My recent articles discuss how all-team meetings (or “group meetings” or “all-hands meetings”) are essentially risky endeavors for group leaders (here and here). So here are some tips on how to mitigate the risks:
1. Don’t make the meetings mandatory
If you have to make a meeting mandatory, it is a sign that something is not compelling about your meeting. Call meetings that people want to attend. As a corollary to this, try not to have your lower level management team spend time in their team meetings talking about why it is mandatory and why people need to attend. Instead, they should talk about what team members are expected to get out of the (preferably) non-mandatory meeting. Read on for what that might be. . .
2. Stick to the strategy
People want to hear what the strategy is. The strategy should be stated, and discussed. When getting everyone together, the main objective should be getting the full team on board to understand the group or company strategy. Anything other than the strategy is, to a certain degree, specific execution, and probably isn’t appropriate at the “all-group” or “all-hands” meeting level.
3. Review the key performance indicators, and performance against these
As part of the strategy, look at your key performance indicators, and show that this is what the management team is looking at. Avoid showing stress at the metrics that are lower than target. Instead, discuss how you are going to support improving not only the underperforming metrics, but further accelerate the metrics that are above target.
4. Stop there.
This makes the all-team meeting short and sweet. It shows level that the layer of management running the meeting the strategic level at which they are working. If there isn’t much content beyond looking at the strategy and the key performance indicators, then the meeting can be short and sweet. Your greater team will thank you that you haven’t taken more time out of their work.
5. Don’t mistake “Q&A” with “interactive”
Many managers leading all-hands meetings say that they want the session to be “interactive.” This often means that there is a question an answer session after the presentation. This isn’t interactive, since the vast majority of the attendees aren’t interacting during the Q&A session. It’s a Q&A session, not interactivity. Meeting leaders can budget time in for Q&A, but know that it doesn’t create the impression of openness and interactivity to leadership. Instead, it shows that leadership is implying that their interactions with the larger group is limited to all-team meeting Q&A sessions.
6. Have the team work together to solve a problem or generate ideas
Many managers want their all-team meetings to be “interactive.” They also want the members of the larger team to “get to know each other.” Many times they’ll have post-meeting receptions, or require that people introduce each other during the all-team meeting. These actions rarely create lasting connections.
Instead, here is a way to create interactivity that is more meaningful:
Break up the larger session into groups of 4-6 people. Now issue a challenge with a time limit – what can we do to better execute this strategy? Improve this key performance indicator? Improve the work environment? What areas are we not investing in, but you think we should?
In short, find a problem that the leadership team wants solved, and then put the larger team to work to solve it. Have the teams document the results, and have them delivered to the meeting leaders. The leaders (or the groups) can then share them back to the larger group or a few other groups.
The meeting leaders now have tons of ideas related to their strategic concerns, and with tons of problem-solving brainpower. And it was interactive, work related and a more meaningful use of time. I would consider this a little bit better than introducing each other or having a post-meeting party.
OK, follow these tips for all-hands meetings, and you’ve increased the chances that the all-team meeting is useful, relevant and meaningful to the attendees, and the meetings will probably be a lot shorter and cost less. Not bad!
In my previous article, I mentioned that all-team meetings (big meetings with 30+ people) create a risk of degrading employee’s experience as an employee. When managers a) try to entertain or b) praise the great work of people that aren’t so great and who did work that was terrible, it is guarantee that at least some people in the room will cringe. Especially when the director calling the meeting makes it a mandatory meeting, this guarantees that people who don’t want to be there will be there.
But why stop at two reasons people cringe at all team meetings when there are so many more reasons all-team meetings could be considered high-risk and even damaging to the team?
Forced interaction that is not work-related
Frequently people will have to introduce themselves to their neighbor or someone they don’t know and “get to know” them. This is great on one level, and painful to many on another. Those who like to get to know each other and socialize love it. Those who would rather be back at their desk getting work done think it’s pointless. Just because the director thinks that all the people ought to all know each other, this is not a good venue for doing this.
