Staff meetings can be incredibly productive. Or unproductive. More often the latter. If your staff meetings are terrible, it’s your fault because you’re not structuring them well. With a few small changes, you can make those meetings valuable (and shorter).
One of the most surreal business experiences I’ve ever had relates to a staff meeting. I had joined a new team and my boss’ assistant sent me all the calendar invites for the division’s recurring meetings. One invite in particular grabbed my attention. When I saw it, I immediately called her.
“Hey, I think you made a mistake on the staff meeting invite you sent me. You set it for 8AM to 10PM. I think you meant 10AM.”
“No. The invite is correct.”
“Um, what? A FOURTEEN HOUR staff meeting?!? Every month?!?”
“Yes. You guys start at 8AM and run until about 5. Then everyone goes home and changes and meets for dinner at 6 and you guys meet until 10.”
“Alright – setting aside the 8-5 part, it’s just a dinner afterward, right?”
“No, you guys work during the meal.”
My head exploded. I had no idea how this was possible. When I went to my first meeting, I understood. We went around the table and every person briefed a status update on EVERY PROJECT THEY WERE WORKING ON. Folks with dashboards walked through EVERY METRIC THEY MONITORED (even the ones that were “green” and were fully within variance expectations). For items requiring a decision, people walked through THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE PROJECT DATING BACK TO THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE.
I was the last person to brief before we were supposed to head out to get ready for dinner. I had an hour allocated to my stuff.
“So what do you have going on Mike?”
“Everything is green except Project Flurgenburger. That one is one week behind on implementation. We’re adding a few consultant hours to get us back on track and we should be green again within two weeks. I don’t have any current decisions that require input from the group so I’m good to go. That’s all I’ve got.”
Everyone looked at me like I was from Mars.
“Aren’t you going to walk us through all the other projects you’re working on and touch on all the dashboard metrics?”
“I already did. Everything is green. You folks know all the projects my team’s working on and all the metrics we measure, right?”
Everyone nodded in the affirmative.
“Okay. Then I’m done. I’m not going to burn everyone’s time going over things that are on track. I’d rather give everyone back some time to work on all the things on their plates.”
Dinner was awkwardly quiet. Folks knew the boss wasn’t pleased with my shenanigans but they also realized they had been wasting huge chunks of their lives updating each other on stuff that could have been covered with an “everything is green” summary.
The next month, everyone rebelled. All the updates were focused on variances and decisions. We were done by noon. When there were requests to rehash history or go into metrics that were on track, everyone pushed back and said “that’s not necessary – we’ve already covered that” or “things are green so we can move on.” When there was a decision that required input, people teed up the issue and specified what kind of input they were seeking. We actually made three or four decisions in that meeting that normally took months to get resolved.
While your staff meeting Hell might not span 14 hours, I’m betting it can be just as painful. Here are three ways to end the torment, reclaim your life, and get stuff done.
1. Manage by exception. If it’s green, don’t talk about it beyond that. If one person needs a deeper understanding of the metric or project, get with them outside of the meeting. Don’t waste everyone else’s time. Because while they’re sitting there bored out of their minds while you explain stuff they already know, they’re thinking about creative ways to murder you (or at least maim you severely).
2. Focus on the decision at hand. You don’t need to rehash all the background on an issue during the staff meeting. Send out a pre-read to get folks grounded. Spend that valuable time in the meeting discussing pros and cons of the recommendation and push toward making a decision. Save the history lesson for individuals who need it.
3. Stop having staff meetings. Seriously. Recurring meetings are an invitation for wasting time. See if you can convince folks to hold meetings by exception. If a metric is out of line or you need to make a decision, convene a meeting. Recurring meetings can lead to lazy behaviors. If you do have to set a recurring time just because calendars are crowded, at least be open to canceling the meeting if there are no variances or decisions.
If you’re more disciplined about how you manage staff meetings and you focus on exceptions and decisions, you can get a lot of time back and get more stuff done. And isn’t that the point?
How have you made your staff meetings more effective? Share your tips in the comments below.
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