Everyone’s got an opinion on meetings. Bezos has his “two-pizza” rule on group size. Satya convenes his leadership team meeting for 4 hours each week and 8 hours once a week. I’ve met folks who eschew all meetings as a waste of time and other’s who use staff meetings as their primary mode of getting status updated from their staff (hint: neither is probable right!). Patrick Lencioni even wrote a great book aptly titled Death by Meetingwhich I’ll borrow liberally from below.

My biggest pet-peeve is the meeting without an purpose/agenda or the recurring team meeting where everyone goes around in a circle and brings up their own topics. There’s no focus, so there’s no results. Even worse, half the team is probably on their cell phone, waiting for their chance to talk. Ugh!

First, let’s agree that communication and alignment are big areas for improvement in most organizations. If so, we shouldn’t ignore the help that meetings and other structured methods provide. I’m not sure my recipe is right, but I like the flavor of it. Here’s the structure:

Daily Stand-up

Each morning at the beginning of the day, each formal team should group up for about five minutes. The agenda is purely tactical; the schedule for the day, urgent issues, priority jobs and cascading communication. A “round the room” format is great, giving each person the opportunity to give their quick update. Important things to keep in mind:

  • I think the biggest advantage of the morning standup is on the team-building side. Many folks only interact with each other when issues pop up, so they build relationships and communication methods around that framework. By chatting each morning in a friendly environment, they build a relationship that is built on trust – which makes handling the eventual issues so much easier, because they can usually see things from both perspectives.
  • The cash cost of these meetings is not insignificant when considered across an entire year. So, it’s important to keep the stand-up short, on point and prevent it from becoming stale. It helps to focus on the cascading communication you want to share.

Weekly Business Plan Review

This is the meat and potatoes for any leadership team. Reading about Ford’s turnaround, I became a big fan of Alan Mulally’s “Business Plan Review”, but meeting him in person sealed the deal and sold me on this format with a couple tweaks:

  • First up, some sort of 5 minute activity to bring everyone’s attention into the room. I like using quick lean teaching exercises to help reinforce the methodology we should be using to improve.
  • Next, financial reporting. A quick review of key performance metrics for the entire company. Recommend green/yellow/red coding and including targets.
  • Next, team reporting. A quick five minute report form each leader on the progress of their portion of business plan. It’s important that their plan aligns with the organizations strategy and has measurable indicators that allow the team to easily assess progress and hold each other accountable. If something is off-track, now isn’t the time to solve the issue, but it is the time to assign resources to get the plan back on track.

Again, this meeting isn’t the time for the leader to query specific tasks or for problems to be discussed deeply. It’s also absolutely not a round-table where each leader just brings their own list of pet-topics to preach about. It’s about the team holding themselves and each other accountable for reaching a shared set of targets. I love this structure because it often diagnoses root cause issues:

  1. Some individuals consistently miss their targets.
  2. The organization’s or individual’s targets are consistently unreasonable for the available resources.
  3. Targets are consistently achieved. 🙂

A couple rules: No cell phones, no laptops, start on-time, be tough on issues and be soft on people.

Monthly Performance Review

Transparency, win or lose, is important. Imagine playing a football game for 60 minutes and at the end the referee just says “okay, we’re all done!” No one finds out the score. No one knows how many yards anyone got, how many tackles, who won, which player did great… nothing! You’ve got to have measurements and you’ve got to share those measurements with the folks that can actually pull the levers that have an effect.

For this monthly meeting, bring together leaders throughout the organization (anyone with a direct report) and quickly review the financial performance and other key measurable objectives. Keep it visual, clear to understand and keep it quick. Most importantly, give kudos to the teams that succeeded.

This meeting can be an interesting test of your organization’s alignment. Because you have each team leader present, you have someone representing each aspect of the business. If someone present doesn’t have a metric that they can directly affect, you’ve got a problem with alignment. The goal here is to draw a big sharpie line connecting the actions of each team with the organization’s targets. Employee’s shouldn’t have to jump through mental hoops to figure out how they have an impact.

1:1 Coaching

I used to prefer random chats throughout the week to provide coaching and status check-ins, but realized this causes anxiety for some folks and doesn’t allow teammates to bring their own questions and feedback to the table.

Scheduling a weekly check-in with each member of the team solves this issue. As a latte-addicted Seattle-ite, I really enjoy grabbing coffee and just working through the current roadblocks that are holding folks back. It’s also a great time to provide candid feedback, both positive and constructive.

Lastly, here are two recurring email patterns, that I found helpful.

“Friday” Message

Emails, memos and training don’t singularly change culture, but they can help emphasize the right things. If you can get into the habit of it, it’s a low overhead communication method that can be reinforce culture and strategy. Potential messages include: monthly performance, employee kudos, business plan updates, cool projects/sales wins, cultural reinforcements, customer/supplier highlights and new hire welcomes.

Weekly Status

I’ve gone hot and cold on this one in various roles, but I think it depends on the complexity of the team your leading and the tasks being worked on. The potentially micro-management style of updating the team with a list of high priority tasks is a little contrary to the Business Plan Review from above, but can help keep everyone on the same page and ensure that folks with different communication styles get taken care of. Again, it depends on the type of team your working with, but can be helpful!

That’s all folks!

So… what’s you’re preferred structure? Do you have a type of meeting you particularly love or hate?

-DKT