"Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability."— Patrick Lencioni from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Meetings, at their core, are about collaboration and trust. They are where the seeds of innovation are sown, and where the vision for educational leadership is shared and nurtured.
Lencioni's insight reminds us that effective meetings are not just about agendas and minutes; they are about cultivating an environment of openness, vulnerability, and shared responsibility.
Consider the plight of Ms. Evans.
Ms. Evans is a dedicated elementary teacher in a bustling school district. In early September, Ms. Evans and the rest of her 2nd grade team found themselves trudging reluctantly to yet another seemingly useless meeting.
Ms. Evans had low hopes for this gathering, as she often found herself leaving meetings feeling frustrated and uninspired. However, things took a different turn during this meeting when the school's new principal – a visionary educational leader – facilitated an engaging and purposeful discussion that left Ms. Evans and her colleagues invigorated.
This anecdote highlights the stark contrast between ineffective and impactful meetings, showcasing the potential for change when educational leaders embrace the art of leading effective meetings.
We've all been there...
One of the most common meetings in school districts is “strategic” meetings.
Strategic meetings occur when a group of employees meet to discuss, analyze, and decide upon critical issues affecting the long-term success of a team. Examples include team leader meetings, department chair meetings, school improvement team meetings, and administrative team meetings.
Unfortunately, as common as these meetings are, their outcomes are far from identical. Even within the same organization, strategic meetings can range from productive to pointless and everything in between.
What causes such a contrast in meeting results? The leader.
Leaders who accept bad meetings set a precedent for the rest of the organization. When tolerated at the highest levels, bad meetings often become the ceiling of what can be expected in other meetings across the entire school or district.
That’s not to say some employees won’t try to make their meetings more effective than their boss. But it’s unlikely they’ll feel much pressure to do so. Contrast that with leaders who run fantastic meetings. Employees who leave well-managed meetings often feel compelled—if not pressured—to run their own effective meetings.
Think about the meetings you run. Where did you learn how to structure your gatherings? If you are like a majority of employees, your meetings are modeled after a current or former boss. The next time you run a meeting understand your style could be patterned—for better or worse—for years to come.
What are the characteristics of an effective meeting? Here are nine items to consider:
Clear Purpose: Every meeting has a well-defined purpose, and participants are sent the agenda in advance with an opportunity for input. This clarity ensures that time is spent productively and that everyone understands the meeting's objectives.
Encourage Participation: Educational leaders must actively engage all participants, encouraging them to share their insights, concerns, and ideas. The best administrators create an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are valued.
Time Management: One of the cardinal sins of leadership is wasting people’s time. Therefore, meetings must start and end on time. The leader keeps discussions on track, preventing irrelevant conversations and excessive delays. Agendas are followed, and time is allocated appropriately for each agenda item.
Active Listening: Effective administrators listen actively to participants. Rather than be preoccupied with their phone or laptop, administrators must acknowledge participant contributions, ask clarifying questions, and ensure that every voice in the room is being heard.
Positive Tone: Have you ever noticed how the tone of a meeting mirrors the personality of the leader? Effective meetings maintain a positive and respectful tone, with a focus on solutions as opposed to problems. Leaders must be mindful of their behavior, setting an expectation for professional and courteous behavior.
Food: The presence of food at a meeting can play a surprisingly significant role in its success by fostering a sense of camaraderie and well-being among participants. While not appropriate for every meeting, well-timed snacks can break the ice, encourage informal discussions, and promote a more relaxed and collaborative atmosphere.
Never underestimate the impact food can have on a meeting.
Transparency: Leaders must be transparent in their communication. Rather than withhold information, leaders must openly share all relevant details to ensure the team has the proper context for making decisions. Meetings are a prime opportunity for leaders to build relationships and foster trust with employees.
Problem-Solving: Productive meetings have a clear focus on solving problems and making decisions. As the discussion unfolds, leaders must think about how they can guide their team towards an actionable outcome. When the meeting ends, attendees must be clear on next steps, as well as how decisions are being communicated.
Accountability: Leaders must ensure that decisions are documented and that there is a system in place for following up on progress, holding participants accountable for their commitments. Always remember: what happens after the meeting—as opposed to during the meeting—is the benchmark for productive gatherings.
Still not sold on effective meetings?
Many leaders love to complain about time spent in meetings. “Why do we have so many meetings?” they argue. The irony of this statement is a great deal of a leader’s time is spent addressing issues that come about because those same issues aren’t resolved during meetings in the first place.
As you think about the meetings you run, consider them not as time-consuming obligations, but as powerful tools for addressing the core issues that matter most to your school’s success.