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Today is the age of the knowledge worker. The nature of business is more complex than ever. The workforce is also highly diverse. People need to get together. They need to work as teams and in larger groups. They need to communicate and collaborate to get work done.
This together-working is not restricted to immediate in-office teams. It extends to cross-functional, cross-organizational, and cross-industry meetings in various formats. We all have seen the pandemic-led remote working. It exposed us to hordes of video meetings! So much so, that digital fatigue became a reality!
The fact remains that today, teams are distributed across geographies, time zones, cultures, and organizations. It means more diversity of thought and action. As a people manager, you are constantly striving to align collective group thinking.
This is where the importance of team meetings comes into the picture:
- To define and recognize a specific group, for example, a team, a business unit, etc.
- To exchange information through open communication.
- To express, share, brainstorm, debate, discuss and congregate diverse thoughts and opinions.
- To build a sense of collective purpose and goals. This enables everyone to understand how he or she contributes to the team.
- To draw creatively from the concept of ‘the social mind’. Ethologists believe that a group of people meeting together can often produce better ideas, plans, and decisions than can a single individual, or several individuals, each working alone.
- On a larger note, a well-conducted meeting can ultimately help align a group with the team objectives. This will ultimately help align the workforce with the organizational objectives.
Types of meetings
To facilitate meetings effectively, we must first understand how meetings pan out. Meetings are of several types. This depends on the nature of the group and its purpose.
- A daily meeting is usually to check in on the day-to-day functioning of a team project or business-as-usual work updates.
- A weekly or monthly meeting may be a project-centric meeting. For example, people across functions come together for a particular cross-functional work agenda.
- A special meeting may be a one-time or sporadic meeting. For example, gatherings for brainstorming to launch or propose a new project. Or a town hall where leaders communicate business updates and strategic agendas to their employees.
Whatever the type of meeting, as an HR or people manager you must focus on making the most of this collective time.
Why plan for effective team meetings?
Professionals popularly perceive meetings as the biggest ‘time-wasters’ ever! Employees are already pressed for time. So spending 30 minutes or 60 minutes on a ‘boring meeting’ eats into an already packed employees' workday.
Wouldn’t you rather get your upcoming task done and dusted than listen to a colleague drone on in a team meeting?
This is because, sometimes, meetings are just held for historical purposes, not for practical purposes. For example, even though you may be able to solve an issue single-handedly, protocol demands gathering ten people and getting them to wrack their brains!
Of course, team meetings are not always time-wasters! It is the age of cross-functional and collaborative working. So, for certain agendas, you may need to involve others and get them to participate. in the decision-making process.
You can leverage meetings as a powerful way to get people together. They can work towards a common outcome. With proper planning and preparation, you can set an overarching sense of contribution and purpose in seemingly disparate individuals.
Teams are all about working towards the ‘greater good’, rising above individual priorities and aspirations, to achieve a common goal. Teams are thus, the fulcrums on which larger organizations are built and thrive!
How to prepare for team meetings?
Below are the bare basics of team meeting preparation:
1. Schedule it properly: “The average delay per meeting is 10 minutes and 40 seconds.” Make sure everyone is available conveniently and comfortably for the meeting. Check into time zones, work schedules, etc. Use a calendar tool. This is to ensure people happily and productively join in the meeting. Ensure they are not stressed due to other commitments.
This will ensure meetings start on time and end on time. This will not waste anyone’s precious time.
2. Define an agenda and schedule: Define the purpose of the meeting. For example, do you wish to share information, such as a company update? Are you seeking consensus from team members on a decision? Are you conveying a decision on a project? Are you seeking status updates on an ongoing project?
Make sure you outline and share the meeting agenda well before the meeting. This will enable everyone to come prepared.
3. Prepare beforehand: After sharing the agenda, create a structure to communicate the key thoughts and plan for the meeting. For example, when seeking inputs from team members, share a preparation document beforehand.
They can refer to this and come prepared with their thoughts. Define meeting roles such as leader, speaker, recorded, timekeeper, etc. Everyone will then have clarity of thought and purpose.
