Think back to the last business meeting you had. Was it fun? I know you just laughed a little. Would you describe that meeting as a highlight of your week? (Stop laughing at me.) Or do you think that the meeting made a definitive difference in the work you do? (Alright, that’s enough, I am beginning to get a complex.) I know you are beginning to think I am a bit crazy. I know, just hear me out.
One of the most frustrating things in work can be the meetings that you have to go to. But these can also be fun and inspiring when certain things occur. Even so, there are probably as many jokes about terrible meetings as there are about terrible lawyers and so I want to offer a few ideas on how to lead a better meeting.
You and I both have probably left meetings where we felt that it was completely pointless for us to ever attend again. You probably have thought to yourself: “If I put a cardboard cutout of myself in my seat, the chairman won’t even notice”. In short, I can’t stand going to meetings where my presence, my wisdom and my input is not valued or sought out. If I am going to show up, I don’t want just a lecture, and I don’t want unilateral dispensing of information, ideas and philosophy. Instead, I have this idea that if I am going to come to a meeting it is because I have something to offer. I hope that is why you come as well.
So I want to give three parts to this post. First I want to share about meetings I hate, second I want to share ways to motivate, inspire and challenge during our meetings and lastly I want to share about leading with questions.
Meetings that I hate
I can’t stand meetings where I am micromanaged or nagged. A meeting that does nothing more than point out every one of my faults and mistakes, is frustrating and demoralizing. I don’t mind hearing about places I can improve, but certainly it can be shared in a way that is more like sprinkling a lawn and helping it grow rather than putting out a fire with a firehose.
I am hurt, frustrated and yes angry, when my opinion isn’t asked, received or valued. I believe I have much to offer by way of my experiences and my perspectives. I have this crazy idea that we need each other and that we are better together. When my input is discounted, I receive the message loud and clear that I may be at the meeting, but I am not a full-fledged member of the team.
When I leave meetings where nothing was accomplished, I feel the weight of that loss of time. Time is a precious commodity and once we have spent it we cannot get it back. I have attended meetings where many words were spoken, little was actually said and practically nothing was done. Meetings ought to be for definitive action. As such we ought to have healthy dialogue. Bouncing ideas off of each other. Listening to the pro-s and con-s of my ideas actually can make my idea better. Conversation ought to be for the development of a better plan by receiving input and perspective from many people.
Lastly I am really put off by meetings that are full of negativity, division and selfishness. When one person decides to hijack the meeting for their own agenda, it causes much pain and distraction from the main purpose for gathering. If that one person is the chairman, the bully-pulpit is truly NOT an appropriate approach to leading meetings. Meetings that are full of disruptive behavior such as this can actually work so contrary to the original purpose of the meeting that it would have been better not to have met at all.
So how can we lead better meetings? Let’s talk about it.
Work diligently to motivate, inspire and challenge people to greatness in your meetings
When people have ownership in a conversation and they feel like it is theirs and that they have a voice, they often begin to have enjoyment and a sense of fulfillment. We must create space where each voice is heard. Sometimes that means drawing out their voice (their past experiences have told them to keep quiet). Sometimes that means making sure that the many voices are heard by the other team members. Take the time in your meetings to ask each person for their perspective. Listen to their responses. Repeat their responses and affirm the value that the various perspectives are adding to the original question or idea.
People will also feel valued and important in a meeting if they take a part in leading it. The chairman doesn’t have to do all the leading and really shouldn’t. There are discussions, proposals, requests and reports that should be presented by each of the team members who have the greatest knowledge of them. Give the team members time and space to present and allow them the freedom of presenting according to their style and preference (while also helping them to understand the importance of team engagement).
Lastly people will begin to enjoy your meetings if you will help them walk away with a specific plan, helpful information, personal/professional affirmation, and a sense of being a significant part of the whole team. You can do this by deferring to their judgment, if they have wisdom and experiences other do not have. You can also do this by letting each person take the specific tasks and assignments based on their own choosing (of course only when this is appropriate) . People can enjoy meetings if they feel that they add value to them personally and professionally, but you must work diligently at this.
Lead with questions
One of the best ways I have found to lead a better meeting is by asking better questions. When we ask the right questions, those questions can truly serve as a key to unlock the potential of the team, the meeting and the work you do together. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What are you most excited about in your work?
- What is the greatest thing about our organization?
- What are the greatest attributes of our organization (or this project)?
- If the sky was the limit what would be the greatest thing thing you believe our organization could accomplish?
- What is the top characteristic you would like to see used to describe our organization (this project, your work, etc.)?
- What is the most often overlooked/forgotten aspect of our work?
- What specific talent / gift / experience do you have that you want to use to help our organization but so far you don’t feel you have been able to?
- How can you help me be a better leader?
These are just a few questions to get you started. What other questions would you add to the mix? Are there other things about meetings you hate or meetings you love that you would like to share?