You walk into your classroom, sink into your desk chair, and take a sip of your hot coffee. You’re rested and ready to develop a new lesson your kids will love.
Suddenly you hear a voice from the loudspeaker: "There will be a Faculty Meeting in 5 Minutes"
What are you first thoughts that come to mind?
You're not alone.
According to a recent Harris poll, 46 percent of respondents said they'd prefer to do almost anything else rather than attend a workplace meeting. 17 percent said they would rather watch paint dry.
And for good reason. Many meetings are unproductive, disorganized, and unfocused. I've sat through many of these meetings and can agree, there are few things more frustrating than a poorly-run meeting.
As leaders we must understand one of our most important responsibilities is running effective meetings.
In The Advantage Patrick Lencioni suggests, "No action, activity, or process is more central to a healthy organization than the meeting. There is no better way to have a fundamental impact on an organization than by changing the way it does meetings. In fact, if someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting."
If you agree with Lencioni's claim, consider this analogy:
The best place to observe a leader's job performance? A meeting.
The best place to observe a surgeon's job performance? An operation.
Would you want your surgeon ill-prepared for your operation?
In my role as superintendent, I lead three "routine" meetings:
Weekly 1:1 meetings with direct reports (45 minutes)
Bi-weekly meetings with our leadership team (120 Minutes)
Quarterly meetings with our entire staff (60 Minutes)
All three of these meetings serve a different purpose and are vital for pushing our district forward. In the following section I will focus on the bi-weekly leadership team meeting.
Our leadership team meetings are primarily focused on addressing emerging issues and discussing solutions to help our school(s) improve. This meeting is commonplace in most school districts.
Here are five rules of thumb I follow when leading leadership team meetings:
Agenda - Productive meetings have an editable agenda sent out ahead of time. Not only should organizers spend time identifying the priorities of the meeting and structuring the flow of discussion, they should also allow attendees to add items to the discussion. Collaborative agendas give others a voice and create buy-in from the group.
Notes - Effective meetings require accurate documentation of discussion and decisions. Our leadership team meeting notes are neatly organized in a Google Doc with the most recent meeting at the top of the page. By keeping a year's worth of meetings in one document, our team can use the "search" function to quickly locate key details from prior meetings.
Action Steps - No meeting should end without a clear indication of the next actions that are needed. When you get around people who don't ask "what's our next steps" you will become increasingly frustrated. For each action step we identify and document the specific action, the person responsible, and a timeline for completion.
Closure - Save at least five minutes to summarize the meeting. As painful as it may be for a group who is ready to adjourn a meeting, savvy leaders provide clarity to a meting by recapping agreed-upon action steps and answering unanswered questions. The sign of a great meeting isn’t the meeting itself - it’s what happens after that meeting.
Follow Through - Leaders are responsible for ensuring team members follow through on commitments. When a group member forgets or ignores an obligation, the leader must remind the individual of the unfulfilled action step. Employees who consistently disregard commitments significantly limit the effectiveness of the team.
Leaders who accept bad meetings set the 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 district.
That's not to say that 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 a principal who runs fantastic meetings. In all likelihood, the principal's direct reports will feel compelled to run meetings that meet those high standards.
Finally, consider the issues you deal with on a daily basis. It is likely a great deal of your time is spent having to address issues that come about because they aren't being resolved during meetings in the first place.
Therefore, meetings must be viewed as a crucial leverage point of a leader's time.
Meetings have been given a bad rap for way too long.
Let's stop wasting people's time ... and start running meetings people look forward to and value.
Looking for another Patrick Lencioni book about running effective meetings? Consider reading Death By Meeting: A Leadership Fable.