Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Prewire Important Topics

Actions to take: "Prewire" important topics by running them by each of your employees in one-on-ones before you present it in the team meeting. Focus on information gathering during the one-on-ones, not persuading. Use what you learned during the team meeting to have an effective conversation by asking those who are in favor to share their thoughts.

Has this ever happened to you? You are all set to have a big topic discussion. Perhaps a major change is on the way, and you've got 20 minutes set aside in your team meeting to run through a dozen or so aspects of the change. You are two or three minutes into your explanation, and someone derails the conversation by focusing on a detail that you did not account for and is not particularly important. The employee spends several minutes on their detail and manages to get two or three other people asking questions about similarly minor details. Before you know it, the twenty minutes you planned for this agenda item is gone, and you have barely touched the content you planned to cover. 

Some agenda items are so important that you don't want any surprises during the delivery. You have limited time and a lot of important, impactful details to explain. Frequently, these topics come in the form of a major announcement from higher up in the organization. With these topics, have everything planned out, including staff reactions, by using a communication technique called the prewire.

A prewire is a simple concept: you run an idea by someone before the main event so that you know how they will react. Prewiring is typically discussed in the context of trying to get approval in a meeting with your superiors. However, the technique applies equally well to winning your own team over on a major issue. 

In one-on-ones with your team prior to the team meeting, you will bring up the topic with each person. You do not need to give a full and complete presentation of the topic. Just start a conversation and see where it leads. Your goal is merely to get a sense for how each employee is feeling about the topic: who is against it, who is neutral about it, and who is in favor of it.

It is tempting to try and persuade those who are against the topic or neutral about it. I won't advise completely against that tactic, but it is dangerous. You run the risk of employees being less candid with their opinions in the future. Consciously or subconsciously, they'll think, "Last time I told Ben how I really felt, he immediately tried to change my mind. Obviously I should just tell him what he wants to hear." If you don't feel confident in your ability to navigate these complex social road cones, just stick to information gathering and leave persuading for a separate conversation. 

How you bring up the topic depends on the topic itself and the personality of each employee. 

For your open, direct employees and for topics that are already big news to everyone, just be straight forward. Ask their opinion outright: "As you know, there is a plan to revamp office space usage now that we are all working from home at least part time, and I'll be talking through the details at our next staff meeting. How are you feeling about it?" 

For employees who are reticent about their opinions, or for topics that are brand new, it pays to be a bit more circumspect. The first time you broach a topic, present it as an idea rather than a done deal. If the decision is already final, reticent employees will see any amount of disagreement with that decision as backtalk or poor teamwork. They are team players, so the moment they perceive a decision as final, they will say they support it 100%. That is not what we want to hear in these information gathering meetings. We want to know how people truly feel. So, frame the question neutrally: "A couple folks have brought up the idea of rearranging our office space to use it more effectively now that there is so much telework. What are your thoughts on that?"

That is really all there is to this version of a prewire. After these one-on-ones, we know how each employee feels about the topic we are coving. Now, let's apply what we learned from the prewire to the team meeting. 

We have described the method for communicating big topics in past posts. Briefly, the general strategy is a quick headline, time spent on why it matters, nuts-and-bolts details, and time for questions. With prewired topics, you are going to tuck in an extra step. You will lead into the question portion by first calling on people whom you know are in favor of the issue. It might look like this, "...So that about covers the broad strokes of how this change will impact us. Calvin, you and I chatted a bit about how this will affect [some process related to Calvin's work]. Would you be willing to recap a bit of our discussion?" Calvin then explains how the change will, in fact, have some beneficial elements for [process]. (Bonus tip: at the end of your one-on-one with Calvin, you might give the heads up, "Hey, would it be alright if I asked you to review what we just talked about during the team meeting next week?")

Do this with two or three employees before you open the floor for questions. Here's why. When you open the floor straight away, you let the nay-sayers set the narrative. All future comments are, in some way, a reaction to the first comment. When the first comment is a positive, the nay-sayers have the uphill battle, not you. If you have multiple people make positive comments, it drives home the fact that most people are in favor of or at least neutral about the issue. This stops the nay-sayers from believing or pretending that most people are against the issue. These two factors have a huge impact on the direction of the conversation.

