By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA
‘One either meets or one works’ – Peter Drucker
‘Shadowing’ my clients at meetings they lead or participate in is an important part of my leadership coaching. It is a highly effective coaching technique that allows for just-in-time feedback to my clients.
Through these shadowing sessions, I get to experience many different meeting settings and styles. Time and time again I am amazed how poorly some of these meetings are run (yes, even by some of my clients…). No wonder our people complain about meetings: they are boring, the boss just drones on, we don’t actually accomplish anything, etc. etc.
By following three very basic principles, you will be virtually guaranteed to run a solid – maybe even a great – meeting. You will help your team achieve bigger goals, resolve and even prevent unhealthy conflict, and promote good teamwork.
Like with many things in life, the 80/20 rule applies: apply these basic three principles to your meetings (20%) and you will take care of 80% of the usual meeting dysfunctions.
Before I get to the three principles, one thing upfront: only have a meeting if you need a two-way conversation. Meetings are meant for discussion, debate, and decision making. If you merely need to relay information one way, consider other methods (such as email).
Define Outcome Goals for Every Agenda Item
Get into the disciplined habit of sharing outcome goals with your team at the onset of every discussion. Start every agenda item with the following sentence: “The outcome goal of this discussion is to….”.
Here is a list of things I hear all too often that are NOT outcome goals:
- ‘talk about…’
- ‘further discuss…..’
- ‘tell you all about…’
Here is a list of good outcome goals:
- ‘make a decision on….
- ‘develop a clear plan for…’
- ‘brainstorm and capture ideas for ….’
- ‘get buy in for….’
- ‘receive input on…’
- ‘get everyone’s questions on … answered’
By forcing yourself to define an outcome goal, you clarify for yourself and your team why this is worthy of discussion.
Clarify How You Will Make Decisions
Before capturing any decision you are making during the meeting, clarify how you will make it. I have experienced countless cases where leaders did not communicate how they will make their decision leading to huge frustrations on the team’s part.
Here is the classic scenario: the leaders simply wants input from the team, but in her mind it’s clear that she will make the decision on her own after listening to her team’s discussion. As far as she is concerned, the team has consulting/influencing power but no decision-making power. The team members, on the other hand, assume that they actually have decision-making power (e.g. through a vote) and are stunned that the leader wraps up the discussion by stating that she will announce her decision next week.
To avoid the frustration, the leader could have clarified at the onset of the discussion: ‘I will make the decision next week after hearing everyone’s opinion and input today.’ Alternatively she could have said: ‘We will make this decision by majority vote,’ or
‘It is important to me that everyone is 100% on board with the decision we reach. Hence we will make the decision by consensus.’
No matter how you will decide, communicate your decision-making process upfront, thereby avoiding misunderstandings and frustration!
Capture Decisions, Next Steps and Accountability
Many people dislike meetings because they feel nothing ever gets decided or acted upon. Don’t run one of those meetings.
Your goal as the meeting chair is to make sure that all team members understand what has been decided on at the meeting, what the next step is, who will take it, and by when.
Once you have reached a decision, have your team members verbalize/paraphrase their understanding of the decision. You will be amazed how this simple exercise of paraphrasing surfaces misunderstandings about decisions you assumed had been made!
Don’t keep minutes – capture decisions, action items, ownership, and timelines. After the meeting, send brief notes out to all the participants of the meeting.
These notes might look something like this:
Fill the open position in our department by end of September 2015.
Draft job ad in conjunction with HR and email to all before next meeting. Finalize at next team meeting.
Bill (Director of Marketing)
Email job ad to all before next meeting
Be sure to bring these notes forward to your next meeting. Start the next meeting with a review of the outstanding action items from last meeting. You will be surprised at how productive your people will be when they know that they will be held accountable in front of their peers. If they haven’t made progress, use this time to figure out why and help them remove obstacles.
I believe that even the late, great Peter Drucker would have agreed that meetings which follow these three basic principles would be worth attending!