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Steve Turner

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Meetings…yawn!

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People spend countless hours involved in meetings, but what if this time could be more productive? Steve Turner reveals how to achieve optimum results from your meetings to make them more proactive and exciting for all team members.

Meetings can be a great place to start a forum for a debate. Most people assume meetings will be boring, but this could be a thing of the past. A meeting lacking in drama and context can simply become pointless and boring. A good meeting is one which is key, clear and precise with the information, and is delivered with drama which will hold peoples’ attention, keep them interactive within the meeting, and give them a feeling of understanding why they are there.  
 
A favourite author of mine Patrick Lencioni explains the fundamental building blocks for great teamwork in one of his best seller books The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The five main points I work around are trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results. Having trust, conflict and commitment in your team makes you accountable to results. You need trust to build confidence in your team, so when they embark upon these discussions and debates the context is clearly understood and it is not considered a personal attack. 
 

Building strong relationships

 
By trust I mean sharing more about you, expressing an opinion, being more open and honest about your strengths and weaknesses, for example asking for help and support. By expressing your feelings to your team members a stronger relationship will build within your team. Just one of Lencioni’s mottos is: "Not finance, not strategy, not technology, it is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare". In this economic downturn being able to stand out from your competitors is second to none, and working as a great team is even better. 
 
I have often wondered why teamwork is so difficult. Having competed in rowing at Olympic level, helped build a business during the internet boom, spent time building and being part of European and Global management teams and now running my own business, I’ve come to the following conclusion: It’s hard work and different. The first question that I ask most teams is ‘are you really a team?’ because true teamwork is hard and requires an emotional commitment to each other. 
 
Working as a small business you might think that you don’t have enough time for internal meetings or that they are not as important as trying to secure that next piece of business. A smaller working environment is said to be much more cohesive and aware, but this is not always the case. Whenever you ask employees what can be improved, communication is usually in the top five. This illustrates the importance of meetings which can be used as a great communication vehicle. 
 
The four meetings that I recommend for businesses are: a daily check-in; weekly tactical; monthly strategic; and a quarterly offsite.
 
  • Daily check-in: Usually first thing in the morning, no more than five to 10 minutes with the purpose of sharing daily schedules and activities. Keep it administrative and don’t cancel even when some people can’t make it (you might need to consider a conference call if you are a distributed team) and don’t sit down. For us as a business this has improved clarity on priorities for the day and in certain situations stopped us making some silly mistakes by increasing awareness.
  • Weekly tactical: Once a week, no more than 45-90 minutes with the purpose of reviewing weekly activities, metrics and resolving tactical obstacles and issues. Don’t have a formal agenda until initial reporting (to determine the right topics or deferments) to allow everybody an input. This has proved extremely valuable when external influences cause change to our approach as it forces us to ensure we are all focused on the end goal and our activities support that. We have managed to engage in some meaningful debates on customer situations and therefore resolve some of the short term problems. Through some practice we have now managed to ensure that all ‘strategic’ issues are deferred to the monthly session rather than taking up valuable time every week.
  • Monthly strategic: Once a month, no more than two to four hours. Use this time to discuss, analyse, brainstorm and decide upon critical issues affecting long-term success. You have to limit the time to one or two topics and preparation and research is done upfront to allow time for a healthy debate. This is hard to do but we have managed to really focus our conversations on the strategic issues for us as a business and the preparation beforehand has resulted in very productive discussion and clear outcomes.
  • Quarterly offsite: This is usually one to two days, where you can review strategy, external market conditions, competition and focus on personal and team development. Ideally get out of the office, focus on work, limit social activities and don’t overburden the schedule. One of the key aspects around team work is spending time together and this has allowed us to establish closer relationships and build more trust.
 
By adopting this approach you segment your challenges into different buckets and don’t confuse people with meetings that contain tactical and strategic issues, which should drive clarity and buy-in. Meetings become more interesting and productive – go on give it a go, what’s stopping you?
 
 
Team performance specialist Steve Turner is a former Olympic rower and medallist and current managing director of Bramley Lakes Team Development Centre
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