Did you believe that during the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings would become more spaced out and work would be more productive?
Unfortunately, that did not happen. We are now meeting more than ever before.
A recent Microsoft study even reported that since February 2020, people have been in 3x more Teams meetings and calls per week (192%).
The problem is that the frequency of the meetings is not translated into more efficient work or better results. Meetings are draining teams’ energy and exposing their poor dynamics.
After doing the aftermath, Clair Hughes Johnson, former Stripe COO, has developed a framework that simplifies meetings and ensures results are met without leaving leaders exhausted.
Is ROI actually positive on the 30 or 45 or 60 minutes you spent? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. Claire Hughes Johnson
In this article, we walk you through each step of the framework for successful work meetings. But first, let us do a small disclaimer: What we are about to share is easier said than done. That does not mean it is impossible - because it is not. It just means that meetings do take work to organise and run.
Prepare the meeting: Do the groundwork
The quality of a meeting is determined before inviting the first participant. Often leaders overlook the importance preparation has on the outcomes of a work session. And the preparation starts by acknowledging that as a leader you can not just focus on your team’s results and issues if you aim for astonishing work. You need to understand that work meetings are a crucial team-building tool.
Meetings only work because of the people that participate in them. So, before having multiple 30-minute work meetings, get your team to have an offsite experience, which can (and should) even happen a few times a year. They are crucial when new people enter the team because you must reset all the dynamics and rebuild common understanding.
The goal for each groundwork session is to build a shared comprehension of each team member’s work preferences and mutually agree on the team norms.
- To help you understand how your team members behave under stress and in flow, you can resort to personality tests such as Insights Discovery, which analyses preferences based on two axes: who is more task-oriented vs. people-oriented, and who is more introvert vs. extrovert. You also have other options for personality tests: The Big Five, DiSC, or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Remember that it is healthy to have a team in which its members have different and contrasting preferences – this is something to consider even when hiring or promoting.
Meetings are only as successful as the relationships between the people involved. Claire Hughes Johnson
Make these sessions at least a day in duration – only then can people build great connections, and it also gives you plenty of time to address key subjects like meeting roles, mutual meeting ownership, meeting purpose and structure, and meeting norms.
Assign meeting roles
Just because someone is the team owner – which usually means they were the ones to organise and schedule the meeting - does not mean they have to embody all roles. For a great work meeting, make sure to define who will be:
- The DRI - the one responsible for the session’s success. It can be the team owner or the leader of a critical project.
- The facilitator – the one responsible for keeping the meeting under schedule, ensuring that every objective in the agenda is met, and resuming main decisions and next steps (this last step in collaboration with the notetaker). Although it is common for the facilitator to be either the DRI or meeting owner, it does not have to be – think for instance in a situation where the owner wishes to take a more observational role.
- The notetaker – the one responsible for gathering what was discussed, the decisions made and what next steps were defined.
Make people actively engaged
A productive staff meeting happens when everyone participates and takes ownership of its outcomes. This does not mean that suddenly everyone should be the meeting owner, it means everyone should be an active participant. As a leader, you can promote this by:
- Making sure everyone knows why they were invited and how they can contribute to the meeting.
- Making sure participants take on different roles depending on the meetings.
- Ensure that you have previously discussed team norms and that everyone agrees with those so that when someone is not acting accordingly, they can be called out.
- Being the example – actions speak louder than words. Show what ownership looks like and respect the meeting schedule.
Discuss meeting purpose and structure
A meeting can fulfil many purposes. It can be used for updates, priorities, alignment, or decision-making. Make sure to discuss this with your team – people feel more engaged when they have a voice in decisions – along with two other important factors:
- Purpose – try to define only 1 (max 2) per meeting.
- Agenda – discuss the topics to cover.
- Limit – set timing slots for each topic on the agenda.
When discussing the agenda, and in case the purpose is to make a decision, actively decide on the kind of decision you are making. Is it an autocratic, a consensus, or a democratic decision? And who is the decision maker? – This can save you time and unproductive discussions during those work meetings.
Define meeting norms
Meeting norms are commitments you define as a team, that guide you on how to run the meeting and how participants show up. This ensures everyone is on the same page prior to any work session.
Here are a few best practices you can adopt:
- Define logistics – which includes meeting time, delegation (if someone can send a delegate if they are not able to attend the staff meeting), pre-reads (should people read memos before the meeting or during the first 10min?), and use of electronic devices (does everyone have their laptop open or just the notetaker?).
- Every topic can be discussed – if there is any issue or problem that is disrupting workflow at a project or between people, bring it to the table as soon as possible and take the time to discuss it.
- Be inclusive – everyone should be participating. But often you do not hear the inputs of the most quiet and thoughtful people. Ensure the facilitator gently calls them out – you can follow Claire Hughes Johnson’s practice of calling the quieter ones at least twice in a meeting.
- Disagree and commit – everyone can disagree when the decision is still being discussed. But once it is decided, everyone should support it and not boycott it.
- Have a parking lot – What Claire Hughes Johnson means with this is that everyone should write down ideas or questions they have that are not directly relevant to the topic in the spotlight of the meeting. Before the session ends, the facilitator should address the next steps to resolve those issues.
- Respect action items – at the end of the staff meeting make sure everyone knows what their next steps are and what are the deadlines for them. You should also agree as a team to hold each other accountable and monitor progression.
Run the meeting: Go through its mechanics
Once you have laid the groundwork, you are ready to define the dynamics of the meeting, or as Clair Hughes Johnson puts it, its mechanics. An effective meeting should have the following structure:
- Check-in. Ask participants what they are expecting out of the meeting and what is their current mental state – it is important to have both one work-related answer and one that is personal. The answer could be just one word or multiple sentences.
- Purpose. Share what is the main objective for the work meeting.
- Agenda. Share the topic that will be covered.
- Decision. In case the purpose is to make a decision, share what kind of decision you will be making.
- Before checkout, reserve the time to define and attribute the action items and follow-up procedures.
- Checkout. Ask participants what their thoughts are on the meeting and the decision.
It is extremely important to take notes during each staff meeting. They do not have to be transcripts, just key information about what was discussed and the outcomes. This is useful in case someone is not present or if someone goes against what has been decided – they can then be easily called out.
Productive work meetings do take a lot of work. Lucky for you and for us, former Stripe COO, Claire Hughes Johnson has developed a great framework to guide you in your meeting preparation as a manager. It is divided into two phases:
First, the groundwork
- Get your team offsite for at least a whole day;
- Build shared comprehension of your team’s work preferences (use personality tests);
- Address meeting roles, mutual meeting ownership, meeting purpose and structure, and team norms;
Second, the mechanics to run effective staff meetings
- Start with a check-in;
- Share the meeting objective;
- Share the topics of the agenda;
- In case there is a decision to be made, decide which type of decision it is;
- Set a time before check-out to allocate the next step and deadlines;
- Remember to always take notes;