What Do You Want From A Team Meeting? A Decision Or A Team?

A group of sad people in suits around a table looking at a graph that is going down.

Most teams will have a team meeting on a regular schedule. Once a week, every two weeks or once a month the team gets together to discuss the day’s big issues. This can be a difficult meeting because it doesn’t have a defined agenda, and is open-ended.

Other meetings either drive a project forward, solve a specific problem or implement a specific process. They might have a varying agenda, but the overall goal of the meeting is (hopefully) clear, and there is a point when the meetings will stop. Barring the team disbanding, this is not true for team meetings.

A common pattern, and one I am certainly guilty of, is asking people what issues they would like to discuss, and perhaps sharing a few updates from around the business. When you get to the end of the agenda you just say “Thanks everyone” and go back to your desks.

The problem with this is that you are encouraging people to just bring existing problems to the table, and then only if you manage to get the culture to be non-threatening enough that they feel comfortable with sharing their issues with the group.

What if you were able to get the team to work together on topics before they become a problem? If you could build relationships that foster collaboration outside the regular meeting, and allow people to be proactive rather than reactive.

In the book Time To Think by Nancy Kline she talks about creating a “Thinking Environment”. Now, this book has quite a few problems (to put it quite mildly) and I’m not a fan of it, but the core idea is sound - by giving people the space, time and attention to think clearly they will reward you with insights that may lead to a step change in their, and your team’s, performance.

Team meetings between individual contributors and those between a team of leaders have a different focus. When it is ICs collaborating the team should be working on the same domain. While they might have focus on different areas, or have different skillsets, the challenges they face and the goals they are working towards will be similar. For a team of leaders this is not necessarily true, and the differences between the areas represented in the meeting can mean there is little overlap in the challenges being faced.

In both cases though you should aim to mould your team members into a team. Where more disparate people are involved this will be harder, but can be achieved by reiterating why you are part of the same team, and what the common objectives are. Either way, you want to turn the group of people in your meeting into a team.

So how do you do that? First, open your meeting with a positive “icebreaker”. Just asking people to share one positive thing that happened to them in the last week, and letting everyone speak in turn will set the mood of the meeting, and show that everyone’s contributions are welcomed.

Once everyone has had a turn to speak, move on to the agenda. At this point, you need to decide what you want out of the meeting this week. It could be that there is an urgent problem that needs a decision; in that case, you should steer the group towards making it. However, often the conversation is more about deciding the strategy the team wants to take while tackling a project or problem, which will shape the future work.

While discussing strategy getting as many views as possible is key. No idea should be unheard, and while you do eventually need to agree as a team on the desired approach, at the beginning of the discussion the more inputs there are the better. Once someone has shared something, allow everyone to comment and to discuss it. Whether you do this by explicitly going round each member of the team, or more subtly asking those who haven’t yet spoken what they think doesn’t matter, just make sure everyone contributes.

After you have contributions from everyone, and people have asked clarifying questions of each other, either yourself as the moderator or the person who raised the topic should summarise the discussion, and list the action points. These should be assigned and follow-up dates agreed upon.

One aspect of building a team is that people have to feel that they are jointly contributing to achieving success. If other people in the team have completed a project or solved a problem, then others will (hopefully) be happy for them, but unless people can see how they achieved that outcome together, it won’t help build a team. As part of your meeting bring back topics that were previously discussed and mention how the discussion contributed to success. Perhaps the action points were completed, the discussion brought to light an alternative approach or highlighted potential problems that were avoided. Whatever the reason for the success, if it is tied back to the work of everyone as a team, team connectedness will improve.

As a leader, it’s easy to feel that problems that are most acute in or only affect, your teams should be dealt with by you. Building a leadership team that shares problems and collaborates on solutions benefits everyone, and can only happen if people share. Encourage people to consider the future of their team, and ask for feedback from their peers on things that they don’t consider problems. If they are regularly sharing and discussing their teams with their peers then they will make sure they are constantly challenged to be the best leader they can be, and when a genuine problem does arise in their team they will be well placed to resolve it.

As the moderator of your team meeting, make sure you know when to guide the team to a decision, when to encourage discussion and problem-sharing, and when to create space for everyone to be heard. The team meeting is your key opportunity to set the tone that will influence how your team interact with each other for the rest of the week, so don’t waste it.

How do you ensure your team meetings are productive and help you build team spirit? Let me know what you’ve tried, and how it went, in the comments below.

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