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.