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Let's Meet: Team Meetings

After a team is formed, its first step is to meet. The meeting model described here will seem rigid to new teams, especially those comfortable with ineffective meetings and dominate team members. We encourage you to use the process for five or six meetings and not loosen the reins on the meeting structure until the team has reached a more advanced state and members have their counterproductive behaviors under control.

In addition to the regular, sixty- to ninety-minute weekly team meeting, the team should hold daily ten-minute "huddles" if appropriate. These are informal, touch-base sessions at the beginning of a shift to update each other on any critical issues and to build unity toward the goal. While they may use a facilitator, the members are standing and sharing spontaneously, often around a team scoreboard that records daily metrics. Items requiring more discussion are moved to the team's weekly meeting.

Typical Meeting Problems
Although meetings are vital for the team's health, they also can be a source of considerable wasted time. Here are some of the problems often encountered in poorly run meetings: 

—Meeting roles are poorly performed by team members, resulting in other team members taking over. This is especially true for the facilitator's role. 
—The team jumps into discussing agenda topics before planning the work: agreeing on the goal of the discussion and structuring the approach the team will use. 
—Members' silence is treated as if it means agreement, when often it doesn't. 
—The team relies on the coach or sponsor to generate ideas. 
—Meetings are allowed to start later and later each time. 
—No outcomes are identified for agenda items, and the meeting goal is not clear. 
—No agenda exists, the agenda is not distributed in advance, or the agenda is too "lightweight" in terms of topics. 
—The facilitator is not prepared or monopolizes the discussion. 
—Only a few members speak; others withdraw nonverbally. 
—The meeting focuses on informational "show and tell" rather than on planning or problem solving. 
—Members interrupt each other or "cross-talk," excluding others. 
—The real meeting discussion occurs after the meeting in small-group "triangles." 
—The team reaches no decisions or it continually revisits previous decisions. 
—Few actions are identified and assigned; all actions are assigned to just a few people. 
—No plan for follow-through is developed. 
—Assignments are not completed on time.

The best way to avoid these problem behaviors is to have the team establish a Help/Hinder list at the very first meeting. The Help/Hinder list is created by the team members, not management, with them identifying what behaviors have historically helped them function effectively and what behaviors have historically hindered their performance. The team then agrees to be held accountable for the behaviors and to allow the process observer to interrupt if a team member is doing a behavior on the hinder list. No longer is management responsible for meeting behavior as now a member of the team assumes that responsibility on a rotating basis.

Setting the Agenda
There’s much more to cover in putting together a team meeting, but let’s consider only the issue of the agenda.

An agenda should always be prepared and distributed before each team meeting, typically by the facilitator. We encourage teams to use an agenda preparation form. On this form, any team member can enter meeting topics, presenters, time required, and topic priority in advance. The agenda is distributed to team members twenty-four to forty-eight hours in advance. Every meeting must have an agenda, even if it is developed as the first activity of the meeting on a flipchart sheet. All agendas are tentative until agreed to by the team.

There are four components to the meeting agenda:

1. Meeting opening and housekeeping. This is when meeting role assignments and agreement on agenda are verified and due or delinquent action items from previous meetings are reviewed.

2. Standing agenda sections. Teams may need to hear from their coach and star point coordinators (SPCs) on a regular basis. This section provides time for them to report to the team. In order not to use up too much of the meeting time, the SPCs are rotated through a month's worth of meetings, rather than have each one report out at every meeting. Remember, the focus of the content is on planning and problem solving, not information sharing.

3. The body of the agenda. Agenda topics are listed in priority order so that difficult tasks are done first, when the team is freshest, with a desired outcome identified for each item. If the desired outcome is information sharing, the facilitator must try to remove it from the agenda.

4. Meeting closure. This is when action items from the scribe, team behavior from the process observer, feedback from the coach, and agenda preparation for the next meeting are reported.

The teams we work with are always improving their meeting agendas. For example, a research management team redesigned the agenda format so that scribe notes and action items are recorded on the agenda directly below the agenda topic, rather than on separate sheets of paper. Visit www.NewDirectionsConsulting.com/samples for a sample of this type of agenda.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Team-Building Tool Kit: Tips and Tactics for Effective Workplace Teams by Deborah Mackin. Copyright 2011, Deborah Mackin. Published by AMACOM. For more information, www.amazombooks.org

About the Author(s)

Deborah Mackin is president of New Directions Consulting in North Bennington, Vermont. She has over 20 years of international experience building workplace teams.