“Meetings are a great trap. Soon you find yourself trying to get agreement and then the people who disagree come to think they have a right to be persuaded. However, meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”
- John Kenneth Galbraith
Meetings can be “the best of times, the worst of times” (my apologies to Mr. Dickens my favorite fiction writer and Steinbeck would be my second favorite just in case you might be wondering). Okay, meetings are usually a waste of time, cost too much money and don’t get the desired results. But a well-run meeting can identify problems, focus your team on quality and improve the overall performance of your team.
In this blog I want to present some general ideas and suggestions that I’ve “discovered” over my years as a Middle for having the most productive meeting of any type. Then I will present more specific ideas and suggestions for four very unique types of meetings that I strongly suggest that you adopt with your Teamers including:
- The One-on-One Meeting – You need to have meetings with all of your Teamers on a regular basis to encourage understanding and bonding between the two of you.
- The Walk-Thru Session – Use the Walk-Thru session to gain consensus with your Teamers on project objectives and plans so that you can move forward on projects knowing what is expected of everyone.
- The Post-Mortem Meeting – This can be one of the most enlightening and challenging meetings that you can ever facilitate, where you review the project after the completion to see where problems occurred and why and also what made a project extremely successful and why!
- The Performance Review Meeting – This meeting occurs during the Performance Review process to gain consensus and agreement between you and your Teamers on their overall performance for the period and their future objectives and training needs.
“Never bear more than one trouble at a time. Some people bear three kinds – all they have had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.”
- Edward Everett Hale
“The only means of strengthening one’s intellect to make up one’s mind about nothing – to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.”
– John Keats
Well run meetings have certain key characteristics and I suggest that you immediately implement a new set of rules and guidelines for all future meetings that you and your Teamers schedule and attend to include the following as appropriate:
- Never go to or schedule a meeting without an agenda. The meeting agenda should include at least the following information and be available to meeting attendees well prior to the meeting including at least these topics: what topics to discuss, who will discuss each topic, why discuss the item, what’s the proposal or action needed and a time estimate for each topic.
- Have some time set aside for “general junk.”
- Have a facilitator to keep the meeting on schedule. I suggest that you pick someone as the facilitator that’s not involved with any of the meeting agenda topics and is an independent thinker.
- If you have a meeting with Coworkers from other departments or organizations, be sure to start with introductions so that everyone knows everyone.
- Start the meeting with an “ice breaker” agenda item to get the conversation flowing. “How they got assigned to this project?” can be a good one.
- Have a scribe to keep notes of the meeting and action items. Actually use a recording device if needed.
- Appoint a time keeper. Again, to help stay within the agenda and time estimates for each topic.
- Always keep meetings to one hour or less. Meetings are expensive. I once worked with a guy who had meetings without chairs. His quote was “If we don’t all sit down and get comfortable we can get this done quicker! I’ve got work to do!” I suggest you try it at least once as a “wake up” for your Teamers.
- If you need more time schedule another meeting. If everyone wants to continue to complete a topic go another 15 minutes or so, but try to keep the time limited.
- The facilitator should stop idea judgment or judgment statements of any kind.
- The facilitator should stop letting multiple people talk at once. Let each person share their ideas without interruption.
- Stop endless talking and arguing. Play the “bad cop” if you have to.
- Encourage brain storming and idea hitchhiking, that is “What if we did that, what would happen?”
- Encourage everyone to stay on schedule and stick to topics and solutions.
- No cell phones unless it is a REAL emergency!
- Always include the Rumor Round-Up agenda item in all of your meetings. It should be at the close of the meeting. Start the agenda item up with open discussion. Ask your Teamers what they have heard? What rumors are flying around? I suggest that you use this session to head off problems that might come from a rumor that doesn’t get addressed. Sometimes Teamers have things to ask but most times not, but it’s important for you to represent the Organization to each of your Teamers. Sometimes they may ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to. Simply say that you “don’t know” and that you will get an answer from the Organization to the question and get back to them as soon as you can.