The time spent calling on folks who are in favor is perhaps three minutes of a twenty or thirty minute agenda item, and it is most of the reason we do a prewire. That sounds like a lot of work for a little bit of a meeting. But those three minutes have the potential to save us hours and hours of future work. They have the potential to determine whether your important topic is successfully implemented with your team or whether it is derailed by detractors. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." We are cutting off the problems before they have a chance to grow. 

The prewire is not an everyday strategy. Use it sparingly. Most of the time, our job is to discuss issues together, explore solutions as a team, and pick the one best suited to us. Occasionally, however, the solution is handed to us without our input, or the solution we picked has significant downsides that some employees won't like. In those times, our job is still to implement the solution as effectively as possible. That means using our meeting time to discuss what will happen and how it will happen, not on nay-sayer frustrations. The prewire is your main tool for getting work done in those situations. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Preparation

Actions to take: Throughout the week, always be thinking about potential topics for your meeting. Add those ideas to a working document for your agenda. Block out approximately 2 hours to directly prepare. During that time, organize and finalize your agenda, prepare what you want to say for each topic, and visualize how it will go during the meeting.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

A well-run meeting is like an excellent interview. People who give excellent answers in interviews make it look natural. They come off as if their answers are spontaneous, as if they are just having a conversation with the interviewer. Seeing this leads some people to come to the disastrously wrong conclusion they should not prepare. If they prepare, the logic goes, they will come off stilted, like they are reading from a script. These folks have never given an excellent interview, and they would fail miserably at running a meeting. When they try to prepare, they only prepare a little. They know what they want to say only when they are concentrating fully on the topic. Even little distractions and variations from their expectations throw them off. They think, "Better to wing it so I can act normal."

For both interviewing and running a meeting, the opposite is true. The "wing it" folks are doing about 10% as much preparation as they need to. They do just enough preparation to get worse during the main event, because they are trapped into focusing on what they are trying to say.

To run a great meeting, you need to speak with the authority of an expert. Experts can speak naturally and easily because they know their topic so well. They have drilled an understanding of the material into their brains. The metaphors and comparisons they make sound off-the-cuff because they have made similar comparisons a hundred times in the past. They have thought about their topic so much that they can speak extemporaneously about it for hours and integrate any question or thought thrown at them. 

In a meeting, your agenda items are your topic. You must be so prepared with what you want to say that your mental energy is available for ancillary tasks. 

For a one-hour team meeting, spend approximately four hours preparing each week. The time spent will make you into the expert we described above. Four hours may sound like a lot, but, aside from one-on-ones, this meeting is the primary place you "do" management. Your management tasks (passing info up and down the chain, planning, making decisions, communicating those decisions, etc.) need to get done one way or another. The time you spend thoughtfully crafting your team meeting pays for itself. A well planned agenda item prevents time-wasting follow up like people asking for basic information after the meeting, needing to rehash the same topics in later meetings, and correcting errors caused by those who misunderstood you.

Half of your prep time will be distributed throughout the week, a few minutes here, a few minutes there. Have a working document for future team meeting topics, the same way you do for one-on-one topics (Mine is the same spreadsheet. Each column is a week. Each row is an employee's name, with the top row as the team meeting). During the week, be adding to the document. Pull topic ideas from these sources:

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Emails from your boss, other departments, and higher up in the organization
  • The meetings you attend
  • Conversations that pop up throughout the day

In short, always be looking for information that the whole team needs to know about. Almost anything work-related is a candidate for a team meeting, either in your "information dump" section or as a bigger discussion/decision/brainstorm. 

You must also schedule dedicated time to work directly on meeting prep. It is a good idea to have a set time each week blocked out for this work. You want to send your agenda at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, so I recommend blocking out time two days in advance of the meeting.