4. Work towards solutions: Different meetings can have different purposes. A business meeting may focus on one-way communication of an important business update. An urgent meeting may intend to take important course-correction decisions on a deliverable.
Amidst all debate and discussion, it is humanly natural to tend towards ‘discussion paralysis’. Humans are social beings. They often enjoy discussing and debating for the love of it, without a set outcome in mind. To be truly productive, make sure you steer the conversation towards results and outcomes. As a generic rule, 80% of your weekly meetings should be spent solving problems.
5. Redirect conversations when needed: Stick to the agenda. Avoid getting swayed away. Allocate time slots for each agenda. Keep track of time. You may find a tendency to get into a 1-0-1 conversation with particular employees. Avoid this. Take the discussion offline. One eye on the time and conversation is a must to do justice to the meeting forum.
6. Give team members the onus: Everyone may not be comfortable speaking publicly. Some may end up sharing more than the quiet folks! Give everyone an equal chance to speak up. Also, do not spring surprises when asking team members to share and express.
The pre-read or pre-agenda will take care of this. Fostering a friendly environment and two-way communication will help team members take the onus.
7. Document progress: ‘Minutes of the meeting’ (MoM) is an age-old meeting tradition, and rightly so! Document what was discussed and what outcome is expected before the next meeting. Jotting down concrete aspects will surely help you stay on track.
8. Motivate and enthuse: A meeting is not just meant for one-way communication. It is a great platform to recognize and motivate. Trigger interesting conversations. Get to know your team members better.
Drive the team spirit by asking deep-diving questions. They can be such as “What was our biggest achievement as a team?”, and “What do you like about our team?”.
Get your team to rise above the sense of self. Make them function as a whole! For example, schedule meetings for creative brainstormings, such as “What can we do better?”, etc. Pump up the adrenalin. Get your people to put on the thinking cap. This will make them feel more involved and valued. It has the potential to create better belongingness and stick with the team and organization.
9. Close the loop: A meeting should result in definitive action. Use the MoMs. Make concrete action plans. This is to ensure people act on their outcomes and deliver. Close the loop continuously from one meeting to the next.
The above steps apply to both online and offline meetings. However, you may have many virtual meetings these days, so do pay special attention to how to make online meetings productive.
Tips to make remote meetings truly productive
As the business went virtual, you would have found yourself grappling with online woes, as you huddled together as a team on a video call. Staring for hours at team-member emoticons has now become a norm. You may have a feeling of missing out on interactions with living humans. You may have seen team members complaining of digital fatigue or burnout. Remote working and online presence have taken a toll on people’s minds.
To avoid burnout and make remote meetings effective:
1. Define when to keep the video on and off: For example, an All Hands Meet Townhall may not require all employees to be on video. A team-update meeting is best done with a video. This will ensure active and enthusiastic participation. Always-on screen time can create eye fatigue and social fatigue. So striking the right balance is important for well-being.
2. Balance offline with online: Certain meeting agendas are more suited to the in-person format. For example, receiving a reward in front of an actual crowd may prove a big motivator! Daily update calls can be done online. Have a healthy mix of online meetings and offline meetings. This will help prevent digital burnout.
3. Use the right online tools: As an organization, invest in the right tools to foster collaboration and connect. Select from a blend of formats, online and offline, multi-platform, etc. This will enable drive maximum adoption. For example, calendars, whiteboards, AI chatbots, video conferencing software, document sharing, goal management tools, note-taking tools, etc.
Management spends up to 50% of their work time on meetings.
It is essential to streamline meetings. This is because time and outcome are directly related to people-productivity. Employee productivity circles up to team productivity, and therein organizational efficiency. HR must invest in the right tools and technologies to streamline meeting management.
On the softer front, HR must design policies and processes to drive the right behaviors. These will make meetings truly work. Meetings are a joint effort.
HR must empower all stakeholders i.e. the employees, people manager, and leaders to be more productive at meetings. This may even extend to external parties like vendors, agencies, associations, etc.
Most importantly, productive behaviors are driven top-down i.e. by top leadership. Leaders must learn how to make meetings a business enabler, and not a business derailer. Ensure that efficient and productive meetings become entrenched at the top echelons. This will surely trickle down as an organizational way of life all across.