Staff issues are one of the top 5 stressors for leaders. Often, what compounds the stressful experience is putting all of your team members in one room for two hours (or more) where they have the opportunity to share their ideas, tell you what they think, or worse, what they feel.
As a leader, you’re told you need to have them – staff meetings, that is. As a leader, you know it’s essential to gather your team and “communicate.” But standing in front of your team can be equal to or worse than standing in front of a firing squad.
Let’s answer that first question: Do you need staff meetings? Answer: no.
If you hate staff meetings, then don’t have them. Nothing says you must have staff meetings, especially if they aren’t effective. If there is no control and order to the meeting and it turns into the proverbial ‘bitchfest,’ then they are probably causing more harm than good.
Here’s the reality. Effective teams are on the same page. If you don’t have meetings, how will they do that? High-performing teams are connected to the same goal and understand their role in achieving said goal. How will your team know their role and what goals are in place? Stellar teams communicate openly, even challenging each other’s perspectives. If you don’t communicate during meetings, then when?
If you choose not to have staff meetings, you need to have other processes and systems in place that allow for all the practical objectives a meeting would bring. You must have a Plan B.
If you do want to continue to have meetings and turn them into something highly productive and effective, follow these tips:
Always have an agenda and follow it strictly. Put out a blank agenda sheet in the breakroom and send it via email or on a team chat a week before the meeting so your team can offer suggestions on what’s important to them. Have them list their name next to any suggestion they list. A day BEFORE the meeting, have a brief and consolidated conversation with each person in private about what specifically they want to talk about around each issue. This way, you can see if it’s something you want to bring up publicly. Often you can put the issue back on your employee by asking them to research the topic, only bring a solution to their problem to the group, etc. You can control/influence what gets discussed with some planning and 1:1 time.
Feel free to cancel the meeting. Review the agenda and determine if it is worth having a meeting. Death by Meeting is a serious condition! If the topics the team wants to discuss are better served in private, then don’t have a meeting. Topics around policy changes, healthcare benefits, money, personal time off, etc, are better done privately.
Stay in Control
Get comfortable with interjecting. Interjecting is a nice way of interrupting someone when the conversation is going in the wrong direction. If the meeting is taking a negative tone, politely stop the discussion and either table it or let the team know the direction they are going isn’t on the agenda. Get them back on track or move it along.
It could sound like this, “Excuse me guys/gals/team. I want to interject here because I find us going off-topic. The topic we are to discuss is [blank], and it’s important we stick to that. If we want to talk about [blank] later, we can add that to the next agenda.”
Sometimes there is a tendency for leaders to allow for specific topics to be expanded upon when it suits them and other topics they don’t like they stop. If you are going to stick to an agenda, be consistent. Interject and keep the team on topic for all discussions. If it’s a discussion you would like to expand on further, make sure to add it to the next agenda yourself or, if time allows, pick it back up at the end of the meeting.
Another choice is to say, “Team, our discussion has gotten off-topic and we always have a strict rule here to stay the course. I’d like everyone’s permission/agreement to change up the agenda this one time and continue our conversation even though it’s taken us away from the original point.” That’s one way to turn team members around from compliant to committed.
That’s right, set a timer. When you meet with team members before the start of the meeting, ask them how much time they think they need for their specific topic. Once agreed, keep to it. If it’s 2 min, 5 min, or 15 min, set a timer and hold firm. If a topic still needs to be completed, table it for next time, agree to meet your employee in person or assign the topic for someone to do some follow-up and report back.
Set ground rules that apply to everyone, including yourself. A list might be:
- Everyone attends
- No cellular devices
- Respect all views, even when challenging them
- Two missed meetings will result in a warning
- No interrupting
- Deep breath before each reply
- Only water to drink
Wasteful meetings are just that…wasteful. Productive meetings are also just that…productive. Take control back and influence where you can.