This time is where you will "become expert" in the things you want to cover during the meeting. Spend two hours or so organizing and finalizing the agenda that you will send to the team. During this time, do three preparatory thought exercises:

  1. Plan and assign topic purpose to each of your agenda items. Decide what goal you want to achieve with each agenda item. When you assign each topic to a broad category of purpose (informational, brainstorming, discussion, decision), it helps you quickly narrow down how to prepare for it.
  2. For big topics, prepare exactly what you want to say. I recommend scripting it out, practicing it aloud twice, then bringing a bullet-point reminder of the script to the meeting. This will cement what you want to say without locking you into the rigidity of trying to say it exactly the same way every time.
    • Bonus tip: Generally structure your script: 1) one-or-two sentence headline; 2) time spent on why it matters; 3) time spent on the how-to or informational details. (Notice the similarity to the strategy for announcing change)
  3. Imagine how each agenda item will go in the meeting. Beyond what you will say, how will people react? How do you want them to react? Where do you want to pause for questions? Who might be antagonistic, and who might you call on for support? The time spent asking yourself these questions will help you stay dynamic during the meeting. You will be imagining interruptions and variation while you prepare, so you won't be thrown off by interruptions and variations during the main event.


Four hours a week is all it takes to look like an expert. If you spend this time preparing, everyone will think you are "a natural" at running meetings, because you will look natural. You will have the mental energy to follow side-tangents without losing your place, engage in jokes and banter, and focus on how to say what you need to say. Ironically, becoming "a natural" isn't natural at all. Anyone can do it if they put in the time. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Facilitating Conversation

Actions to take: Actively facilitate your meetings. This means curtailing the people who talk too much and drawing out the people who talk too little. You must step in and do these things even though it feels a little socially improper at first.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

Facilitating conversation goes beyond simply encouraging more conversation. The average boss's team meetings are such an unengaging affair that the boss counts any amount of participation as a win. That is not enough. For us, facilitating conversation means encouraging effective conversation. We are going to create and moderate an environment where we don't just encourage participation, we guide that participation toward behaviors that make the best use of our time.

Meeting attendees generally either talk too much or talk too little. There are those special few who pitch in their ideas just often enough with just enough words to make their point, but they are rare. With the tactics from this post, your employees will get closer to this rare breed of meeting attendee.

People who talk too much do so for a lot of reasons. They like to think out loud (are are blissfully unaware that others don't enjoy watching the grinding of their gears). They don't know how to make their point, so they verbally wander around. They like their opinion too much. Whenever someone makes another point, even one that doesn't contradict theirs, they feel the need to reiterate whatever they said a few minutes ago. They are doing it politically. If they are speaking half the time in a 10-person meeting, then their ideas are on the table far more often than anyone else's. 

As meeting facilitator, you must rein in the talkers. We avoid doing this because it feels rude to cut someone off. But your unwillingness to bend a social norm is making everyone suffer. Here are a few ways you can do it with some grace:

  • Scan the crowd for someone else who wants to speak: "Carl, I'm sorry to cut you off there, but Jevin has been bursting to contribute their point. Jevin, what have you got?"
  • Invoke the agenda: "Carl, we've only got about 3 minutes left on this agenda item. Can you come to your point in the next 60 seconds or so? Then I'll see if others have thoughts before we move on."
  • Respond yourself, say something vaguely positive, and move on: "Oh, you just mentioned [blank]. That's a very good point! Let's explore that idea more in a one-on-one. Now [next agenda item]."
To the extent that you can, say these things honestly. If it is perfectly obvious that you are just trying to make them stop talking, you will offend. In that case, it is better to simply say, "Carl, you've taken up too much time making your point. Let's give the floor to someone else." (Frankly, plenty of people will respect that comment)

There is one other reason talkers do so much talking: they feel if they don't, no one will. Your silent employees are equal contributors to this problem. Quiet folks have just as many reasons for not voicing their opinions as the talkers do for talking too much. There are the "humbly quiet" people. They have thoughts and opinions; they just assume you'll ask if you want them. There are the "hostilely quiet" people. You better believe they have opinions! Then there are the people who stay quiet because they are afraid of getting steamrolled by a talker—they have opinions, but they aren't up for arguing about it. Finally, you've got the people who are quiet because they are disengaged. 

