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Five tips for avoiding staff meeting nightmares

Regular staff meetings serve as a platform for resolving problems and hammering out critical decisions... except when they're poorly run. Steve Tobak offers some advice for making sure your staff meetings are actually useful.

What is it about staff meetings that brings out the worst in otherwise reasonable and intelligent business folks? Is it:

  • Their weekly frequency, come hell or high water?
  • Confronting a nemesis who gives you a hard time whenever you open your mouth?
  • Having to answer to an abusive boss in front of peers?
  • An opportunity to act out and childishly disrupt others?
  • A chance to demonstrate animalistic dominance?
  • A sign of a dysfunctional workplace or management team?

Meetings are hard enough to do effectively, but weekly staff meetings are the hardest. Why, I don't know. But in my experience, most managers are so inept at conducting effective meetings you'd think it's rocket science or a rare genetic trait.

Look, for companies to operate effectively, executives and managers need to know how to run staff meetings. That's where conflicts are resolved and plans are agreed upon. That's where critical strategic and operating processes are developed and managed.

If your staff meetings are ineffective, these five tips, from decades of experience both good and bad, will help.

Note: These tips are based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.

1: Be consistent

Have it weekly and for two hours, every week. Why two hours? Because in my experience, less is too short and more is too long. Really. Exceptions should be rare. Make sure attendees who are out for whatever reason send a replacement.

2: Manage the meeting

Whoever's in charge must ruthlesslessly manage the meeting. That means the boss is responsible for every aspect, including agenda, attendance, punctuality, and documentation. That person keeps everyone on topic and moves the meeting along, no matter what.

3: Don't allow any dog and pony shows

Staff meetings are not a time for show and tell or goofing around. They're for communicating status and discussing key issues affecting the company's business, not for each department or division to robotically share every little detail and get pats on the back.

4: Keep debate and conflict productive

Staff meetings are for debate and consensus on critical issues. Attack the problem or issue, not the person. Stay on topic, but don't beat a dead horse. Be open, honest, and forthcoming. Don't hold back, bulls-t, or sugarcoat issues.

5: Document key decisions

Key decisions are nuggets of corporate gold that pop out all too rarely. They must be published within one day. That also goes for follow-up or action required (AR) and an owner for each item, unless it's an executive staff -- they should be senior enough to track their own ARs.


11 comments
jeff.allen
jeff.allen

20 - 30 minutes generally. Agenda and STICK TO IT. 1: Review last meeting's minutes and ask each attendee about progress on their action-required item. (Knowing they WILL be asked in front of their peers ensures there will be progress, and a current status) 2: New items from management that WILL go into the minutes and WILL be passed to staff for action (ask who would like to take on each task, that way they "own" it.) Get a committment from them as to completion date or progress date. (There should ALWAYS be something new here. Even if an urgent task has come up, and been allocated to staff between meetings, it should be entered here so progress can be monitored, and demonstrated to all staff - this helps morale, seeing the company moving forward). 3: New items from staff that they see need actioning, and treat each topic with the same respect Management requests get. Allocate tasks similarly to 2 above. 4: Any other business - keep it relevant and related to work. 5: Close by thanking everyone for their attendance and the efforts they are putting in to get tasks completed. Then announce when the next meeting will be, and commit to posting minutes/actions and agenda by a certain time/date.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I disagree. Two hours is waaaaay too long. And do not try to do two different things in the same meeting. A one hour MAX and yes it can go shorter meeting just for status updates should be the only mandatory weekly thing. No dog and pony and no reports if there is nothing to report on from your dept. If there are issues or concerns, then schedule another meeting just for that specific issue and invite the correct people. (Chances are they won't be all of the people at the regular staff meeting and may include others from outside the immediate staff). The meeting type presented in the article is exactly my nightmare of a meeting.

diman75
diman75

I wish my so-called boss could read this and finally understand that staff meetings are not for his stand up comedy gigs, yes he sometimes thinks of himself as of a stand up comedian, only his "jokes" are offensive to some people in the team.

Niall Baird
Niall Baird

There's nothing worse than heading along to the weekly staff meeting, to go through the minutes of the last meeting (if in fact, you actually have them), then sit around looking at each other to figure out what to discuss next. If you don't have a clear agenda, then cancel the meeting.

alistair.k
alistair.k

2 hours is an insane waste of man time. Thats almost a conference LOL. If you need two hours EVERY week just for a staff meeting I don't know whats going on there but it smells like inefficiency. We have a one hour meeting every 2 weeks. Works just fine. Keep 'em brief, keep to the point, make decissions, delegate, assign responsibility, move on, go do some work.

Firedrake
Firedrake

Agreed. Most 1-hour meetings could be completed in 15 minutes if it weren't for the socializing / joking around that takes place.

hochanz.2008
hochanz.2008

you should print off a copy of the 5 list and provide it as feedback at your next meeting. the only way to get your feelings across about the comedy show, is to make it clear that you do not find it productive. Your boss is a human being just like you, he/she requires feedback just like you. this is important to any relationship. give it a try, it might work. good luck.

Firedrake
Firedrake

Who do you work for, Ricky Gervais? ;^)

aandruli
aandruli

The meeting should have everyone discussing the status of their project and if they need any help to move it along. Everyone should be working on something or about to work on something so there should be something to discuss unless no one is doing anything.

Jaqui
Jaqui

if it's a weekly meeting then the agenda should be exactly the same. every week. the idea is to make sure everyone is current on what is happening with the projects underway, so the only changes will be when a project is completed or started.

kevaburg
kevaburg

We are going through a big migration at the moment not only of AD, but SQL and Oracle servers, workstations, printers etc; for around 15,000 clients. Two hours is just about right for our two-weekly meetings. Sometimes we need a bit longer. My point is that if the time is wisely spent then the meeting should be (SHOULD!!) one of the most important parts of the week. Without it you have people running around like headless chickens not understanding what their role in the world is! Having said that, it would be nicer is they were shorter sometimes....