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Monday, 9am: the first participants drift into the room clasping their smart devices and coffees.
9:05am: The meeting gets going with the weekly roundtable updates.
9:10am: The first surreptitious glances at devices half-hidden under the table.
9:15am: The last of the latecomers finally shuffles in, apologises, struggles to catch up and quickly drifts to looking at their phone.
9:20am: Half the room is pecking away at their smartphones.
9:30am: Still dragging on, you wonder if anyone’s still actually still listening.
9:50am: Everyone lets out a sigh as the meeting draws to a close.
9:57am: A really interesting topic comes up by chance but conversation halts as half the room gathers their belongings and moves onto the next meeting.
If you’re part of a management team, you’ve probably been there. The weekly meeting, the status update, the uninspiring start to the working week. Management teams need to get together face to face but who is the meeting actually for? And have you stopped to think what you’re getting out of it and how much it costs to book out your management team for 60 minutes each week?
I’ve been in a number of management teams over my career and I’ve seen repeated patterns of apathy and inattention in the weekly meeting. The team seems to be going through the motions because there’s a diary entry and that’s just the way we do things.
The first step to solving this is for everyone to agree on what the purpose of the management meeting actually is. What are the outcomes you want from getting everyone in the same room? Is it a status report on what everyone’s doing? If so, maybe compile a group status document, send it around and then schedule 15 minutes to discuss the contents once everyone has read it. Or perhaps you are looking to solve problems in the meeting? There are many valid reasons to get together, but being clear on what you want to achieve is critical to making the most of everyone’s time. Here’s some techniques I’ve found useful in management meetings:
One of the key artefacts that an agile team lives by is their kanban board. When the team does their daily standup around the board, they’re focused on what they’re trying to achieve in their timebox (a week, two weeks, a day) and what help they need from the rest of the team to meet those goals. By using the same technique with your management team, you can focus on the important actions the management team are trying to achieve. By having a kanban board out in the open, you can also provide transparency over what the team is trying to achieve to everyone else in the organisation. After all, your goal as a management team is to help the people who work for you, isn’t it?
My current leadership team get together once a week around our leadership kanban wall and talk through what we’re each working on to meet our goal of a world class engineering organisation.
When you’re running a department or a business, you have a number of metrics you look at to track which way you’re heading (at least, I hope you do!). Making those visible and talking about them is a great way to provoke discussion. By picking 2 or 3 key metrics from each department and creating a metrics wall that the team is accountable for updating, you can have a discussion every week about what’s been happening. With a few laminated pieces of card and erasable markers, you can always have the week’s metrics on the wall ready for discussion. This can be a great feed into discussions around changes or actions you need to take.
Rather than sending around a scorecard that nobody looks at, getting people to physically stand in front of the metrics on a wall can focus the attention of the group onto what matters.
Lean Coffee is an agendaless meeting format. The meeting attendees drive the topics for discussion and vote on what they want to talk about. You then timebox each discussion; if you run out of time, the team can vote to continue on into another timebox. By democratising the agenda, topics which are of genuine interest to the attendees get discussed.
By ensuring that actions get added to the team’s kanban board, the team can talk about and act on what’s most important at the time.
If you follow the same format every week, any meeting can become stale. By changing the order around, experimenting with different approaches or even rotating the meeting chairperson regularly, you can breathe new life into the weekly management meeting. Perhaps have a guest speaker each week; or change the location – do it outside in the summer. Simple tweaks can keep a meeting fresh. And if the meeting is getting stale, don’t be afraid to challenge its relevance. What was right a year ago may not be right today.
There’s plenty of fun activities that can help mix up the meeting. For instance, you could spend ten minutes picking a few Jimmy Cards and answering the questions. Or have the team draw and present their worst nightmares. Or try “two truths and a lie” with your team (Each person prepares 3 statements, 2 of which are true and 1 of which is a lie. The object of the game is to figure out which statement a lie). There’s a wealth of quick, simple games or activities you can do which provide some relief and can have a serious purpose too.
One last practical tip. Have the team agree on ground rules for the meeting. Most teams will elect to ban devices from the room or have them only on by exception. Having everyone arrive on time is another favourite. Agree on the rules and then post them up where you have the meeting.
A well-run management meeting can be the highlight of the week but one which doesn’t fulfil its purpose can cost you a lot of money and be a drain on your team. Spending time thinking about getting the meeting right is a great investment.