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11 tips for effective team meetings

Jul 29, 2020

Julia Rowan offers practical guidance to help leaders run productive and enjoyable team meetings.

Team meetings both reflect and create a team’s culture. In times of uncertainty, they provide an essential lifeline to staff as well as an opportunity for leaders to develop the future team that they need.

But before we dive into the detail, bear with me for a short and useful exercise: write down a few words that describe your team. Next, fast-forward 12 months: write down the words you would like to use to describe your team. What did you write? More strategic? More independent? More collegiate? More thorough? More proactive? Now reflect on this: how are you using your team meetings to build that strategic, independent, proactive (insert your own words) team that you want?

Leaders rarely view the team meeting as an opportunity to build the team they want. Team meetings are seen as a duty, not an opportunity.

Create a strong centre of gravity

Leadership is challenging, both in good times and bad, but the challenges are different. Right now, there is significant uncertainty: possible recession, business continuity challenges, staff safety and more. Organisations are trying to recruit, induct, delegate, manage and lead at a distance. Many team members are anxious.

All of this, to be slightly controversial, in an environment where commitment to one’s profession can be more important than commitment to one’s employer. And that commitment is neither right nor wrong – it merely reflects the reality that all professionals need to stay accredited. Otherwise, their employment prospects are gone. But it all feeds into the need for the leader to create a strong ‘centre of gravity’ within the team and to make the most of the opportunity (there’s that word again) that team meetings offer.

Let’s go back to our opening exercise. Let’s say that you want your team to be more proactive; you have two choices. You either tell them that you want them to be more proactive or, at your next team meeting, you ask each team member to give an example of their proactivity and how it worked out. The first option sits nicely under ‘good advice’, and like all good advice, it may or may not be heeded. The second option sends a powerful message: that members of this team are encouraged to be proactive.

The purpose of team meetings

My take on leadership is that it happens through a series of conversations, most of which are one-to-one – interview, induction, goal-setting, delegation, feedback, performance management, coaching etc. Each of these conversations has a specific purpose and opportunity. Team meetings are different and serve three main purposes:

  1. they allow for the exchange of information, ensuring that everyone is on the same page;
  2. they facilitate discussion, which leads to better quality decisions; and
  3. they are usually the only time and place where the team is together and can ‘do’ being a team. They are the equivalent of the family dinner – a time to stay connected, support each other and, yes, have the odd spat.
The team-building part builds the trust needed to ensure that the discussion and decision-making are high-quality; that all team members can speak up, air opinions and be heard. This, in turn, feeds into that all-important engagement and commitment to the team, which is particularly important when teams work off-site or virtually.

Plan and run outstanding meetings

Taking the time to plan and run outstanding meetings is tough on leaders who are already under pressure. They may unwittingly adopt a ‘tick-box’ approach to their meetings: regular meeting? Agenda circulated? All in attendance? All updates covered? Action list distributed?

Actually, if you are doing all of that, take a bow because many teams never meet (and hopefully the thoughts below will help you make your meetings even more useful and enjoyable). Or maybe you used to run meetings and then stopped. They took too long, nobody spoke up, or the same few people dominated. Now is a great time to reinvest in your team meetings.

The tips that follow may help stimulate some creative thoughts about how you plan and organise your team meetings. 

Julia Rowan is Founder of PerformanceMatters.ie. Following a career that spanned finance, marketing and public affairs, Julia now works with leaders and teams throughout Europe to build strong teams.