Don't Meet Like That. Meet Like This

Stop the status review meetings already! Here's how to turn mind-numbing meetings into something productive and valuable.

If you take the time to collect your team in a room together, the last thing you should do is review status.

Status-review meetings

I think this is an organizational habit that takes root when new managers have a staff meeting because they think they should, and then they are not sure what to talk about, so they ask each person to give an update about their work.

What ensues is basically a series of one-on-one meetings between the manger and each team member while everyone is watching.

Phase-Review Meetings

Then this type of behavior moves into bigger forums, which turn into things like phase-review meetings, and quarterly business reviews.

These meetings have lots more people from multiple teams in a room for hours or days on end to review the status of multiple projects at a level of detail that makes you want to kill yourself.

To picture this meeting imagine, say 30 people, sitting in a room not paying attention to one person, who is standing in the front of the room talking to slides that are densely populated with detail.

Almost everyone is doing email.

Then for each presenter there is someone in the audience who tries to sound like they are interested and accountable, who asks a couple of pointed questions under the guise of uncovering a deep insight or exposing a risk. These meetings are a waste of time.

Stop having status meetings.

There are three key problems that status-review meetings cause.

  1. You don’t gain necessary insights about risks and opportunities.
  2. You keep people from doing real work and waste a lot of time.
  3. You fail to discuss the things that would give you insights about risks and opportunities, because you spend all your time and energy reviewing project detail.

What to do instead of status meetings . . .

1. Consider your desired outcome.

What is your team trying to do?

  • Is it to deliver products on time?
  • Be more competitive?
  • Create new products?
  • Improve quality?
  • Improve the sales close rate?

2. Find the Control Points.

Then ask yourself: What are the key outcomes, control points, and risk triggers that will let us know that we are on track or off track to get that outcome?(This, by the way, is something you should be talking about in your staff meetings instead of status).

3. Create a useful tracking framework and process.

Once you know what the key outcomes or control points are, then you can create a process and framework for each project team to report ahead of time on those key measures.

Each product team will still create and use its detailed project plans to do and manage work, but what gets reported upwards will be a new, communication-oriented report.

The communication report will contain insights about the key control points for each project and how you are performing on those.

Note: Moving the same amount of detail upward that you use to do your work is not leadership, and it wastes too much overall organizational time.

4. Have a different and better meeting.

Then when you have the staff meeting or review meeting, reading the new reports about the control points is pre-work. It gives you a chance to flag the issues, risks, and opportunities. Those become the things you talk about in the meeting.

In one company I worked for, I got the quarterly business review process down from five full days to two days per quarter by doing this. And the quality of the insights and output was better. Everyone was happier.

What you should do with staff meeting time.

Here are 11 ideas of the kinds of things you should do with staff meeting time.
This list is by no means exhaustive. These are just some ideas to get you thinking about higher value things you can do with your team than to merely review status.

  1. What are the key outcomes we are on the hook for? How will we know if we are achieving them?
  2. What are the risks we face? What should we do about them?
  3. What is the data we wish we knew about our business? Is it knowable? How will we find it? If it is not knowable, what scenarios should we plan for?
  4. What stupid stuff are we doing? I would have this as a staff topic at least twice a year. Grit always creeps into the gears, and old habits lose their usefulness. Question them.
  5. What has changed in our market, business, or customers’ markets and businesses? What does that mean for our plans?
  6. What process or infrastructure improvement would have the biggest impact on our ability to deliver?
  7. What has become harder and easier in our work and business? What should we consider changing?
  8. What should we all be learning about this year in addition to our core work? What do we want to be better at or smarter about next year?
  9. Who in our organization has done something remarkable that we should recognize?
  10. Who are the stars in our organization that we should be investing in developing?
  11. Who and what groups should our team be communicating, networking, or improving our brand with? How should we do it?

5. Use your team as a team

  1. When you begin the meeting, socialize, laugh, talk. People are more productive when you treat them like people. I would spend the first 10 minutes of every staff meeting socializing, and having people tell jokes and stories. It is not wasted time. This socializing make the rest of the meeting so much more productive.
  2. Ask people ahead of time to recommend topics that they feel are important for the whole team to discuss.
  3. Have someone on your team plan the agendas ahead of time. Or rotate this responsibility among team members. Some people are great at this, and will naturally gravitate to it.

Value team time

Time with your team is really valuable. Just think about the hourly cost of having all those people in the meeting. Find ways to make it more valuable.

Related Story: 11 Simple Tips For Having Great Meetings From Some Of The World's Most Productive People

[Image: Flickr user Stew Dean]

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