For every one of the motivations above, the solution is the same: ask them their opinion. Most quiet people will have something to say when you pass the conversation to them. You will be surprised to realize how many important thoughts have been left unsaid in the past. Have a plan prepared to give them an out if they don't have anything to say. It could look like this: 

  • "Jevin, what do you think?" 
  • [Jevin gives you a blank stare] 
  • "We'll give you a minute to put your thoughts together. Carl, you look like you have something to say." 
  • Then, you can either return to Jevin or not. Either way, Jevin will be more prepared in the future. 

Ground Rules make the whole facilitation process much easier. If you start calling on people out of the blue, they are going to feel like you are playing gotcha. They will feel like you are trying to embarrass them or put them on the spot or draw them into an argument they don't want to have. However, if you have ground rules that say things like "Promote equal voice" and "Participate fully" with descriptions of what that looks like, no one can plead ignorance. They will expect and accept that you require some level of engagement during meetings (The same applies to cutting off the talkers, btw). 

Now, the smart boss will still respect individual differences. Let the people who like to talk do more of the talking, and let the quiet people do less. It is a matter of balancing things, not making everyone clones of each other. 

The vast majority of meetings are totally unfacilitated. The person running the meeting is often entirely unaware that they are supposed to be doing anything at all to promote effective conversation. This post is not nearly everything there is to facilitation, but it is a start. The advice here will put your meetings head and shoulders above others. You will soon get a reputation for keeping meetings on track and running meetings where meaningful discussion takes place. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Podcast About Hiring Practices

I recently joined executive director of ELGL Kirsten Wyatt on the GovLove podcast to discuss interview processes and how to reduce bias in hiring. You can find my episode here, or look up GovLove on your favorite podcast app. My episode is number 443. 

Kirsten and I had an excellent time walking through ways to make your interview processes as effective as possible, focusing especially on interview question design. The episode gets into a great deal more detail than I am able to with any one blog post. The techniques we discuss, in addition to reducing bias, improve your likelihood of choosing the best candidate for the job. Give it a listen!

ELGL (, or Engaging Local Government Leaders, describes itself as an "accidental professional organization" that began as a small dinner group. Today, ELGL has over 4,800 members. The organization provides content for government workers through a wide variety of channels: the GovLove podcast, webinars, daily articles on their website, learning cohorts and conferences.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Ground Rules

Actions to take: Work with your team to decide on ground rules for your weekly meetings. Add concrete actions to describe what it looks like to follow those rules. Ask for commitment from your team to follow the rules. Review your rules periodically.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

Ground rules in meetings get a bad rap. For good reason, frankly. It seems that, at best, the rules are a bunch of empty words that mean nothing and waste space at the top of the agenda sheet. At worst, ground rules are another bludgeon with which your petty boss can hit you over the head. 

In fact, ground rules can be an effective tool in keeping your team on task during your meeting. They tell your team how the meeting will go, what is expected of them as attendees, and, if you can believe it, help your team feel more like a cohesive group. Ground rules can do all this, but only when crafted correctly. Here's how to do it.

Over the course of two or perhaps three team meetings, set aside 20 minutes per meeting for the "ground rules development" agenda item. First, you will explain why ground rules are helpful and start a brainstorming session. Next, you will discuss the rules and add context for them. Last, you will decide on the rules and finalize them as a team. While this may sound run-of-the mill, it is how you go about these steps that will transform your ground rules from empty words to meaningful instructions.

Kick off this agenda item by explaining why ground rules are useful and worthwhile for your team to develop. Use the information from throughout this post and your own thoughts to write this intro. Then, jump into an active brainstorming session. Directly ask questions like, "What rules would help us have the most effective meetings?" When someone suggests a short rule like "Participate fully," ask them to describe what they are picturing. Take notes on everything, ideally on a whiteboard where everyone can see it. Get your team to generate plenty of ideas, and make sure everyone contributes at least one thought during the brainstorming session.

