Rethinking Meetings to Shape How and When a Team Comes Together to Work

In the June 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), Michael D. Watkins’ article Leading the Team You Inherit provides tips on how to deliberately assess individual team members against set criteria, identifying what the business environment needs and re-shaping the team to ensure effectiveness.  In addition, the article points out the importance of considering how people come together to do their work and made me want to suggest we all rethink our meetings:

Reshaping a team also involves rethinking how and when people come together to do the work. This may include increasing or decreasing the number of “core” members, creating subteams, adjusting the types and frequency of meetings, running meetings differently, and designing new protocols for follow-up.”

Michael D. Watkins, Harvard Business Review, June 2016

How meetings are designed and run represents one of the important ways in which a new leader can set the tone for how teams work.  To establish a meeting frequency that works, Watkins suggests we consider whether formal or informal subteams are needed as well as what activities might require more frequent attention than others.  The following paragraphs incorporate elements from my own experience with information gleaned from the HBR article.
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Different types of meetings each have a specific purpose

Strategic meetings

are useful to take stock of the external and internal environment, develop strategies, vision and set the direction.  These involve more in-depth discussions and are typically less frequent.

Operational meetings

are regular meetings that serve to review forecasts, track progress or performance and adjust activities and plans accordingly.  Activities requiring more frequent attention are discussed during operational meetings; the optimal meeting frequency varies in accordance with how regularly these activities need to be monitored.

Project meetings

focus on particular project or a set of related projects.  They serve to allow a project team to review progress and risks, and to adjust upcoming activities and resource utilization in order to best achieve the project’s objectives.

Learning meetings

As the name implies, learning meetings help team members identify lessons learned from dealing with a particular issue or crisis as well as after completing a significant project.  They support continuous learning and improvement in an organization.

Involving staff in strategic meetings can be powerful

Strategic meetings most often include members of the leadership team, but holding these meetings with staff members can help to uncover hidden issues and opportunities that are only visible from the front lines.  Engaging the broader team is also a powerful way to create a common understanding of the environmental drivers for what they work on and how they complete it.  Generating buy-in for change is more effective when team members recognize these drivers.  In addition, people need to feel that their preoccupations are being heard and that their ideas on how to move forward are being considered.

In recent meetings we’ve facilitated, the following questions helped to guide these conversations:

  • What important issues, challenges or trends are affecting our work?
  • Imagine that it is five years from now, and that we have been extremely successful; what does this look like?
  • What are our strengths? What challenges do we anticipate?
  • Given our vision for success, our strengths and anticipated challenges, what can we do to set ourselves up for success: what information, competencies, tools, partnerships, structure, etc. do we need?

Of course the above questions need to be part of a well-designed agenda, but they offer some clues as to what kind of conversations can help leaders and their teams set themselves up for success.

In short, make sure you’re having the right type of meeting with the right mix of team members by having a clear sense of the purpose for the meeting.  When preparing an agenda, identify questions that need to be answered to get to the heart of what matters most to the organization and the people doing the work.