The director should instead identify work-related efforts to get people from different parts of the organization to work with each other. Creating a working relationship that involves producing real deliverables will be much better than ad-hoc forced networking at an all-team meeting. If you want people to socialize, then socializing should be the main event (but still don’t expect everyone to be there).
I warn against trying to entertain people at an all team meeting, because this can create the most embarrassing moments. Slightly less embarrassing, but no less painful, is being bored through lack of relevance. An all team meeting is boring precisely because it often talks about stuff not related to the person’s job.
I haven’t been able to figure out why it is that the bigger the meeting is, the longer it is. My observation is that an all-team meeting is at least two hours, sometimes three, maybe more. And they tend to go well past the regularly scheduled time. So if the director is trying to set an example of how to manage a meeting, and meeting runs long by 45 minutes, so much for setting an example on the smart use of time.
This is an off-shoot of trying to entertain the full team. Play a game! I don’t really care what game it is, unless you are entirely skilled at creating a game that is specifically related to a work-challenge currently at hand, then it this will come across to some –not all—as filler, and as a waste of time. Games are fun, but is fun the objective of an all-team meeting? If so, is the message that you expect the non-all-team meetings to be half-filled with non-work-related game time? That’s the message that’s being sent. Games should be played during breaks and off hours, so wrap up the all-team meeting and let people go out and play.
The costs of the meeting
There are those who attend a meeting with 50 to 100 people, and immediately start calculating what the cost of the event is. Let’s say the average salary is $50,000. That’s about $25 an hour. 50 people, 2 hours at $25 hour. That’s $2500 to hear the director play games, entertain, and talk – and then there’s the stuff that is not being done while everyone is at the mandatory all team meeting. Is it worth it? I’m sure there will be some who doubt the director’s fiscal responsibility.
Not able to get work done
The director has called an all-team meeting for 60 people, lasting 2 hours. Perhaps a quarter of those 60 people had some pressing deadline or responsibility for that day. That’s 15 people who don’t want to be there, would rather do their work, and do a good job at their work. That better be a really good meeting to pull these folks from getting their work done on time. It might be a late night at the office for these folks.
Not having to do something differently after the meeting
Perhaps the most pernicious of all. You attend an all-team meeting. You’ve heard three or four director-level people talk. You’ve learned a lot about the organization. Now what do you have to do differently on your job? Nothing. There is rarely an effort to equate the information being shared at a group meeting with what on the job needs to be done differently. This, of course is hard to do. However, one the hallmarks for a good meeting is that there is some change as a result of the meeting. If the all-team meeting can’t do this, then should you expect the other meetings that happen in your organization to be any different?
I’m being pretty tough on the all-team meeting. That’s because all-team meetings can be pretty tough. I’m not saying all people hate all-team meetings, just a lot of people! So if you’re planning an all-team meeting, beware!
I have written in the Manager by Design blog about the scourge of public feedback. Public feedback is when managers try to solve performance problems by addressing their entire organization at once. I make the case that doing this a) does not change the behavior of the one needing to change and b) could make worse the behavior of those who are already performing correctly. Public feedback is an example of a manager short cut and should be stopped.
So let’s look at — in a more positive manner — what a manager should focus on doing in a public setting: Setting expectations.
I would like to recommend to all of you managers out there to focus your announcements, all-team meetings and proclamations on the theme of setting expectations. Doing so will help you down the course of leading, and the more you set expectations with your staff, the more likely they will actually do the things that you expect. So let’s look at some of the things you can do to set expectations.
a) Start your presentations or announcements with “I’d like to provide you my expectations.”
Perhaps this is too simple of an idea to even document, but how often do you hear managers doing this? Not enough in my estimation, so let’s increase this introductory statement on the part of managers. By using the “I’d like to provide you my expectations” line, you are now forced to articulate what you do want.
In doing this, you can now embark on a project that allows you to identify the behaviors and values that you’d like to see on your team. Let’s try a few!