Your Meetings Probably Suck. I Can Help.

Let’s start with the unfiltered truth.

No one at your business likes going to meetings and that’s (probably) because your meetings suck. Your meetings rarely start or end on time, they’re boring, they are mostly filled with people not giving a shit or people talking over each other, and they often end with people feeling more confused and frustrated than inspired.

If that sounds like your team, don’t stress. my friend. You are not alone. Not by a longshot. I promise, we’re in this together.

Meetings are hard to begin with, but add on top of that the fact we’ve all been exposed to so many crappy meetings and it makes sense that our first response to having a meeting is a grimace or an eye roll. We think of meetings as those things we are forced to suffer through a few times per week.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, meetings are your single greatest opportunity as a leader to build your team’s skills, communication, and morale.

When designed and executed properly, meetings can be a highlight of your team’s week — fun, informative and rewarding. Imagine that! Meetings can also be a catalyst for creating massive change in your business. A well run meeting allows you to collect ideas from your team more easily, process client feedback faster, and ensure all your team members know what role they play in achieving your businesses’ key objectives.

I’m going to make having great meetings super simple. Let’s dive in.

Every single one of your meetings must have the 3 Ts.

Targeted, Timed, and Teamwork.

 

Targeted

You’ve heard the saying a goal without a plan is just a dream, right? Well, the same goes for your meetings. A meeting without a plan is just a slumber party. Every single part of your meeting must have a targeted purpose and that purpose must be decided in advance. Some great questions to ask yourself before each meeting are:

  • What exactly do I want to accomplish in this meeting?
  • What are our main goals?
  • How can those goals inform the structure of the meeting?
  • What conversations and activities can we engage in to ensure we accomplish those goals?
  • What key team members are needed to accomplish our goals?

If you cannot clearly answer most of those questions, don’t have a meeting. Seriously. If you are planning a meeting that doesn’t have a targeted objective, don’t do it. Reschedule the meeting until you can clarify your goals or just skip it until you have a real need to meet.

Now don’t misunderstand me. Not all meetings have a lofty purpose or super targeted focus. For example, I have weekly 1-on-1 meetings with my direct reports. The purpose of those meetings are simply to catch up on the work that has happened since we last met and to look for ways I can support them as their manager. It’s not complicated, but it’s still targeted. If we don’t have anything to catch up on we cancel the meeting or end early.

Your time and your team members’ time is extremely valuable. Don’t have a meeting for the sake of having a meeting. If there isn’t a clear, targeted purpose, don’t do it.

 

Timed

Timing is key to having a successful meeting. It must start and end on time without question. If your team cannot start and end meetings on time, then stop reading this blog and make that your primary focus for the next few weeks.

That’s a little harsh, but truthfully, it has to be a priority. No strolling in as the meeting is scheduled to start or always requiring everyone to stay an extra 5 minutes. At MFF we are far from perfect at this, but we keep pushing to get better with constant, gentle pressure.

I can tell you why timing is so important in one word. Respect.

Starting and ending meetings on times conveys to everyone on your team that their time is valuable. We show our respect to one another by being prepared at the start of the meeting and helping to ensure the meeting ends on time without feeling rushed or disorderly.

Every segment of a meeting should be timed. Every meeting at MFF has some timing to help guide our agenda. I’ve found that in the absence of a time-based agenda we can spend a whole hour discussing agenda item number one and never get to agenda items two through five.

If you have four items of equal importance to discuss in a one hour meeting, then give yourself 15 minutes per item. Then, do everything you can to stick to the plan. You can always continue a conversation at a later date or decide collectively to shift your agenda in the moment. Having a timed agenda doesn’t mean you are 100% stuck with it. But not having a timed agenda is almost always a recipe for confusion and wasted time.

Our weekly full team meetings are an example of a lightly timed meeting. Each activity has a time limit, but we are free to flexible within that structure.

Here’s a sample agenda:

2:30p: Full Team

  • Conversation Starter: One thing you admire about someone in the room
  • Write cards to Ninjas (aka Clients)
  • General Team Announcements (Only topics that must be discussed in person)

3:00p: Full Team

  • Coaching Workshop: Role Play conversations using “Crucial Conversations” methodology in pairs. Debrief with full group.

3:30p: Team Breakouts

  • Business Team: Role play new sales process
  • Fitness Team: In-service on cable exercises

4:30p: End

Our weekly manager meeting is an example of a highly structured meeting. It is timed down to mere 5 minute intervals — with each segment having a clearly targeted purpose.

Here’s a sample agenda:

0-5: Everyone shares “good news” for the week
5-10: Review our weekly scorecard of key performance indicators
10-15: Review progress on our quarterly projects
15-20: Review and update list of short-term issues
20-25: Review and update list of manager TO DO items
25-30: Conclude meeting, summarize action steps, and ask everyone to rate your meeting on a scale of 1-10 (10 being best) to see how successful it was.