The next step is where you really set your ground rules apart. It is imperative that you discuss concrete actions to accomplish your rules. You laid the groundwork during the brainstorming session. Now, formalize those thoughts. For instance, one rule might be, "Respect time." Great rule to start with. What does it look like? What is expected of someone who is "respecting time?" If I were writing it, the full rule might read: "Respect time: We start the meeting on time and we finish on time. We do our best to keep agenda items within the time allotted. That means tabling important conversations when we need to move on, avoid rambling or repeating points back and forth, and waiting until after the meeting for discussions that only impact one or two members of the team.

When you define actions associated with your rules, you give them meaning. Without these actions, each individual can interpret the rule as widely as they like. Or, more likely, they can give the rules no thought at all and will act the same way they do for ever other meeting. Meetings, on the whole, are terrible, pointless affairs. We don't want people acting in our meetings the same way they do in those meetings. Well-crafted ground rules signal to your attendees, "This meeting is not like the meetings you are used to. We have expectations." The specific actions will guide attendee's behavior, and they won't be surprised when you give feedback to keep them in line with those actions.

You must do this work as a team. Do not write up these rules alone in your office. If you present them fully formed to your team, that is a fast way to get a reputation as a dictatorial boss who doesn't care what others think. Brainstorm, discuss, and decide on rules together. It is fine to massage/tweak some of the language on your own between meetings. But do not do the majority of the work alone. When you set ground rules, you are setting norms for the group. If a boss writes up the rules on their own, the rules are their norms. The meeting is about how they expect people to act. When a team works on the rules together, the rules are our norms. The meeting is about how we expect people to act.

The last step in setting ground rules is to explicitly request commitment from your team. Say something like this: "Once we have settled on ground rules, I am asking each of you to commit to following these rules. These rules are our playbook for how to operate and engage with each other during this meeting. I am going to assume silence means there are no objections. If you are not 100% on board for every rule we create and the wording we use, speak up before we finalize them." When you do this, you will get more engagement in the rule creation because people will have something on the line. It is no longer a theoretical discussion—the words have real consequences for the people in the meeting.

Review ground rules one month after implementation (assuming weekly meetings), then on a quarterly basis. You are checking on two things: 1) are we living up to our rules, and 2) are the rules living up to what we need them to do? As with the creation of the rules, do this review as a team. Ask the group: "How well are we adhering to these rules? Are there any rules we are neglecting? If so, what concrete steps can we take to fix the problem? Are there any rules that don't do much and should be removed or rewritten?" 

It is amazing how often effective management boils down to "set clear expectations." We've seen it already in the team meetings series, with the post about topic purpose. Average bosses use ground rules performatively. Their rules don't do much of anything. Better bosses recognize ground rules as a tool for setting expectations. Their rules help the team understand how the meeting will go and how to be an effective participant.

Note from the author: if you enjoy this blog, please consider sharing your favorite posts with others.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Topic Purpose

Actions to take: Make sure you know what you are trying to achieve with each agenda item. Mentally categorize each item into these four purposes: Informational, Discussion, Brainstorm, and Decision. Add those headings to the item descriptions in the agenda.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

When you are running a meeting, how often do you get exactly what you want out of your attendees? If your experience is anything like mine was, you get dead silence when you want lively discussion, and you get two people arguing back and forth about a topic that was supposed to be a one minute heads-up to the team. In the early days of my managerial career, I found myself frustrated after every team meeting. My employees were always getting sidetracked by unimportant details and were never prepared to discuss the meaty topics.

It was some time before I realized that it was entirely my fault. If this sort of thing happens in the meetings you run, it is your fault too. Your team will do what you want them to in virtually any circumstance, meetings included. But you must stop expecting them to read your mind. Indicate what you want out of your meetings. The easiest way to do this is by tagging each of your agenda items with its purpose. I recommend the following four categories:

