Four steps to avoid death by meeting

skyeteam leadership development

If you are attending meetings that are best described as the stuff of nightmares, lots of passionate discussion and debate, only to realize as you walk back to your desk, that you can’t quite put your finger on what you have actually achieved, or decisions that were made, then you need to take action now! Poor meetings are the vampires of time that can suck the living daylights out of you.

The good news is, that it doesn’t have to be like this! When meetings get derailed, especially if it’s your meeting, you can get it back on track. Here are four steps to avoid death by meeting:

Start as you mean to go on.

Too often we close the door and dive into discussion and debate without clarifying why the meeting is happening in the first place. I make a point of asking clients at the start of our meetings

“We have an hour together, I want to be respectful of your time, what do you want to get out of our time together”

or

“We have an hour together, you asked that we focus on a,b and c in order to decide x, y z. Has anything changed since we last spoke that would impact this focus or these priorities?”

  • By setting expectations up front we can make sure we are all headed in the same direction from the outset.

It’s the small talk that leads to big talk.

Your team members aren’t robots and meetings are often an opportunity for people to reconnect and catch up before they are ready to get to business at hand. Building in time for small talk allows everyone to relax before getting to the big talk about business.

At SkyeTeam we start each staff meeting with what we call “Ripples and Joys”, (a habit I adopted from City Year Denver.) SkyeTeam is a virtual team, we get together in person a couple of times a month and the “Ripples and Joys” are an important part of building a sense of team, camaraderie and connection between us all. It’s a simple process, the first 10 minutes of our meeting are given over to sharing

  • Ripples – the success and impact we’ve had at work and in our work with clients
  • Joys – things that have made us happy, whether personal or professional.

This section invariably contains much laughter and frivolity and is hugely instrumental in nurturing the Ally Relationships we have within the team.

At client meetings I may not be as overt as asking for “Ripples and Joys” but I will ask what’s been happening for the person since we last met, enquire about vacations or personal milestones that they have mentioned previously. Remember, business is personal and relationships do matter.

  • How can you connect with others at a personal level, not just at a transactional business level matters, and allow appropriate time and attention for small talk and the big talk?

Allocate a weed monitor / squirrel hunter

Whether your meets are derailed by the shiny object syndrome or getting stuck in the weeds, the only person who can save you – is you! When I am working with teams and facilitating high performing team events the agenda is always structured to include business items as well as high performing team elements. This way we weave the learning and new habits with the business needs, providing an immediate opportunity to practice and apply the high performing team skills I have shared.

What often happens when a team gets stuck in the weeds, or off track, is that team members will start making eye contact with me; raising an eyebrow, subtle nods of their heads – all of which are screaming at me “Get us out of here – we are stuck!” What always strikes me is that it is me, the guest facilitator, the none expert in what you do, who is asked to save the day.

Instead of sitting through these moments speak up! Say

“It seems like we have moved focus, do we need to follow this thought or should we get back to the decision at hand?”

or

“It seems like we have been discussing this a while, are we ready to decide or do we need to explore further?”

Make it an informed and explicit decision as to where you focus your time, rather than an implicit one and you will find that everyone can stay engaged throughout the process.

  • How can you keep your discussions on point? Who will be the squirrel hunter in your next meeting?

Finish as you mean to go on.

If starting your meetings with clear expectations is important, so too is finishing your meetings with clear commitments and next steps.

All too often we are over scheduled with triple booked meeting requests and back to back meetings. Which means that we short-change the end of the meeting focusing on our next meeting, whether we have time for a bathroom break or lunch, or how we will reply to the 50 emails that have come in during this meeting.

Instead of a clear, controlled finish, the meeting comes to an abrupt end,  as the participants escape from the room without a second thought for the decisions that have been made, and what actions need to be taken following this meeting.

Instead, introduce the discipline of a simple what, who, when template to capture decisions and next steps. Make sure that in the last few minutes of each meeting this is reviewed out-loud so that everyone can hear and confirm what has been agreed and their individual accountabilities.

  • What approach will you adopt to drive accountability and follow through?

Running an effective meeting doesn’t need to be a bureaucratic nightmare or require a deep understanding of Robert’s Rules. It’s common sense, though, unfortunately, all too often an uncommon discipline. It starts before your meeting by setting a clear purpose, it happens during the meeting by remaining vigilant to the distractions that can cause you to get stuck, and it happens at the end and immediately after the meeting with clear accountability for the actions and next steps.

If you adopt these four steps, if you empower your meeting participants to adopt these four steps, then you can avoid death by meeting.