By Anik Desjardins, CHRP, ACC, certified coach
Do you sometimes feel that your team meetings are less productive than you would like? That they generate little interaction, little creativity, few concrete actions or decisions, especially when some of the team members work remotely? Do you sometimes feel like there are formalities, courtesies and unspoken words? Do you feel like people are not involved and you don't get the most out of your time together? Let me suggest simple and effective ways to make your team meetings highly interactive and productive.
I often receive these comments from managers, especially over the past year, when meetings were mostly held remotely. Informality is less and less present, and we feel the need to rethink the way we hold our team meetings to make them more dynamic. Whether in person, remotely or in hybrid mode, how can you ensure that your team meetings bring out the collective intelligence?
I will share some simple tips inspired by my practice in facilitation and group coaching, which can be useful to you as a manager, to energize your meetings. They can be applied in person or by videoconference, in small or large teams.
How do you start your meetings? What tone do you set for the conversation with your first interaction? How do you immediately engage your participants, so that they become part of the conversation? The check-in is a welcoming activity that allows, among other things, to give everyone a chance to speak, to put aside worries in order to be fully present and to create confidence to express oneself. It can also, depending on its orientation, gauge the state of mind of the team and allow to land fully present by leaving concerns aside. A check-in activity can be informal, with a simple question such as "How are you doing?" or "What word describes the mood you are in?” Your check-in can also be related to the theme of your meeting such as "What would you like us to accomplish during our meeting today?" or allow an opportunity for recognition "What is your celebration of the week?". Experiment with "check-ins" that match your intent, be creative and determine your questions or activities based on the time you want to spend on them. You will notice the positive impact very quickly.
That sounds pretty basic, I know! But I'm still surprised to see managers who don't have an agenda, or who have been operating with the same agenda for years without challenging it or changing it. Could your agenda be updated to reflect the team's needs? If you have not done so recently, I invite you to ask yourself the following questions: How does my agenda contribute to the team's performance needs? What are our meeting objectives? What questions do we want to answer? How does the agenda allow for an optimal balance between operational and strategic conversations? In fact, why not address these questions with your team? People know what they need, so making room to listen to them when rethinking your meeting agenda is a great avenue to explore.
Just like the "check-ins", setting team norms on how we want to behave in meetings is a valuable tool for building trust and effectiveness. Setting a norm such as "the content of our discussions in meetings remains confidential" or "we are allowed to be imperfect" can help foster a safe climate of exchange. Setting a norm such as "all points of view have a place" or "differing opinions are welcome" can foster risk-taking and inclusion. Norms about the use of electronics and break times can encourage full attendance. Again, the exercise of setting team norms is most valuable when done with the team. By proposing and agreeing to norms together, it will be easier to adhere to them and to bring each other back into line when necessary.
Many meetings are about sharing information. It's useful, we need to share. That said, to enrich the conversation, to look at problems from different angles and find innovative solutions, which we need to perform as a team, it is to our advantage to initiate and encourage rich, true, challenging exchanges. I heard a company president say that in team meetings, he consciously tried to always speak last on the subjects discussed so as not to influence the conversation. Speaking last and asking questions about important issues rather than giving directions and answers necessarily promotes communication by putting you in a position of listening and interacting.
Most of the time, managers find themselves playing the role of meeting facilitator while providing a sense of direction, challenging the team, observing, as well as managing the time and focus of the meeting. In doing so, the manager-facilitator wears many hats and it is more difficult to develop a global and strategic perspective on the course of the conversations. Sharing the animation role with others allows the manager to delegate the facilitator's hat and to become a full participant. This practice allows the manager to step back and gain perspective on the issues that occur during the meeting. For the team, it helps develop the participants' facilitation skills and encourages everyone to get involved, creating commitment.
You want to go further? You can delegate many roles, not just facilitation. Why not appoint a time and focus keeper? A challenger? An observer? The ideal is to alternate roles from one meeting to the next, allowing people to practice roles that are less natural for them and encouraging everyone’s active participation.
As the year comes to an end, it's the perfect time to plan a change in the way you conduct your meetings, starting next January. How could this strengthen your team dynamics and efficiency? These practices can be implemented gradually, you can test them and evaluate their impact. It will require you to create a climate of openness and experimentation that will certainly set the tone for team members to dare to do things differently.
This Fall, I wish you, among other things, good productive meetings!
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