I support my client’s in designing and planning all different kinds of a day or multiple-day team meetings. The purpose of these meetings could be strategy planning, visioning or organizational change meetings, such as restructuring departments.
If you are planning a lengthy meeting (a half a day or more) where you are bringing a leadership team together or individuals who are part of a new project team, what you do and how you do it really matters. If this is a complex project, this first meeting sets the tone for the project in so many ways. It has the opportunity to create the clarity and excitement that can generate fabulous momentum for a new initiative. Or it can derail your efforts before you have started.
Here are a few tips that occurred to me this week in reflecting upon a couple of recent clients engagements:
The Work you Do Before the Meeting is as Important as the Work you Do in the Meeting. If you having a meeting with 8-20 people, I suggest interviewing participants to understand what their orientation is to the project. If it is 8 people, you can interview all of them. If it’s twenty, interviewing 30-50% of the people should be sufficient if you are getting at a cross-section of different backgrounds and perspectives. Draft a list of key questions (5-8) and schedule 30 minute interviews. Act like a reporter and get the full story by probing and reporting what they say. Because I tend to listen deeply and type fast, I typically take verbatim notes. I then integrate the notes stripping out the names, and identify the themes.
This will give you a picture of where people are at with their understanding of the initiative and their general feeling and perspective. This informs where and how you need to have what conversations.
Don’t Assume. If this is a new team but people know each other, don’t assume they know each other well. Don’t assume they know about each other’s backgrounds and career progression. It is helpful to have everyone give an introduction to each other as they may learn about some capability that they didn’t know their colleague had that could be beneficial to the project.
Start with the Basics & Level Set. Here is where I often see leaders trip up. They just want to move right into the “what” discussion. It is important to talk about how the team will work together – support one another, make decisions, deal with conflict. It’s helps to articulate general guidelines, or what I call leadership operating principles. At first, if it’s a new team, this will be theoretical. But once you have experience with each other, then you can tweak your principles based upon what you are seeing show up in people’s behavior.
Go Slow to Go Fast. Getting the basics right lays the foundation for having easier, more aligned conversations in the future, especially when the pressure is on. So don’t skip the previous steps.
Process Matters. Focusing just on the “what needs to be accomplished” is deadly. Pay attention to how you are going to address a topic area is just as important. Sometimes it’s helpful to have an unstructured discussion and sometimes breaking into groups and giving people a short, clear directive can help the team cut through and get right to the core of an issue or brainstorm a better solution.
Here’s to a productive meeting!
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