Move Your Team to the Objective
Teams can accomplish their goals behind effective leadership (Leading an Effective Meeting, Part 2)
UNNECESSARY AND BADLY-LED meetings are responsible for wasting enormous amounts of time that dedicated professionals could be devoting to important things. As Peter Drucker put it:
“For one either meets or one works. One cannot do both at the same time. . . . An organization in which everybody meets all the time is an organization in which no one gets anything done.”
In my last article, I asserted that every meeting should be justified: Asking the question, “Should this meeting happen at all?” If not, don’t have it. If the answer is yes, then you should ask as well: “Is it necessary for these people to attend?” If not, free them to go back to work.
Given that a team must meet (I have in mind a working or problem-solving team as opposed to a purely informational meeting), I am sharing in these articles Seven Principles for Leading an Effective Meeting. I shared the first three in Part 1. Here’s a recap:
1. Prepare: Assume the Leadership Position
2. Opening the Meeting: Set the Stage
3. Focus: Frame the Objectives
As the leader or chairperson, you are responsible for the effectiveness of the meeting. That means being prepared with a strategy, rather than winging it on the spot. Remember: An agenda is not a strategy. An agenda is merely your things-to-do list. Your strategy is how you will lead the team there.
Start on time and tell the team your plan for the meeting: What things you want to handle quickly, and which subjects you’d like to devote most of the time to. Provide that kind of focus, and the team will cooperate.
Now let’s move ahead with Points 4-7.
4. Respect People’s Time
I like a quote by Richard Cecil:
“If I have made an appointment with you, I owe you punctuality. I have no right to throw away your time, if I do my own.”
Bosses are often the worst offenders. After all, if the authority figure calls you to a meeting, you’re a captive audience as long as he or she allows it. That’s why a centuries-old saying goes, “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings.” A leader with authority can show respect to others by respecting their time.
There is no excuse for meetings not to begin and to end on time, if not early. It just requires a chairperson who intends to do so.
I have led thousands of meetings, workshops, and classes in my life. In the last 25 years I have an unbroken record of starting on time and finishing early, if only by a few minutes. If people want to stay and talk, fine.
As I shared in the first article, my practice is to grant “5 minutes of grace” at the beginning. That gives people a little breathing room to get a drink, get situated, and greet one another. But I start promptly at the 5-minute mark. And I have never believed in punishing those who come on time for the sake of those who come late! When you tell people your plan, are consistent, and lead with confidence, they will adjust and get with the program.
5. Control the Conversation
The chairperson is responsible for the efficiency (“doing things right”) and effectiveness (“doing the right things”) of the group and making sure the work is accomplished. Members of the group count on you to lead and control the meeting and will appreciate it when you do. Here are some tips:
Be a facilitator: Get the group talking
I can tell you from long experience that if you want lots of participation from a group of people, get them talking early. Nothing depresses the participation of a team of people more than the leader starting with a long monologue. People go into “passive listening” mode. Getting them to talk after that is like pulling teeth. Ask lots of questions, and lead by the Socratic method whenever possible.
Keep the discussion moving to meet the objectives of the meeting
You’re always making a judgment call as facilitator, asking, “How valuable is this discussion to the group and its mission?” When in your judgment it is no longer productive, you can tactfully redirect by making summary statements and asking questions.
Manage for balanced contributions
Do not allow one or two people to dominate the conversation. Encourage participation from quieter or more thoughtful individuals. And remember, everyone is not a fast mental processor of new information. Some need time to process before offering an opinion, so make some space for those people, too.
Head off the situation where a couple of people end up in an extended sidebar conversation that leaves everyone else out. Tactfully interrupt and redirect back to the subject at hand.
Watch the clock and mark time
It helps to make time statements: “Ok, we’re halfway through our time …” “We have fifteen minutes left, so let’s …” This calls people’s attention to the clock and gives them a sense of how much talking is appropriate. And it shows you are serious about respecting their time.
Summarize conclusions before moving on
This puts a “period” at the close of a topic, highlighting conclusions and decisions before changing the subject. Groups are encouraged by the perception of making progress, so they will appreciate this. It also keeps moving your strategy along.
6. Locate responsibility for action
In every company or organization I’ve ever seen, there are problems everyone knows about, that are frequently mentioned (usually, in passing), but are never improved or solved. Why is this?
Lack of focus is the first reason. Mentioning a problem in passing is not the same as specifically addressing it with the intention to make it better or solve it.
The second major reason is that no one is ever designated responsible for it. There is a common truism that you should take very seriously: “Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility”!
Groups are terrible at being accountable for things. Do you want a prime example? Look at Congress. It’s overall approval rating usually hovers around 14% Everybody gripes about how inefficient, ineffective, and often destructive Congress is. But who do you hold responsible? “Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility.”
Business meetings suffer from the same malady. After a long discussion, people settle for, “Yeah, that’s something we should do.” “We really should do that.” But who is “We”?
No decision for action is ever completed until it is assigned to someONE. My term for this person is the “Captain,” the person responsible to take the next action. Be clear that being the assigned Captain does not mean that he or she is responsible to do the action. The Captain is responsible to see that something is done. They can work with another person or team or delegate it. But the next time the working team meets, that’s the person the chairperson will look at and ask for an accounting of what they did.
Business leaders who apply this one principle could mark significant progress.
7. Conclude with clarity
If you’ve managed the group according to your strategy and have kept your eye on the clock, you should be able to conclude the meeting early. Even more important, your team can be effective in taking action, solving problems, and creating innovative ideas.
Acknowledge at the end what has been achieved, and what actions will be taken next, along with who is the Captain of each. Set a date for the next follow-up and reporting meeting. And be sure to thank people for their participation and time investment.
Conclusion: Is this common sense?
Sometimes, when I’m coaching an individual or leading a workshop, I feel almost silly teaching principles that seem like common sense. However, I’ve learned that common sense is not all that common. Plus, people need reminding just as often as they need to be instructed.
I hope this two-part series will prove helpful to you, whether as reminders or as new ideas. I can tell you that this approach works, and you can use it to make real progress, whatever your profession. Li