You get the idea. Timing is super important. Only you and your team can decide how to best structure your meetings to get optimal results. But whatever you do please, please, please design your meetings with time in mind. Everyone will be so glad you did.

 

Teamwork

Teamwork is probably the most important element of a meeting. When I talk about teamwork in a meeting what I really mean is that the meeting should include opportunities for dialogue, participation, and collaboration. Meetings are not lectures.

If your meetings consist of your leaders standing in front of the room spouting off news and announcements that can be communicated over email — you’re doing it wrong. Sure, some sensitive or controversial announcements are best handled in person. Aside from that exception, meetings should rarely be centered around sharing information with a passive audience.

Meetings are most valuable when they are interactive and engaging. After all, you’ve spent the time and energy to gather a bunch of humans together in person or by phone — why not give them all a chance to share their ideas, passions and concerns? Sharing and open dialogue breeds trust. Trust spurs productivity, creativity and innovation. And all of those things drive profits.

Your job as a leader is to build teamwork into each meeting by creating a safe space where ideas can be shared and by making sure your team’s best thinking has an opportunity to shine through.

Here are a few quick ways to incorporate teamwork into your meetings:

  • Conversation starters that build “anabolic” energy. You want your meetings to start with everyone being in a positive mindset. To build this positive energy, ask everyone at the meeting to share something they’re proud of, a goal they’re working on, or their favorite meal of the week. Sharing positive thoughts and ideas fosters a deeper connection among your team and creates a friendly tone to begin your meeting.
  • Structured brainstorming sessions. Think of brainstorming like it’s more popular modern counterpart, crowdsourcing. It’s a great way to leverage your team’s collective knowledge and experience to overcome obstacles facing your business. Structure your brainstorm by presenting clear questions, problems, or opportunities for your team to respond to. Then, make sure everyone has a chance to speak by first splitting into small groups. Then ask those small groups to share their ideas in a full team discussion.
  • Real-to-life role play activities. I call this “real-to-life” role play because all too often role play exercises turn into silly, unrealistic games. Ideally you work with your team to role play actual situations that you encounter on a regular basis — talking to a coworker about being late for work, calling a client who owes you money, or asking a client to start wearing deodorant (that’s one of our favorites to role play). Pick real-to-life situations then hold your team accountable to deal with it in a realistic way. Talk about how each role play goes and give each other constructive feedback.

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The three Ts represent just a few tenants I use to create fabulous and functional meetings. But there is so much more to say on this topic. I encourage you to be creative. Experiment. Try new things. Toss out any preconceived ideas about how you think a meeting is supposed to be and work with your team to create constructive moments of gathering that benefit everyone involved as well as the business.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this is hard work. I think we do a pretty good job most of the time at MFF, but we still have crappy meetings once in awhile. This is one area where our mantra of getting 1% better every day really helps me to keep pushing for continuous improvement.

Think about it like this — your team is only as good as your last meeting. If your last meeting was inspiring than your team is likely feeling inspired. If your last meeting was productive than your team is likely feeling productive. If your last meeting was a boring, messy, train wreck than your team is probably feeling checked-out, confused and fractured.

Go make sure your next meeting keeps your team on the path to greatness! You and your business will be better for it.

 

Tell me about meetings at your business below. What are you doing that really works? What are your challenges? Sharing is caring, so don’t be shy.

4 thoughts on “Your Meetings Probably Suck. I Can Help.

  1. Great article Michael. I’m a meeting producer…and I am bringing the Three T’s to all my planning meetings! Those points will work for 5 or 500 people.
    Thanks.
    Chas

  2. Thanks Michael, we definitely need to improve our meetings. One question – you say that information should be conveyed out with the meeting and more interactive/feedback stuff during it. How do you guys make sure your staff read all your information emails – do you do read receipt or get them to reply “aye, aye captain”? This is a frustrating point for us right now.

    1. Hey Kevin! Great question.

      That is a super common challenge. I do two things to ensure email announcements are read:

      1. We send an email every week before our team meeting called the “Email of Important Shit.” Everyone is expected to read the email before the meeting. At the meeting we’ll ask if anyone has any questions about the Email of Important Shit — allowing them to ask clarifying questions if needed. If we find later that someone was not informed about a topic that was in the email, it is an easy management moment to reference the Email of Important Shit and restate the expectation that it should be read prior to each team meeting.

      2. I will send an email that includes “Reply Requested” in the subject line. I will share the information in the body of the email. Then, at the bottom of the email I’ll include a reply request. Something like — “Reply to me with your favorite horror movie to confirm you’ve read and understand this message.” It helps me know who is paying attention and reading all the way to the bottom of the email 🙂

      Hope that helps! Let me know what you try.

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