Bad meetings suck. Your meetings rock — because you’re using the 5 Structural Elements of great meetings. Next, kick it up a level and have excellent meetings, using these 5 Manager Behaviors:
- Start and End on Time
- Celebrate Behaviors
- Share the Impact
- Share Stories
- Mine for Contribution and Conflict
Here’s how to do each.
Start and End on Time
The fastest way to make people want to come to your meetings is to start them and end them on time. This respects the attendees’ time. We’re so used to meetings that start late and end later, that this alone will make you stand out as a leader. And the easiest way to do this, is just to do it.
I ran a training once for a 20-person client group on how to run better meetings, and I cut short the Q&A and actually ignored some of the optional items on the agenda, in order to end on time. For this client, a big complaint was that meetings always started late and ran late — so I knew this was a big deal. The meeting was scheduled to end at 11 AM, so at 10:59 I said “we’ve covered the major items, and if the minor ones that we had to leave out are interesting to you, then I’m happy to come back. Thanks, and please pass in your evaluations. We are adjourned.” And then I stood up and began packing my things, with my back to the room.
A week later I overhead one of the staff referring to me, say with a tone of wonder: “When he says the meeting will end on time, he means it.”
That’s a good reputation to have.
We love victories, however we need to feed the behaviors that lead to victories. Yes, announce that we made the big sale. However, take time to celebrate the behaviors that make sales possible — “The sales team made more outbound calls last month than at any time in the prior 3 years.” Or, “We pro-actively called every single client who was going to get a late shipment, so they were not surprised.”
The purpose is to keep yourself and your people focused on the things they can control — their behavior — not the things outside their control — like orders.
Share the Impact
Too often people share results or actions without stating the impact. As a manager or leader, you can double the effect of a statement about behavior — “We met our deadline for the Jones deck on Friday” — by adding or asking for the impact. Impact refers to outcomes that change someone’s world. So ask, “What’s the impact of meeting that particular deadline?” When the rest of the team hears an answer like “It means we’re at 100% for the quarter,” or “The Joneses are a reference client with a huge number of connections we hope to sell to — and this will help,” or “The Jones account was lost a year ago, and this is the first chance we’ve had to win them back, so hitting this deadline keeps us in the running to maybe win back the whole account,” — those answers make the work more meaningful.
You should be looking for impact statements in your one-on-one conversations also, of course. They are even more powerful in the group setting of a meeting.
Combining “Celebrate Behaviors” with “Share the Impact” is particularly powerful.
Humans remember stories better than almost any other verbal communication. So do a little prep work to find out the story that illustrates each major point being made. Then either ask for the story, or offer it yourself.
Storytelling works. Doctors are finding that sharing stories about their own patients is one of the best ways to get new doctors to remember and use certain safety rules.
Be careful not to run long. Stories can be time consuming (crowding out agenda items or running the meeting late) or seem pointless (irritating the attendees). Good story tellers have spent time in groups like Toastmasters, learning how to speak within a time limit, be clear, and stay on topic.
Mine for Contribution and Conflict
You invited each person for a reason. If any of them is silent, then they are not contributing. When I run a meeting, I often sketch a map of the room with each person’s first name, arranged in the order they are sitting around the room. As each one talks, I make a mark next to their name, and maybe write a few words to capture their comment. That helps me see who hasn’t spoken up, so I can call on them.
Alfred P. Sloan is reported to have said at a meeting of one of his top committees: “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.” Everyone around the table nodded assent. “Then,” continued Mr. Sloan, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”
Sloan knew that constructive disagreement about the work creates better work.
If your people have “terminal politeness” and cannot or will not disagree about the work, the most likely cause is fear. As Henry Evans put it, in order to be good, a meeting must include some drama or conflict. The lack of such drama and conflict is a warning sign that you haven’t done enough to help your team feel safe enough to disagree in public about the work. If that’s the case, start building safety and trust on the team.