When I first became a manager, the thing I dreaded the most was running the weekly team meeting.
Cue copious eye rolling, blank stares and sideways smirks, constant phone checking and deathly silence. All the while, I perched anxiously at the head of the table. Not yet comfortable in my new manager skin – I desperately tried to jolly everyone along with awkward, Pollyanna-like enthusiasm and boring soliloquies about the latest company strategy and why we should “all just really get behind the latest BPI* initiative from Head Office!”
The blindingly obvious disengagement and subsequent corridor discussions of “what a waste of time those meetings are” made me want to crawl into a dark hole and cry into my powder blue suit.
In one particularly cringe-worthy meeting, I spontaneously decided to run a brainstorming meeting without context, instructions or time for my team to prepare. Let’s just say it was one of the most silent, shortest and uncreative brainstorming sessions that has ever occurred in the history of office meetings.
Why couldn’t everyone just PARTICIPATE?!
If only I knew then what I know now, I could have saved myself (and my team) a world of pain.
This week’s post from The Leader’s Digest lets you learn from my cringe-worthy performance and get a reputation for running the Best. Darn. Meetings. In. The. Company.
Here are 8 ways you can get everyone participating as enthusiastically as a group of kids at a piñata party.
1. If you want to discuss something, send out the topic with some context and a couple of thought-provoking questions PRIOR to the meeting – ask people to come prepared to share their thoughts and ideas on said topic. The worst thing you can do to an introvert is ask them to talk on their feet without giving them time to think it through and prepare their answers. It also forces those who ‘think out loud’ to put some rigour into their ruminating.
For example, if you had short-term growth goals in the face of budget cuts, you might ask, “How might we reach our target revenue this quarter, given our budgets have been slashed by 50%? Bring at least 3 ideas – no idea is a bad one and points for the most crazy idea.” It also shows you’re prepared – which you jolly well should be if you want anyone else to be.
2. Try a structured round – that’s a fancy facilitation term for everyone taking a turn at sharing their perspective on a topic. The trick is to ensure that while one person speaks, the rest of the team listen (see here for tips on how to get better at that crucial organisational skill). Don’t let the meeting dissolve into general discussion. There’s a place for general unstructured dialogue, but it usually ends up with several people dominating the air time and not much learning happening. This article has some tips on a brainstorming version of structured rounds called “round robining”.
3. Rotate the chairing of the meeting. Who says just because you are the boss, you should run the show? Revolving the running of the meeting within the group, especially teamed up with some coaching from you on how they went, encourages buy-in and increases group responsibility for the success of the team meeting. One team I know even spend a couple of minutes at the end of each meeting letting the person who ran the meeting know one thing they did well and one thing they could do to improve their meeting facilitation skills. Needless to say, their meetings are ON FIRE and are the antithesis of my embarrassing little tale.
4. If it’s a bigger group, get them to break into pairs or smaller groups to discuss topics for 5-10 minutes, then report back 2-3 insights to the wider group. It’s just far too intimidating for most people to speak up and contribute in a large group.
5. Go last with your comment or opinion if you are the boss. Hierarchical power has more influence than you think. Piping up first with your opinion encourages groupthink and can squash diversity of thought.
6. Ask more questions than you talk. Especially if they are a quieter bunch. And then…
7. Be ok with the silence. Don’t rush to fill it. Wait until you can’t stand it. Then wait some more.
8. Name what you are noticing
If everyone seems disengaged, name that resistance and ask people to be honest. A simple, “I’m wondering how everyone is finding this meeting? My sense is that there is some disengagement…?” Your ego might not like what they say, but at least you can all name the elephant in the room (yes – we are sick of hearing your voice drone on and we would rather spend the time solving problems than listening to what everyone has on in their department this week).
If I could transport myself back to my former bright-eyed, powder blue suited manager self, I’d sit her down and share this post with her. But as time travel ain’t yet a thing, I’ll just take this opportunity to apologise to all my former colleagues, give my former self a metaphorical hug, and tell her it all works out in the end. That actually, one day you’ll write a blog post on this topic. Yes, really.
*business process improvement