How is it going with your meetings? Really, another one? Is anything really going to get done? Is this a waste of my time? I have too much to do to attend another meeting!!
Sound familiar? To be clear, there are many meetings that go well and have a lot of value, and the opposite seems too often to be many people’s experience. An effective, efficient meeting is a set of skills. There are skills of the team leader and skills of participants, and there are many possible breakdowns in meetings. One of the most prevalent is that the nature or purpose of a meeting gets mixed and off topic with things left unfinished. There are numerous ways to name types of meetings. What we offer here is not “the” way, but “a” way that supports keeping things simple and clear. We recognize that there are specialize meetings for distinct purposes like a sales meeting, and specialized meeting will fall into one of these categories.
Here is our list of types of meetings and their purpose:
The purpose of these meeting is to discuss ideas and possibilities and for brainstorming. This is not where actions are directed or request or offers are made but they allow the flow of the widest range of possibilities. Some people are better at this than others, so knowing who is good at this on a team has value. It is also important to hear all voices, as it is clear it is easier for some to speak up in meetings than for others, and it becomes the responsibility of the team leader to allow all voices to be heard. It is not unusual for the quiet voices to have very creative and valuable ideas.
These meeting are designed to assign actions, to make request, to make offers, and to make commitments. How this is done is vital as this part is the gears and mechanisms to get work done. Questions will arise to clarity, accountability, and trust.
First, clarity. When assigning actions or making request or offers, are the expectations clear? What does success look like? When receiving request, are you clear about what is being asked of you? Do you have a clear timeline, a clear by-when results are needed? For this to work well, there must be permission to ask for clarity of the request or offer, for it to be OK to counter-offer; basically, to negotiate what we call the “conditions of satisfaction.” It becomes important to be able to speak up, to have permission to decline, and to able to receive a decline. As an organization, declining has value and will impact over-work and over-promising which very often leads to lower quality of work.
The skill of being accountable and holding others accountable is one of the leading breakdowns in organizations. It is about making realistic promises and a commitment to fulfilling one’s promise. One possible reorientation is that the promise is not about the task, it is about making a commitment to a person, it is about building a relationship. Fulfilling promises and commitments on time builds trust.
This is when updates and current status conversations regarding projects and outstanding promises and commitments happen. Individuals are reporting, that is the overall purpose here. Per design, that is, by choice of the team and/or the team leader, this time could also be used for making requests and offers related to the report, declaring breakdowns (such as not meeting a timeline), complaining for action, or hearing questions or comments from the team. It becomes even more important to have attention on “straying” in the conversation. Items can always be tabled for later or for the appropriate kind of meeting. If a shift in the function of a meeting takes place, it is important that this is openly declared.
Breakdowns happen, we are human, and we make mistakes. How we handle our breakdowns and team breakdowns will make an immense difference in the overall mood of the team. Process and assessment meetings are not just about the mistakes, more likely they will be around the fallout. What incomplete or unspoken conversations or behaviors are not being discussed? Elephant in the room? Maybe a herd? The team supports clearing the air, not holding “stuff” with other people or processes. Assessments are offered with explicit grounding. The assessment is the interpretation of the event where we will express things like value or aesthetics and are never true or false, never right, or wrong. They are interpretations, opinions, verdicts, or judgements.
These meetings can be difficult for participants which is one of the reasons they are often delayed, or the necessity ignored. I have been in a number of these types of meetings, and are they difficult? Yes, but the outcome of clearing the air and being upfront, authentic, and honest with each other (in a good way) produces a relaxed and open atmosphere within which to work.
What can go wrong in meetings?
Straying off topic is one of the bigger breakdowns in meetings and can produce the feeling that meetings are a waste of time. Another breakdown is the loud voice gets all the attention. This is chronic in some organizations. I worked for someone once who could easily be attracted to high energy, and their listening would lean towards that person at the expense of listening to others. The result was a series of not so good decisions. What becomes useful is to limit how much any one person gets to express their views and to be sure the quieter people are asked their point of view.
These are mostly team leader skills. First to notice, then to reorient to the appropriate conversation. There is always the choice to stay on the straying conversation if deemed relevant, timely, and important to the function of the team.
Diverse Meetings in One Meeting
This is common and has value. What makes this work well is to clearly declare the shift in the type of meeting that is currently happening so everyone knows the terrain being crossed. What might begin as a brainstorming session, once complete, can easily and appropriately be shifted into an action meeting. The important thing is to name the change to allow participants to reorganize themselves from one way of being to another.
The context I am speaking into here is about the relationship people have to their energetic self. Some people are great at getting ideas immediately, what I call “awakening” energy, and others take more time and are “processers.” The processer may not have an immediate response, but given time, their ideas are as good, sometimes better than the awakeners.
When these elements of teams and meetings are practiced, the outcomes I have seen and experienced has meetings be 30% to 50% shorter, and much more gets completed. In the best case, these practices have a shared agreement within the team, and there is a team commitment to the practices.