  • Informational: Have a standing section of your meeting for the "information dump." These are items that require no discussion and take a minute or less for you to explain. Some would argue to "just send an email" for this type of thing. If you are pressed for time in the meeting, fine, but email is far less efficient. You can knock out 10 items in 10 minutes in a meeting, or you could spend 5 minutes per item writing emails as things come up...pretty obvious which is a better use of your time. 
    • Examples: "Training deadline: Quarterly safety training is due in a month. Please email me to confirm your completion before the due date." "Budget Kudos: The finance department sent us a big kudos for getting our budget documents in early and completed so thoroughly. Nice work everyone!"
  • Brainstorming: Brainstorming is for new issues/ideas that you want to explore in an open-ended way. Use brainstorming agenda items to get your team thinking positively about something. It is easy to let brainstorming bleed into discussion and vice versa, but it is more effective to split up these mental tasks. In brainstorming, we want to open the floodgates and let as many ideas in as possible.
    • Example: "Brainstorm: Library closure: Our doors are closed for at least the next two weeks due to major global pandemic. Let's think up as many productive things we can do with our time while customers aren't coming in the building."
  • Discussion: Use the discussion tag when you want to have your team focus on a narrower band of ideas and explore the pros and cons in depth. It is also used when you are reviewing how something is going post-rollout. Your goal with discussion is distinct from brainstorming. Here, we are exploring targeted information as a team.
    • Example: "Discussion: Management best practices: how would you handle a situation where your employee has a conflict with another manager's employee? I'll lay out a more detailed scenario for us to consider in the meeting."
  • Decision: Use this tag when you (or the folks upstairs) have made a significant decision that you need to explain to your team. The first half of a decision agenda item works like an informational item, just for more important topics that require greater explanation. The second part of this agenda item is for questions. That is distinct from a "discussion" though. Your employees are asking questions and you are providing answers, not really exploring a topic together. If you find it turning into a discussion, that is an indication that you may not have thought through your decision fully.
    • Example: "Decision: Refund procedures: We have standardized refund procedures for customers. I will explain the significant changes to our process and give time for questions." 

Notice the natural progression in the last three agenda tags. For a particular issue or idea, you might brainstorm in the first meeting, discuss it in the next to narrow down options, and explain your final decision in the third meeting. 

I recommend that you tag your items right on the agenda for all to see (I further recommend that, as with all managerial change, you roll this out by telling people about it before you start). These tags cover about 90% of all agenda items. You will find yourself with an occasional item that doesn't fit. That's fine. Either make up a new tag or just have no tag.

Now, before you can tell your team the purpose of each agenda item, you have to figure it out for yourself. Expect to take a little extra time preparing each agenda item. Picture how you want the meeting to go during that time. Bonus tip: If every agenda item is "informational," then you are not using your meeting effectively. 

Roll out topic purpose tags for your agenda items, and I guarantee that you will have more productive and more thoughtful team meetings. Your employees will notice. You'll start to get feedback that the meetings are "more on track" and "run smoother." At the end of the meeting, your team will be energized and talkative rather than drained and quiet. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Scheduling

Actions to take: Treat the timing of your weekly team meeting as one of the most important decisions you make. Analyze schedules and obligations to minimize conflicts. Review your choice with your team prior to making a final decision. Take time explaining why you chose the timeslot you chose.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

There are certain moments in your managerial career where you have the opportunity to gain significant respect with your team based on a single action or set of actions. Defending your team against unfair criticism from upper management; effectively dealing with that problem employee who has skated by for years; having those hard, candid conversations that help employees improve their skills. These actions show your true colors as a manager. Deciding on the timeslot for your weekly team meeting, mundane as it is, is one of those moments.

Spend at least three weeks determining the best time for your weekly team meeting. During that time, do the following:

  1. Analyze schedules: Take time pouring over various schedules to find the ideal time for your weekly team meeting: team members' schedules, your schedule, broader organization meetings, customer service desk schedule if there is one, etc. You are looking for a time that both fits into everyone's workflow and fits into the flow of information throughout the organization. For instance, if you attend a meeting of site managers bi-weekly on Wednesdays, Thursday might be an ideal time for your team meeting.
  2. Ask your team: After you have selected a time slot or two, vet that slot with each of your team members in their one-on-one. What do they think? Does it fit with their workflow? Are there any problems with the time slot that you overlooked? You won't be able to please everyone. This step will allow you to please the most people and be aware of the ones who will not be satisfied.
  3. Explain your decision: Never skip "why" when announcing a change. If you spend time telling your team why you picked the time you picked, a few things happen. First, they will see how much thought you put into the decision. Second, the team will see how many factors you considered, showing that you made the decision with everyone's best interest in mind. Third, the people who are not satisfied with the time slot are more likely to understand and accept it. 
There is no such thing as putting too much energy into this decision. The work you put in will reflect brilliantly on you as a manager. Your team will notice. It will reinforce the idea that you work for them, for their best interests. Further, it will be a signal. If you are putting this much work into just the scheduling of this meeting, then the meeting itself must be of great importance. 

