Saturday, August 28, 2010

Reinvent But Don’t Eliminate Your Staff Meetings

By Ernst Gemassmer

Most of us view weekly staff meetings today with a degree of trepidation and frustration. Without clear expectations, two-way communication, and effective execution, they are too often a waste of time for all participants. Many have suggested that it is time re-engineer this process, or eliminate the meetings entirely.

In an old survey on staff meeting obstacles conducted by GroupSystems, I found the following not-so-surprising statistics for the average 50 minute staff meeting:

  • Much time wasted on inefficient process – over 30% of the total time
  • No meeting minutes or decisions recorded – 59% of the cases
  • Nothing usable gained from meeting – 68% of respondents

These kind of statistics are often used to suggest that staff meetings be eliminated, but I don’t agree. I would assert that these meetings are necessary to run a company of any size, and should not be considered a necessary evil. The alternative is pure chaos, or purely autocratic leadership.

The opposite of chaos is some type of democratic leadership, which I would argue requires regular meetings of all teams at every level, on a regular basis. In my experience, these can be very productive for all concerned if the following basic principles are followed:

  1. Communicate the time, purpose and process. The CEO or team leader who sanctions the meeting must set expectations clearly and often. People need to know what they are expected of provide and communicate, what they will hear, and when to be there.

  2. Schedule in advance, and stick to the schedule. Schedule meetings at least one to two weeks in advance, include start time, stop time, and topics. Start on time, even if everyone is not present. Demonstrate respect for the people who show up on time by beginning promptly. Individuals that come late can 'catch-up' later.

  3. Don’t delegate and don’t derail your own meeting. Except in an emergency, you should show up on time, conduct your own meetings personally, or cancel the meeting. There is nothing so frustrating or ineffective as a meeting run by a surrogate, used for personal tirades, or dragged off track by a vocal member.

  4. Everyone has a voice, with a moderator for action items. I recommend a fixed agenda segment where each attendee distributes and discusses a one page written report. The report is to follow a specific format including progress, problems, and plans. Action items are logged by the leader or scribe.

  5. If decisions are required, close the loop on each one. A group decision does not require a total group consensus, but it does require a process that is agreed, understood, and followed by all. How many meetings have you left where no one knows what was decided, or worse yet, everyone has his own view of the outcome?

  6. Moderate the discussion and the filter agenda items. Staff meetings are definitely not the place to discuss individual performance (handing out praise is fine), or spending time on specific projects that relate only to a few individuals. It is the place to communicate goals for the following period, and acknowledge accomplishments for the past period.

It may well take you several weeks to reinvent your staff meetings along the lines recommended above. However, you will quickly note that the team will cooperate more than before, and will more likely surface critical issues, determine alternatives, and avoid surprises.

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Today’s article is presented by one of the founders of our Startup Professionals team, Ernst H. Gemassmer. He resides on the West Coast, and has long helped entrepreneurs there, as well as providing turn-around assistance as interim CEO, and International coaching. You can contact him directly at ernst@startupprofessionals.com .


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3 comments:

  1. Hi Marty,
    Great post. I would also add that unless the purpose of the meeting is to determine and assign action steps it is better not to hold the meeting and rather communicate via email.
    Thanks for the post!
    Brian

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  2. Brian,

    In my experience as a participant and leader of numerous staff meetings, there were always action points coming from these meetings. In addition, it is very helpful to get 'face time' with colleagues and senior managers. Absence from staff meetings should be based on travel or urgent personal reasons. In any case, the person missing the meeting should be urged to call in.

    Regards, Ernst

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  3. Staff meetings are critical, especially for entrepreneurial start-ups where everything moves at warp speed. Without proper communication, the whole process can get messy. Unfortunately there’s a certain group of entrepreneurs who are meeting phobic, and feel that having regularly scheduled meetings like this makes them too corporate.(see Corporate Hatred for Richard Branson – Why Entrepreneurs Fear Corporate America: http://bit.ly/b4IRTa ) Your tips are dead on, but now we just have to get the boss to attend the meeting!

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