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Jul 24, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

What’s a good staff meeting?

This is such an important topic that any effective manager needs to really get it right.

Here are some questions I get: What should I be doing with my staff as a team? How should I organize my staff meetings? What are the right topics to discuss? What is the right agenda for a staff meeting?

Stop having status meetings

Status meetings are 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.

Then what ensues is basically a series of one-on-one meetings between the manager and each team member while everyone else is doing email.

There are some key problems that status/review meetings cause:

  • Data review prevents you from learning what people really think.
  • You fail to discuss the things that would give you real insights about risks and opportunities.
  • You keep people from doing real work (discussing status isn’t work) so you waste a lot of time.
  • You don’t build the capabilities of your team as a team.

5 things to do instead of status meetings

Here are some ideas for what to do instead.

1. Clarify your desired outcome

What is your team trying to do?

  • Is it to deliver products on time? Serve customers better?
  • Be more competitive? Create a strategic advantage?
  • Create new products? Reach new markets?
  • Improve quality, process, delivery?
  • Improve the sales close rate? Sell higher?

2. Find the control points

Ask yourself: What are the key outcomes, control points, and risk triggers which will let us know that we are on track or off track to get that outcome?

Talking about control points will give your whole team a better insight and a stronger ability to create meaningful progress on your desired outcome.

Is your control point customer referrals? Manufacturing cost reduction? The number of successful pilots? Product release predictability?

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 team will still create and use their detailed project plans to do and manage their work, but what gets reported upwards will be a new, report that contains insights about the key control points for each project and how you are performing on those.

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

These insights become the things you talk about in the meeting.

4. Have a different and better meeting

This list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some good 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 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/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

  • 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 was not wasted time. This socializing makes the rest of the meeting very much more productive.
  • Ask people ahead of time to recommend topics that they feel are important for the whole team to discuss.
  • 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.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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