How to make team meetings more effective?

In the modern workplace, meetings have suffered a fall from grace. All too often, the weekly team meeting is derided as dull, bureaucratic and a waste of time. As a manager, the author has seen her fair share of disastrous get-togethers – meetings in which each attendee takes their turn to moan about mundane issues, while their colleagues quietly get on with other work or simply stare into space. So, how can you make meetings productive instead of pointless?

When the author first became a manager, she thought the key to good meetings was to ensure they had an explicit purpose. With this in mind, she held a weekly team meeting to discuss how her team members were progressing with their various projects. Nonetheless, even with this explicit aim in mind, her team still found the meetings vague and redundant. In fact, after someone pointed out that the team could just as well send email updates on their progress, she canceled the meetings altogether.

After this debacle, she realized that simply having an agenda for a meeting is not enough. In addition, you must have a clear idea of the successful outcome of the meeting. For instance, a successful outcome of your meeting might be that the team makes a decision.

If this is the case, then your meeting must include certain things. Quite clearly, it must involve a decision, but it also needs to include everyone who is directly impacted by this decision. During the meeting, all conceivable options, including relevant information, must be presented objectively. Further, any recommendations the team might have should be articulated. Lastly, your meeting needs to apportion equal time to different opinions and ensure everyone feels their voices are heard. Managers can help with this by calling on attendees who haven’t spoken yet to give their opinion to the group. Thus, it should be clear that all views, no matter how divergent, will be respected.

Alternatively, the intended outcome of your meeting might simply be to share information, rather than decide on something. In this scenario, your meeting needs to accomplish different things. For example, a successful information-sharing meeting should capture attendees’ attention and keep it. This can be achieved through good pacing, facilitating interaction and even presenting information through storytelling.

As a manager, hiring the right people for your team is one of the most important duties you’ll have. Indeed, after over a decade at Facebook, the author has been involved in the decision to recruit thousands of her colleagues. As a manager, how can you ensure you’re hiring the right people for your team?

First, when it comes to recruitment, make sure you know what you’re looking for. All too often, managers approach recruitment like they are fighting a fire. They see a problem, a gap that needs to be filled, and they try to solve it as quickly as they can.

When managers become overly focused with simply filling a vacancy, they usually don’t stop to think about what skills, attributes or experience they’re looking for in a candidate. This can easily lead to hiring the wrong person for your team. Luckily, you can stop thinking like a firefighter and start acting like a manager by planning ahead. At the beginning of each calendar year, the author maps out her team’s goals for the next twelve months. As part of this process, she analyzes all the gaps in her team’s skills, experiences and strengths. She then creates a list of vacancies that she needs to recruit for, according to these gaps.

Similarly, you can create your own tailor-made recruitment plan by answering some basic questions.

First, take a look at your team’s priorities, expected rate of attrition and budget for the coming year. Based on this information, decide how many new recruits you can realistically hire. Next, ask yourself how much experience each new recruit should have. Then, think about what strengths and skills your team needs more of, such as creativity, operational know-how or expertise in a particular area. You should also consider what strengths your team already has in abundance. These are the areas in which your new recruits can afford to be weaker. Lastly, ask yourself what personalities, previous experiences or traits would strengthen your team’s diversity.

Having a well-considered one-year plan gives you a useful framework for assessing candidates’ suitability. It also ensures you won’t simply hand out a job to the next available person. Leading a small team is also very different from leading a large one. For instance, if you’re managing only a handful of individuals, your working relationship will probably be more personal. With such a small team, you can grasp the particulars of each person’s work and understand what each individual cares about, where their strengths lie and even what they like to do in their free time.

But when your team swells to 30 individuals, you won’t be able to manage them directly. After all, if you met with every person for a one-on-one conversation each week for half an hour, you’d spend around half your week in meetings! Inevitably, when your team grows beyond a certain point, you must hire another manager to work beneath you so that you can offload all those one-on-one conversations. In other words, you will now manage most of your team indirectly.

However, indirect management brings its own challenges. As the overall manager, you’ll still be responsible for the work of your team, but you’ll also be removed from a lot of the day-to-day decisions that get made. This loss of control can be disturbing at first, so don’t worry if it takes time to find the middle ground between deep-diving into a problem and stepping back and trusting your middle managers to handle it.

Another problem of managing a large team is that your team members might start to behave differently around you.

For instance, as her team got bigger, the author found that the people she indirectly managed were less willing to challenge her opinion or tell her when they were unhappy with something. When she asked one of her direct reports why this was happening, he explained that they found her seniority intimidating. Thus, it’s important for managers of large teams to remember that no matter how friendly they might be, their position of authority, coupled with their distance from their indirect reports, might lead their team to see them as unapproachable. To combat this, managers should emphasize that they welcome opinions different from theirs, and make a point of rewarding people who express dissent.

Your first managerial position will hold opportunities and pitfalls, depending on your particular path to management. You can excel by focusing on getting great outcomes from your team meetings, your hiring decisions and your team itself.

So something for you to try out. Imagine a scenario in which you ask four members of your team to come up with new ideas for making an app easier to use. You tell them to take the best ideas forward, but at the end of the month, no decisions have been made. This may be because you didn’t designate an overall decision-maker. When you delegate tasks to groups, ensure that you’ve clearly defined who is accountable for what, and who is responsible for making decisions. Otherwise, your team will spend too much time debating whose ideas are the best and trying to persuade each other. Simply, if you want something done, assign authority to one person, not a group.

Check out my related post: Can you be friends with your boss?

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