How do you Run an Effective Team Meeting?

The following outtake, focused on breaking in to and thriving in the world of management, is taken from a recent exclusive recording of an MMC Moments of Truth discussion between Stephanie Leigh-Rose, education and media director at MMC Learning and Malcom Johnston, who is a consultant providing strategic support and coaching to businesses.

In this extract, Stephanie and Malcom discuss how to run an effective team meeting and the importance of team meetings for team building.

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How do you run a productive team meeting?

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

All right, next up, how do you run an effective team meeting?

Malcolm Johnston:

It’s a challenge. People don’t have a lot of time to spare, and it’s difficult to get into a team meeting, or pretend that you want to get into a team meeting.

Malcolm Johnston:

I would say one of the important things about team meetings is to agree a framework and stick to the framework. The other is to identify how long those team meetings should be and how frequent they should be.

So discuss this with your team, and you will end up having to come to a conclusion if you are the boss. There will be some people in your team who don’t think there is a need for team meetings. There may be some in your team who don’t like team meetings. That may be because they are introverted, as an example, and find the environment of a team meeting difficult to handle. There may be those who are desperate for team meetings to show off what they’ve done. So you’ve got a broad range of people and opinions likely in your team, so you’ve got to decide.

What is the purpose of holding team meetings?

The first thing to ask yourself is why do I want a team meeting? And I would say that there are a number of reasons. The first and the unspoken one is to help you develop a team.

Your team, of course, may be spread across continents. But it’s important, I think, to build a team cohesion, a team identity. So that is perhaps an unspoken reason for having a team meeting.

For me, the reason for having a team meeting is to allow soft feedback to be given to you on how things are going, and for you to perhaps convey some meat around the bones of communications that you might have sent out or the managing director might have sent out, perhaps add some interpretation to what’s going on in the marketplace that you are able to see because you happen to operate at a more senior level. That’s about it. So there’s an element of two-way communication, but also helping people to collaborate across the team.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

And is there- we speak about this in the course a little bit- an element of building in that time at the end to do the follow up or schedule the follow up to the next team meeting, or does that not necessarily fit in this context?

What is the role of team meetings in team building?

Malcolm Johnston:

Let me tell you what I used to do. I’d have a weekly 40 minute team meeting on a Friday. I asked everyone to come in at 8:00 AM instead of 9:00 AM, and I bought everyone breakfast. So we were fortunate, this was in the days of having a canteen in the bottom of the building, which as we’ve mentioned before is actually a really good idea. So it was bacon butties at 8:00, and the agenda was always the same.

In addition, I had a one day away day every quarter for the people who reported directly to me. So the 40 minute meeting on a Friday was everyone in my team, and every quarter, my direct employees and I went offsite. The quarterly meetings were about where we were vis-a-vis our KPIs and each member of my team delivered a presentation to everyone else in the team on where they were against their KPIs.

So I created the framework, and the framework was to limit them to three things, what are the three things that are going well in my area, and I’m going to do more of? What are the three things in my area of responsibility that are not going well, and I need help with?

You’ve got to provide a framework, I don’t want to say agenda because that’s boring but a framework is important.

As I say, the quarterly meetings were where are you against your KPIs? What’s going well and you’re going to do more of, and what’s not going well?

That took a morning, and in the afternoon, we played. Each time- I had eight direct people under me- each quarter it was a different person’s turn to organise the location and the entertainment in the afternoon. So we worked hard in the morning and the afternoon was play. Always on a Friday. We did things from throwing clay pots, amateur dramatics, went to a health club once, clay pigeon shooting, archery, polo. So a whole range of stuff that reflected the hobbies of each individual.

The 40-minute meeting we had was really about celebrating success. So it was, okay, end of the week, bacon butties, department heads would give a review, so it’s eight people. They were allowed five minutes each to go, “This is what we’ve been doing this week, this what’s gone well, and I want to congratulate Marie because when we were working on that bid document until nine o’clock at night, she went out and got the pizzas without being asked.” Applause for her, and an award from me and that went round each of the eight, and then it was open floor with any questions to anyone from anyone.

How can team meetings help create an open and productive atmosphere in teams?

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

I really liked, you mentioned a minute ago about asking for help, pointing out the three items that weren’t going well and then asking for feedback or help. I think that’s really important, so it’s not just, “This is going wrong.”

Malcolm Johnston:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I was really lucky. I had a fantastic team, three women, five men, age range from about 23 to about 53. So some of the older direct reports were a little reticent in opening up and saying, “I’ve got a problem.” I was really lucky, I had a guy called Mike Prouse, who was one of my team, just a loyal guy. And he was the first to open up and say, “I’ve got a problem with X.” He got it. As it happens, he was doing a part-time diploma in management studies at the time, so he recognised a lot of what I was doing and he would quite openly say, “I made a mistake with such and such, and I should have listened to Janice who was saying this and I didn’t and now, we are in this situation,” or whatever and it helped to create an open environment.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

That’s really important, creating an environment where you can admit, “Oh, that maybe could have been done differently,” and then seek the support of your co-workers.

Malcolm Johnston:

Yeah. And my team were very good. They would tell me if I’d made a screw up somewhere along the line. The DRs, direct reports, were very good about not doing it in public. But that’s what I did.

So how do you run an effective team meeting? I would say make your process really clear, how many you are going to have and when. Structure them so it’s not just a free for all.

Keep the pace up so that they do not ever overrun and if you are expecting people to come in in their own time, you’ve got to do something special to reward them for coming in, like in this country, bacon butties. One has to understand the different ethnicities, but generally speaking, bacon butties.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

I love it. Yeah if someone says, “oh, stay late, we’re bringing a pizza,” I’m like, “I’m there!”

Malcolm Johnston:

Yeah, and it’s bagel days in America, in the U.S. it would be bagels.

How do you run an effective team meeting from a distance?

Running an effective team meeting when your team is widely dispersed, you can do elements of the same, even if you’ve got eight people on a video screen in front of you. You have to keep the structure there, particularly because, of course, people can tend to cut across each other. But then, I think as a manager, you’ve got to put more effort into communication, saying oh “Sorry, I’m doing that because I’m looking at the screen” sort of thing, but it’s getting people to be open about communicating across on a screen and disciplined about not having side conversations in comments because that’s really distracting.

Also training your team to know when the conversation needs to stop for you to pick it up offline. You need to be able to coach your people, frankly, whether it is a face-to-face meeting or an online meeting- train your people so that they can discipline themselves, so it’s not just you cracking the whip saying, “okay, this is getting too deep, let’s have a meeting outside of this meeting because this is going to take too long.” Otherwise, it’s soul destroying if it’s only you saying, “Can you take that offline?” So coaching people to recognise when you need to do that.

I suppose the other thing is use your team resources. For effective team meetings, make it very clear, it is not down to just me to make this team meeting effective. If you want it improved, improve it, but we are going to have them.

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

It’s a team meeting.

Malcolm Johnston:

It’s a team meeting, and there’s no “I” in team.

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