Two Simple Changes to Make Your Team Meetings More Effective

Team meetings may be one of the most important tools you have as a manager to ensure that your team is as effective as possible, but there are so many ways to make meetings the worst part of your employees' day.  The solution is not to stop having meetings.  As a manager, you need to be skilled at running meetings, as it is one of your core job functions.  There are two relatively simple strategies that you can implement right away, without much time or effort, and both of these changes will drastically improve what you (and your team) get out of the meetings.

Strategy #1: The Meeting "Red Zone"

In professional football, the red zone is the area of the field between the twenty yard line and the goal line.  Scoring becomes more likely when a team move into the red zone.  The actions of both teams become both more constrained and more important when one of the teams is in the other's red zone.  For a meeting, the last ten minutes could be considered the red zone.  Rather than letting the meeting run over, the leader (that's you) calls the discussion to an abrupt close and discusses three key things:

  1. What was decided (if anything) - write this on a white board or on a flipchart so that everyone can see it.  This is important to make sure that no one walks out of the room with a different conception of the conversation.
  2. What is still open (if anything), what needs to happen next to move those topics forward (typically, gathering data and/or scheduling a follow-up meeting), and who will be the point person for those action steps
  3. What, if anything, needs to be communicated to other stakeholders who were not part of the meeting.  This could be team members who were absent, your boss, other employees on the team, or even other departments.  This helps to define what is confidential about what was discussed and ensure that everyone is communicating consistently.

The hardest part about the meeting red zone is not the actual tasks listed above.  The hard part is having the discipline to cut a discussion short while there's still time to do a summary.  Often, we let meetings run over until someone (often you) has to run off to another meeting.  This disrespects people's time and creates disjointed discussions if one person leaves but the conversation continues.

The meeting red zone ensures that everyone is on the same page and that there is a clear plan for finishing the conversation, rather than letting things happen haphazardly.  The easiest way to implement the meeting red zone is to set an alarm on your smart phone to buzz you at the "ten minutes to go" mark.  

Strategy #2: Write agenda topics as a question

This strategy comes from Roger Schwarz in a Harvard Business Review blog post.  Instead of writing your agenda items as general topics, write them as a question.  So, rather than "launch planning," the item might be framed as, "What steps do we need to take to successfully launch product X by December?"  Once you define what "launch planning" really entails, it becomes really clear that ten minutes probably won't be enough on the agenda.  It also tells meeting participants what the output of that topic might look like.

By using questions, you make it easier to prioritize topics and also help your employees focus (and possibly prepare) more effectively.  

These two changes are relatively simple, but they both require mental discipline.  They force the meeting organizer to be more thoughtful and organized, which helps to ensure that the meeting is a better use of everyone's time, yours included.  By running meetings more effectively, you will get better results from your team, and they might even look forward to team meetings (or at least not dread them as much).

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