Could We Do This in a Team Meeting?

I spend a lot of time in my seminars imploring leaders and managers to spend more time with their employees: “You need to spend time every day with your direct-reports providing guidance, direction, support, and coaching!”

Often, managers will raise their hands and ask, “Could we do this in a team meeting?”

Team meetings are great. They are critical to any leader/manager’s repertoire. But team meetings are really only useful for four purposes:

  • Creating a feeling of belonging and togetherness. (This reason should be used sparingly. Maybe once a quarter).
  • Sharing a bunch of information to a bunch of people in the same way at the same time.
  • If there is an open question/problem with multiple constituents so the various constituents may discuss together; hear what each other says; respond spontaneously to each other; and move together toward a common solution.
  • Because team meetings so often make it clear that certain one on one huddles are necessary and must immediately follow the team meeting!
That’s because most of the real action in highly engaged management occurs in the ongoing one-on-one dialogue. When you meet with an employee, and look her in the eye, talk about expectations, ask for an account of her performance, review her work results, or provide feedback, there’s no place to hide.

In team meetings, it’s just too easy to hide—for both the manager and the employees. Managers often feel more comfortable sharing difficult news or providing feedback to the whole team than talking directly to one person. The problem is, the difficult news or feedback is often aimed at only one or two people. So the rest of the team is confused and insulted. Meanwhile, the very people you are trying to “manage” in that team setting might not even realize that you are talking to them!

Managers tell me all the time about that team meeting in which they meant to shine a bright light on Mr. Blue, the employee who has been coming in late and taking too many long breaks. They announce at the meeting, “We have to stop coming in late. And we have to stop taking so many long breaks. Remember, you get two ten-minute breaks—and ten minutes means ten minutes.” Most of their employees are sitting there, puzzled: “What is he talking about? I come in early every day, and I hardly ever take breaks.” But the one employee the manager is really talking to is looking at her watch thinking, “Come on already. Wrap it up. I’ve got to take my break.”

It’s also a whole lot harder to tune in to each employee in a team meeting and focus on that person’s work in a way that will be meaningful and helpful. Often, team meetings feel pro forma and include lots of discussion about things that most of the people in the room don’t need to know and don’t care about. Meanwhile, details critical to one employee or another are inevitably omitted. Sometimes the best things to come out of a team meeting are the spontaneous one-on-one huddles that typically follow the meeting, because the meeting has made it clear that they are necessary.

Team meetings do have a place in good management, of course.

One key to making them work is making sure that anyone who calls a team meeting has a clear agenda for the meeting, invites only those who need to be at the meeting, and then strictly follows the agenda.

The second key is to teaching everyone in your organization (or at least everyone on your team) to follow the best practices of meetings attendance:

  • Before attending any meeting or presentation, make sure you know what the meeting is about and whether your attendance is required or requested.
  • Identify what your role in the meeting is: What information are you responsible for communicating or gathering?
  • Prepare in advance: Is there any material you should review or read before the meeting? Are there any conversations you need to have before the meeting?
  • If you are making a presentation, prepare even more. Ask yourself exactly what value you have to offer the group.
  • If you are not a primary actor in the meeting, often the best thing you can do is say as little as possible and practice good meeting manners. If you are tempted to speak up, ask yourself: is this a point that everyone needs to hear, right here and now? If you have a question, could it be asked at a later time, off-line?
  • Remember some meetings are often are a waste of time. In those meetings, try not to say a single word that will unnecessarily lengthen it.
Team meetings are often necessary and often valuable. They have their place. Just don’t fool yourself: the team meeting is a totally different animal from AND NO SUBSTITUTE FOR the ongoing one-on-one dialogue every manager should be building with every single direct report.
Bruce Tulgan is the author of numerous books including the bestseller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (1995), as well as Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (2010). To find out more, or Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucetulgan.
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