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
The One-on-One Meeting
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
– Albert Schweitzer
The first thing that you need to do is to understand and know each of your Teamers. What are their goals, values, skills, wants, needs and potential contributions to the success of your team and the Organization?
Start having regular meetings with all of your Teamers. The frequency is up to your working relationship with each Teamer. Once a week is best to start out with, but some folks will only need to get with you every other week or even once a month. The frequency will depend on the person, their assignments, your understanding of their needs and your overall working relationship with them. But make sure that these meetings are habitual that is “every Tuesday at 10:00.” Depending on the number of Teamers that you have you will need to reserve blocks of time during your work week. I suggest reserving an entire morning or afternoon for these sessions. You’ll get into the One-on-One “groove!”
Make sure that this is not viewed as an adversarial meeting or a gotcha session due to the name. It is to help the two of you get to know one another better. This should be a special time spent together. Spend your time wisely with your Teamers. Make it a positive time together. You should have only two goals for the One-on-One meeting:
- Help your Teamer feel better about you, themselves and the Organization.
- Help you understand them and their needs, wants, dreams and concerns so that you can help them work in the “flow” as much as possible.
You both should prepare a written agenda for each One-on-One meeting. Keep each One-on-One to no longer than a half hour. If you need more time, set up another session.
Sometimes you “inherit” Teamers through reorganization and you don’t know these folks as well as those that you have hired. The One-on-One meeting is an excellent way to “get to know” new Teamers. I’ve “inherited” lots of new Teamers over my years as a Middle usually through budget and staff cuts and reorganization, and the One-on-One meeting helps these new folks feel more comfortable working with you now, rather than old “what’s his name” (you!) that they’ve heard all about though the “grapevine.” Your goals are to get to know them and to get rid of their concerns and problems with the “transition.” Empower them by knowing them to help them work in the “flow!”
Some suggested agenda items for One-on-One meetings would be at least these:
- Accomplishments during past time period
- Goals for next time period
- Problems or concerns
- Training opportunities
- Other general “stuff”
Your goal must also be for your Teamers to walk away with a positive feeling about your meeting, including the following:
- They are in a comfort zone and can freely express themselves. There is trust and honesty present in each meeting.
- You work on what needs to be done – direction!
- Make needed decisions. Stop tangent thinking and the paralysis-by-analysis syndrome.
- Have them feel that you really care about them, their work and their overall success and that of the team and the Organization.
- Address any problems or concerns they have.
It is your job as the Middle to do everything that you can do to create the best possible meeting environment. Ask them how their One-on-One meetings can be more effective and how you can be a better leader for them. Then listen and do what you can to address their ideas and suggestions.
I want to thank Senior Tom for being the first to ever have a One-on-One meeting with me and teaching me what these times could be. He taught me a lot and was one of the best Seniors that I ever worked with.
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
- Abraham Lincoln
The Walk-Thru Session
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
- John Steinbeck
The Walk-Thru session (again “session” may be better than “meeting”) is basically a team meeting focused on problem solving, consensus building and idea generation on a project to be done or a problem to be solved. No matter what the project or problem, new software requirements, a plan to sell more lawn mowers or a new recipe for chicken salad, there is (or should be!) a “document” that describes the project. That is what’s to be done and how (the project scope) and when (the project plan). This document should include these topics for the project:
- Target User or Audience for the Project – Who is the user or customer of the project?
- Current Situation – What is the current “situation or problem” that you want the project to solve or address?
- Project Objectives – What will the project do to solve the user’s problem(s)?
- What are the Main Benefits Offered by the Project – What are the benefits that the project must provide for each user?
- What are the Alternatives to the Project – What are the major alternatives to NOT doing the project?
- What is the Budget for the Project – How many dollars do you have to implement the project?
- What is the Call to Action – What’s the next step(s) for your Teamers and Senior for this project?
- Timetable – What are the steps and time estimates for each step to complete the project?
