Meetings done right are one of the most powerful tools available to teams trying to do great work and one of the underestimated ways of how to improve a team’s performance. But effective meetings don’t just happen by accident, they require planning. A coordinated and focused team has an annual calendar of different impactful meetings that become the heartbeat of the team, the operating rhythm.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many meetings are repetitive, covering the same status updates week in and week out with the agenda rarely changing to reflect the changing environment. Some meetings become “talking shops” with discussions dominated by the usual voices. When we work with teams we always ask the members “What is the best decision your team has made” and all too often the reply is “I don’t think we’ve ever made a decision”.
Some meetings evolve into a repository for lots of different things. They’re a confusing mix of operational, strategy and project matters and it becomes difficult for participants to toggle mindsets between the big picture of strategy and the detail of operations. Some meetings exist solely because the leader finds it useful to understand what going on. Some leaders see it as a useful opportunity to go through their inbox with the individuals in the room. This leaves others participants just sitting in the meeting not contributing, while the leader works their way around the team. It’s important to remember that leaders don’t own meetings, teams do.
It’s well documented that poorly designed meetings consume an incredible amount of energy, resources and goodwill for little return. An effective meeting should leave everyone feeling clear and energized for the work ahead, however, all too often the opposite is true.
So what are the essential meetings you need to have with your team in order to keep things moving forward, increase engagements and develop a high-performing team that is coordinated and focused?
We believe that an effective meeting should pass 3 tests (Hackman 2002). They should be:
The meeting content should challenge the participants’ collective IQ and their ability to problem-solve. The outcome of the meetings should be consequential to the output of the team and each meeting’s purpose should be clear. It should be crystal clear what goes in this meeting and what should be dealt with elsewhere.
The model we’re proposing requires a shift in mindset and a change in how you work. Before we take you through this model, this model is for real teams. This means there is interdependency between team members in order to deliver the work. Not just a group of people that share the same line manager.
Here is our suggested flow on how to improve a team’s performance:
Meeting 1: The Tactical meeting (weekly or bi-weekly)
This is where we unblock work and provide quick project updates so we know what’s changed week to week. The aim of the tactical meeting is to triage issues that are holding the team back and remove obstacles so that the work can move forward. These meetings are facilitated, not led by the manager. It works best if you have a scribe who captures the actions. Each participant has the opportunity to make requests of each other to keep the work moving.
Meeting 2: The Retrospective Meeting (every 4 weeks)
This is the only meeting that looks backwards This is where we review the performance of the team and identify improvements based Retrospectives are a well-designed, simple, quick and widely recognised technique. They create a space for your team to connect, review their performance, identify the learnings, share their ideas and solve issues that are holding you back. You can use them to review the previous quarter, your team’s performance on a project, how you responded to a crisis or even how effective a meeting is.
You go through 3 rounds with a timer set for each round. The traditional way is to start by introducing the topic for the session. Then asking:
- Round 1 “what should we start doing?
- Round 2 “what should we stop doing?”
- Round 3 “what should we continue doing that’s working well?”
At the end of the meeting, you spend some time developing the findings into actions. Because retrospectives are counterintuitive to our action-orientated approach they are sometimes seen as indulgent so the temptation is to cancel them when the team gets busy. However, an effective manager will always recognise the importance of taking a step back in order to learn from our mistakes. It’s the learning from these sessions that will make your team more effective, more efficient and work better together.
Meeting 3: The Governance meeting (Every 6 – 8 weeks)
This is your opportunity to make improvements to how the team works rather than what the team is working on. An effective team will have an agreed way of working with a team agreement. A team agreement sets out how your team makes decisions, allocates resources and communicates. It can also cover key processes and responsibilities. The aim is to ensure the team is focused on setting high standards, encourages mutual accountability and is coordinated in its efforts. The governance meeting is the team’s opportunity to identify problems or potential improvements and propose changes to optimise the way the team works. Our proposed method for governance meetings emphasises consent-based decision-making.
Members make proposals about how things they want to change about the team or if they have an idea. It takes a consent-based decision-making approach. The idea is that you invite a team member to bring a proposal or recommendation to address the problem they see. Step by step, the team first understand the issue, shares their reactions, and then gives any objections. Based on the responses from the team, the proposer then can choose to update their proposal. This method invites everyone to weigh in & share their perspectives. It’s done in rounds so that everyone has an equal opportunity to share their perspectives rather than the usual dominant voices. This reduces the impact of groupthink & authority bias
What’s really effective is that anyone who objects to the idea has to work with the proposer until they are happy to proceed. This prevents people from slipping into “I told you it wouldn’t work” while actively working against it!
