I won’t hold you in suspense. A leader’s most important team building tool is the lowly, much aligned meeting. “How can that be”, you ask? Meetings are the bane of your work-life existence. They are boring, unproductive and an overall waste of time. If only you didn’t have so many meetings you could get some real work done.
And unfortunately, you are probably right when it comes to most meetings in most organizations. Yet with almost no additional investment of time or money, leaders can use their team meetings to build high-performing teams that create a true competitive advantage.
Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for team building events like paintball, cooking classes, escape rooms and ROPES courses and then fail to capitalize on any benefits gained from those events. The only reason to invest in team building is to improve results. And far too often results don’t improve following team building events like these.
Fun and socializing are important to building team comradery. But the glow quickly wears off once you are back at the office. It is a little bit like applying deodorant after a workout in hopes you won’t have to take a shower. The result is less than satisfactory and any benefit wears off pretty quickly.
Team development is something that must be nurtured over time. You cannot expect a one day – or even a three day – retreat to have long lasting effects unless there is ongoing follow-up built into regularly scheduled team meetings.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe leadership team retreats and quarterly off-sites are critical. And facilitating these meetings is a big part of my work. The point is, this is just the beginning. When I coach leaders, helping them extend the work they have started during a leadership team retreat into their ongoing team meetings is a big focus.
What’s required for masterful meetings that lead to real results?
The foundation is a level of trust among team members that allows for candor, debate and dialogue around ideas and issues. A boring meeting is a bad meeting, according to best-selling author Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni says, that like a good movie plot, a good meeting needs conflict.
Here’s a checklist for assessing your team meetings.
- Is there active, lively discussion to which all team members contribute?
- Have the team’s top one to three shared priorities been defined?
- Is movement towards these shared priorities measured each meeting?
- Do team members hold each other accountable for progress towards these shared priorities?
- Do team members leave the meeting with a common understanding of and commitment to the decisions that have been made?
As a team leader how do you leverage meetings as a tool for building a cohesive team that achieves results?
- Clearly identify the top one to three priorities for the team and measure progress towards these in each meeting.
- Put the tough issues on the agenda and make sure any “elephants in the room” are put on the table.
- Encourage all team members to participate by specifically asking for input. If someone has been quiet during a discussion ask for their thoughts.
- If the team tends to agree to suggestions without much discussion, assign someone to play the role of “devil’s advocate”. (Be sure to rotate the roll so one person does not come to be seen as the “nay sayer”.)
- Take time at the end of each meeting or each topic discussion to summarize any decisions that have been made. Have a team member to summarize their understanding. Ask, “Is there anyone who has a different understanding?”
- Ask for commitment. For important decisions you may want to go around the room and ask each person if they will support the decision. It is much harder for someone to leave a meeting and ignore a decision if they have publically committed to it, and much easier to hold them accountable if they do.
Leveraging the power of meetings takes focus, but it has at least two benefits. First you will get better results and achieve more. Second your meetings will be more interesting – maybe even fun!