Reviewing, changing and approving this document are the desired results of the Walk-Thru session. I suggest that you consider using the Project Work Plan as the ideal document for all of your Walk-Thru sessions.
All of the people working on the project must be invited to attend the Walk-Thru and get a copy of the Project Work Plan well before the meeting so that they can review it for their agreements, disagreements and their concerns.
Appoint a facilitator, a scribe and a time keeper for the Walk-Thru. The facilitator should collect the comments, agreements, disagreements and suggestions from the Teamers that are going to attend the Walk-Thru, again before the session and send them out to everyone as the agenda for the upcoming session. The scribe will collect and distribute the minutes of the session, and lastly, the time keeper should be empowered to keep everyone on track with the agenda items and time estimates established for the Walk-Thru.
To reiterate, the desired output of a Walk-Thru session is an understood and agreed-upon scope and plan for the project.
The Walk-Thru session is held to start a project or to fix a project that’s alive but not well so that your Teamers can redefine and replan the project and move forward to completion.
“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”
- Warren Buffett
The Post-Mortem Meeting
“By three methods we may learn wisdom; first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”
The Post-Mortem session is done after the project (or phase of a project) is completed, to determine what went right and what went wrong to improve quality. If you have a problem project do this meeting! Or, if you have an exceptional project do this meeting to find out what made it exceptional. Don’t spend all of your time looking for problems, also look for successes to repeat efforts and approaches on future projects.
Meeting rules are:
- Everybody who worked on the project attends with their prepared written agenda of items, things that went poorly and things that went well along with his or her reason(s) why.
- The facilitator gets all of these agendas together before the meeting and shares them with everybody so that they can review and prepare for the meeting.
- Have a time keeper.
- Also have a scribe to collect and record all of the information developed during the Post- Mortem meeting. Use a recording device if needed.
- Topics for the agenda must at least include: what worked and why, what didn’t work and why, what went really well and why, any lessons learned and why and any changes needed in policies or process and why.
“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
- W. Edwards Deming
The Performance Review Meeting
“When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.”
- Dom Helder Camara
Set aside a special time for a meeting with your Teamer to review and compare the “drafts” of the ratings on the Performance Review Form that each of you have completed. Again, make sure to share copies of these “drafts” before the meeting so that both of you have time to review them and make comments and suggested changes. Make sure that your Teamers understand that “nothing is cast in concrete” with these draft reviews. Compare both sets of the ratings and then agree on the final ratings.
I think that you will be surprised at how often your performance ratings will agree. Focus on and discuss the differences in your “draft” ratings. Ask your Teamer for their ideas and reasoning for ratings that don’t agree. Ask for examples of performance that would justify a rating higher than the one(s) you supplied on your “draft” review form. If you flat-out disagree on a rating, I almost always went with their rating and made sure that they understood that we would closely monitor performance in that specific review category as a regular agenda item during One-on-One sessions.
Also, set aside time during this meeting to talk with your Teamer and address these specific questions:
- What did the Teamer feel that they did particularly well during the period?
- What did the Teamer do that they really liked doing? Perhaps it was project management or a special presentation or a chance to work directly with customers. Spend time with each of your Teamers to find out what things they really liked doing.
- Also work with your Teamers to find out what they want to do more of and what they want to do less of during the upcoming period. You may not be able to completely meet their needs, but it is well worth the time to investigate their wants and to try to do what you can to satisfy them.
Now is also the time to address any areas for improvement or training needs for your Teamer to cover at least these items:
- Include any specific areas for performance improvement; that is any specific Job Success Talent that needs to be addressed and how to address it.
- Include any upcoming projects that the Teamer will be working on to set goals.
- Also include any special projects that you will need their help with.
- Include specific training opportunities that will address areas for improvement. Encourage your Teamers to actively look for future training opportunities.
Make sure that your Teamer participates in setting all of these goals for their next performance review. It’s critical to get their buy-in on their goals and opportunities.
“If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling in the world.”
- Joseph Addison