That covers the most important points. We will close out with a few specific tips for deciding the best time for your weekly meeting:

  • No Monday morning: For many people, Monday morning is the most productive time of their week. They get their entire week's work planned out for maximum effectiveness. These employees will resent it if that time is taken away.
  • No Friday: In addition to annoying people, Friday meetings have the most absenteeism because people virtually always take Friday off as part of vacation. 
  • Not at noon: Once a quarter, feel free to do a lunch meeting with your team as a special activity. As standard practice, though, lunch meetings are entirely unproductive. Half the time is spent on food (getting it, talking about it, eating it). Making your team eat before or after a noon meeting every week is even worse. Once again, they'll resent the time taken, which means less engagement in the meeting.

The average boss throws together a team meeting once a month (if that), and doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to when it gets scheduled. The boss will pick a time and assume that the issues with attendance and lack of attention are the employees' fault rather than their own. Better bosses realize that timing has a major impact on both attendance and engagement. They treat the scheduling decision seriously, and they have the results to show for it.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Team Meeting Series: Frequency

Actions to take: Do your team meetings on a weekly basis. It is by far the most effective way to keep your people up to speed and working as a team.

This is a post in a short series about running your team meetings, i.e. the regularly scheduled meeting with all of your direct reports in attendance. Many of the lessons apply to other meetings, but team meetings are the focus.

Team meetings are most effective by far when done on a weekly basis. If prior posts have convinced you that weekly one-on-ones are a major value that improves efficiency and effectiveness of your team, then you will have an easy time seeing how the same logic applies to the team meeting. If you are not convinced that weekly one-on-ones are an excellent, efficient way to manage, there are low odds that you will be convinced to do your team meeting every week.

Your team meeting needs to be weekly for the same fundamental reason that one-on-ones are weekly. Anything that feels like "just part of the job" happens on at least a weekly basis. Anything that happens less frequently is outside the routine. It does not feel like a normal part of the job, and it does not get very much attention or energy throughout the week.

The team meeting is a time for you to pass down information you've learned, brainstorm new ideas or solutions, react to changes, etc. as a team. If you have your team meeting biweekly or monthly, then working together as a team does not feel like a routine part of the job. When you have your meeting weekly, people integrate teamwork into their regular work. People talk more throughout the week, check with each other on issues more, fewer things fall through the cracks. The work gels together in a way that doesn't happen without these weekly meetings. 

It is not just that work feels like it happens on a weekly basis. Work really does happen on a weekly basis! If your organization is at all successful, stuff comes up that you need to tell/discuss/plan with your team every single week. The weekly team meeting provides a locked-in time when everyone knows those conversations will happen. Yes, you could attempt to have these conversations individually or in small groups every time something comes up. It would be fantastically inefficient. You would spend your entire workweek chasing down people and trying to keep track of whom you told what. (What actually happens is that the boss simply fails to discuss most things with most people) 

Those of you who are doing weekly one-on-ones get another bonus. One-on-ones and team meeting support and improve one another. You will announce a major change in the team meeting, then be able to check in on how each person feels about it in one-on-ones, determining who is for, against, and neutral about it. Ideas will come up in one-on-ones, and you will be able to bring them to group discussion within a week, because your team meeting time is already in place. 

Once you get both these meetings locked in, it starts to feel like a perpetual motion machine. Communication in the two meetings build on each other, ideas flow quickly and easily, everyone feels better informed, and work gets done at a pace that is otherwise impossible to achieve.

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