I’ve been to many team meetings (or “all hands”) that have, in the end, provided no real value to the team in attendance. It is very possible (and likely quite common) that most meetings are actually a waste of time (as many of my closest colleagues and friends would agree). However, this does not always have to be the case.
Meetings are important to have. They provide an opportunity for team members to share not just the facts, but also how they feel about the current situation for a given project. Team meetings can often provide context for the day-to-day work that each of us is involved with. Just as importantly, it is an opportunity for leaders to maintain an awareness of how their team members are feeling, in order to better estimate how the team might respond given additional stress.
Meetings have to be run with intention in order to be successful. Topics should be specific, and every topic discussion should end with an actionable deliverable assigned to a specific individual. This may sound a bit restricting, but it goes a long way toward saving your team more time for actual work, along with giving them (and yourself) more time to relax.
There are many meetings that I have attended where discussions were essentially a one-way dialogue between the presenter and the rest of the team, where feedback was neither elicited nor volunteered. When the host (usually a team lead, manager, or PM) asks the ever gripping question “..any questions or comments on this?”, and a conference call of about twenty or so people falls dead-silent.. well, I would consider that a problem.
Often the problem is that the meeting is too broad, involving too many people who don’t work with each other on a regular day-to-day basis. Smaller meetings are the key to success. Meetings should be specific, covering 3-5 of the most important items or active projects. Meetings should also be quick (standing meetings are often very effective). Questions and responses should be clear and to the point. “What’s the status of the X project?” “What’s changed from last week?” “What do you need to keep this on track?”
Team meetings shouldn’t get too technical either. That’s what e-mail, white-boards, and dedicated meetings are for. Having technical discussions at team meetings will rarely be beneficial, and will often just turn into an echo chamber or a religious debate. These types of discussions are good to have, but not when leadership is at the table.
When leadership is at the table (Managers, Sr. Managers, Directors), the focus of the meeting should be for the leadership team to identify the most critical issues to address, and do all that is necessary to raise the collective spirit of the team; with feedback that is directly related to the work that they are doing. The only way to do this is to be aware of the team’s accomplishments since the last meeting. Every little inch matters. Every little unit of work and motivation you can squeeze out of your team will benefit your project, and your stakeholders. I am not suggesting micro-management, nor am I advocating unnecessarily cracking the whip. Instead, what I would suggest is that teams work together to develop processes and routines that will continually provide positive, targeted feedback on the work that the staff has accomplished.