by Tom Catalini

How successful team leaders avoid common meeting pitfalls

May 18, 2017
IT LeadershipIT Skills

Consistently great team meetings might be closer than you think.

What if more of your team meetings could be fun and productive?

Wouldn’t that be helpful to you as a leader? Wouldn’t that be helpful to your team? Your organization? Your customers?

Well, you might be a whole lot closer than you think to consistently great team meetings. I’ll show you how to get there. It’s the subject of one of my most popular blog posts of all time: ”8 Ideas for Running Great Team Meetings.”

Here, we will dig deeper.

First, we’ll talk about some common pitfalls and how to avoid them. Then, we’ll talk about the one critical thing you can do as the team leader.

Meeting pitfalls

Balancing structure and informality

Some of the best team meetings walk a fine line between levels of structure and informality.

Going too far in either direction is usually a mistake.

Structure has the advantage of simplifying things. All the meeting logistics become rote. That’s efficient.

But rote isn’t the place where we do our best work. So you need to infuse the content of the meeting with energy.

That energy can come from many places. Sometimes it’s a relaxed section of the meeting where you follow a tangent for a bit. Sometimes it’s a new curveball you throw out to keep everyone engaged—an unexpected question, some surprising information or a novel perspective.

It’s your job as the team leader to manage the dynamics of the meeting. Do that within the content of the meeting while leaving the mundane details of meeting logistics stable and you will be on your way to achieving a good balance of structure and informality.

Balancing hierarchy and creativity

You are the team leader. But all that means is that you are a member of the team with some special responsibilities.

You don’t need to be “the boss,” you don’t need to have all the answers. Heck, you don’t need to have all the questions.

View yourself as a facilitator first and foremost.

As the leader, people will look to you. Make sure they see someone who is not caught up in formal authority but rather someone who is devoted to cultivate great thinking by the entire group.

Use your special role to bring out the best in everyone else in the room. Encourage each individual to contribute ideas, suggestions and insights. Support everyone who speaks up. Demonstrate that participation is valued highly.

Keep the meeting on track. Guide discussions. Summarize points, confirm a shared understanding, and take and share helpful notes.

All of this will help to show real leadership. Not from a place of authority, but from a place of absolute commitment to helping the group do the best possible work that it can.

Use your authority in this deferential, but deliberate, way and you will be on your way to achieving good balance between hierarchy and creativity.

Balance information and action

One thing that can suck the energy out of a team meeting quickly is a series of boring status updates.

Sometimes these can spark great discussions. Most of the time, though, status updates are wasting time.

Live, face-to-face meeting time is very expensive. You have everyone in a room together for real-time communication. Don’t waste it with things that can be handled more effectively in other formats.

People can get lazy here, so this one can be tricky. Everybody gets too many emails and doesn’t read everything carefully.

So it can be easier for team members to get “caught up” on things in the meeting. But if you allow that culture to emerge in your team meetings, you are simply rewarding bad behavior.

Don’t go there.

Where status updates make sense, keep them short and to the point. Stay away from indulging people who don’t keep up by making everyone else suffer through this in real-time.

Make it clear that updates are important, but not a good use of group time.

Instead, put more time and energy into decision making. That’s a good use of time for a live group meeting.

Demonstrating a focus on action-planning by building on status updates that everyone should have read before the meeting is a good way to emphasize a forward-looking orientation.

Discussing the results and implications and decisions that need to be made in order to leave the meeting with a clear action plan is a good way to balance information and action in your meetings.

Yin and yang

The secret is balance.

That’s the one big thing that a team leader can do to achieve great results. Because to maintain balance you must be keenly observant of team dynamics.

You must be constantly shifting and adjusting to keep the energy high and the team focused. You must cater to individual needs as well as helping the group as a whole.

You must also be self-aware and keep yourself in balance, exerting authority where it helps the team and leaning back when the team is better served by others.

Steady progress, over time, will build momentum and camaraderie so long as you preserve and protect the balance of yourself and the team.

And, yes that is “fun.” Because being productive feels good. Progress is its own reward. Working on an energized team is far more satisfying than the alternative.

And, all of this builds, of course, to make the team even more productive.