Here are the 6 steps for you to follow:
𝐒𝐭𝐞𝐩 𝟭: 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝗽𝗼𝘀𝗲
Invite a team member to describe a problem they are trying to solve or an idea they have for improvement. They follow this up with a proposal or recommendation. The Proposer speaks, and everyone listens.
𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽 𝟮: 𝗖𝗹𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗳𝘆
Every team member is given the opportunity to ask questions in order to understand the proposal. They can ask for more details on the solution, or the definition of the problem. If they give their opinion at this moment, the facilitator will step in as this is purely about clarification. The Proposer answers the questions to the best of their ability
𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽 𝟯: 𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗰𝘁
In turn, every team member has the chance to react. They can share what they think and feel about the proposal. They are also invited to make suggestions they believe will improve the proposal. This is their chance to share whatever they want to say. It’s important that Proposer accepts the feedback and is non-defensive.
𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽 𝟰: 𝗔𝗱𝗷𝘂𝘀𝘁
Now that the proposer has understood how the team feel about the proposal. They can take on board the suggestions and update their proposal. If they believe their proposal is correct they can choose not to amend their proposal. Alternatively, they can remove the proposal at any time if new information has come to light. This can save the team a lot of time in the long run.
𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽 𝟱: 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝘀𝗲𝗻𝘁
This is the critical step. Each participant is invited to give their consent. Or they can raise any objections they may have. The grounds for an objection is that they believe the proposal would be unsafe to try or cause irreversible harm to the team or organisation. The idea for such a high bar is to ensure a decision is made, even if it’s reduced in scale. In complex adaptive systems, it’s often impossible to understand if a proposal will work until it’s tried. So the decisions that are made often results in small safe-to-fail experiment, and the decisions are reviewed and iterated on an ongoing basis.
𝗦𝘁𝗲𝗽 𝟲: 𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗴𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲
If a team member has raised an objection they are invited to work with the proposer to help edit the proposal. They work together to make the proposal until the objector is able to consent to the proposal. This can often lead to the proposal being smaller in scale, less risky, or more economical. Once all objections are addressed, the proposal is then taken back to the team for them to hear the new proposal and give their consent.
The more you practice this technique, the quicker and more effective you become as a decision-making team.
Meeting 4: Retrospective followed by a Strategy Meeting (Every 3 to 6 months)
This meeting is all about moving away from the day-to-day operations, and focusing on the strategic intent of your team. By holding a retrospective first, you’re able to identify all the learnings from the previous period and with that insight you have a more informed strategy session.
Here is the potential coverage of the strategy meeting:
- Revisit the overall strategy and update any changes
- Review past performance against your targets, so you can adjust to make the targets more realistic and reflect operational reality
- Identify any trade-offs that are required in the next 3 months to ensure the team stay on track
- Opportunity to surface and challenge the assumptions that we’re working under and might be influencing our decisions
- Review recent events and any emerging opportunities that are potentially redirecting our overall strategy
- Set clear individual and team targets for the next 90 days
- Visualise the work of everyone. This allows us to visually get an overall picture of what the team is working on. You can divide the work based on who has the capacity and capabilities. You can identify any new tasks or responsibilities that are taking the team off track from achieving its strategy. You can identify the key dependencies and any bottlenecks. You also clarify who is accountable for what.
- Agree on the priorities. This ensures the team understands the critical projects, tasks or programmes. This exercise also deprioritises the things that are not critical
- Celebrate achievements and accomplishments by the team and individuals. This helps the team grow in confidence and makes the work more meaningful and rewarding.
- Unpack the new Strategies into concrete projects, next actions or tensions for each role
The aim of this new operating rhythm is to increase the speed, inclusiveness and buy-in of your team’s decision-making. Over time as your teams apply this approach, you will see them grow in confidence. The throughput of the team and the quality of the decisions will start to improve.
You will be able to manage your time more effectively by ensuring that every meeting has a clear purpose and specific outcomes. Your team will have clarity about what is happening next, what needs to be done by whom and when it needs to be completed. This means that you can focus on doing the best possible job for your people whilst keeping an eye on those projects that are taking longer than expected or where issues have arisen unexpectedly.