I was talking to an independent consultant the other day, and she told me that, while tempting, she didn’t want to go full-time at the business she was consulting with. The reason she didn’t want to report to the client as a full-time employee was that she didn’t want to go to that team’s “all-team meetings” (also known as “all-hands meetings” or “group meetings.”) She felt that her relationship would go right out the window as soon as she had to attend one of those dreaded meetings. She would go to that meeting kicking and screaming, and then cringe through the whole thing. Instead, she’s happy as someone who can focus on doing her work, getting results, and establishing great relationships with her clients.
The lesson learned from this discussion – “all hands” meetings can be de-motivating and take away from good work.
So clearly something is wrong with all-hands meetings. So wrong, in fact, that this highly capable consultant who would otherwise consider working for the company full time has ruled it out for this reason only. Yikes!
So what’s so bad about these all-hands meetings?
First, as the name implies, the “all-hands” meeting is usually “required” or “mandatory”. So, by definition, a certain percentage of the population doesn’t want to go for whatever reason but is there anyway. The “mandatory” element builds in a tough audience from the start.
Next, oftentimes all-team meetings make the attendees cringe — especially the ones didn’t want to go. Perhaps they didn’t want to go because they know the proceedings will make them cringe.
Perhaps you know what this cringing looks like – I call this the “horrified at the all-team meeting gesture” where participants look away from what is happening at the front, heads down, hands over eyes. This gesture is often seen when the events are so embarrassingly awful that participants have to look away. They cringe at the terrible proceedings unfolding before them.
But Walter, you may ask, what could a manager or director or senior vice president be doing that is so bad? What is it that they could be doing that is so awful that people on the team can’t bear to watch?
OK. I’ll give you two common actions and tell me if you’ve never witnessed these:
1. Performing skits that attempt to entertain
This was a large part of the premise of the comedy series “The Office” (I recommend the The UK Version, but the American Version has the same premise). In this series, the manager believes that as part of being a manager he must entertain his team. He tells jokes, does dances, acts out performances and he does a whole host of things that make the office workers cringe. Unfortunately this isn’t a parody of what happens in actual offices, but a stone cold documentary.
The humor from the show stems from the phenomenon that people in management positions often mistake being a leader with being an entertainer. Managers who try to entertain are, by definition, amateurs at entertaining (they should be professionals at managing). Their ideas as to what is funny and what works as entertainment are usually poor. Also, many people find it a waste of time. Attempt to entertain only if you have professional entertainers there to assist you (and probably at great expense). Even then, know that a percentage of your audience will consider it cheesy.
Attempting to entertain should be considered a highly risky endeavor and, at best, would constitute advanced “style points” of being a manager. At worst, it negates all of the good work done as a manager.
Similarly, you can be a great manager without ever having to entertain the troops.
2. Publically praising the wrong people, the wrong projects, and the wrong work
All-team meetings are often used as venues for the leader to publically praise people on their hard work. They will call out different people for what they did and why they are great. This, too, should be considered risky, since the leader of the meeting will risk praising the hard work of someone at work that others have noted to be ineffective, difficult, or otherwise produce poor work.
Here’s how it works: The director says, “I want to thank Jeremy for his amazing work.” Now, perhaps Jeremy has indeed produced great work – for the boss. But imagine if Jeremy is also the proverbial “A**hole at work” — Jeremy has been unresponsive to multiple people, yelled at others, lied to get ahead, called people he doesn’t like “stupid,” has dumped work on them or taken credit for other people’s work. And now the director stands in front of everyone and says how much she likes Jeremy? You can expect that many in the room will cringe.
Not only that, many in the room will wonder just how clueless the director is, to publically call out someone who is clearly an awful co-worker. Then they will get depressed, knowing the difficulty of shedding light to the manager on the problematic aspects of Jeremy.
Now, the same thing can happen for projects. Let’s consider Project Y: It is over budget, the people working on it have extended the timeline multiple times, and it is generally considered a debacle. Then the director says, “I want to thank all of those on Project Y who have worked so hard to make it a success.” The director may earnestly be trying to show support for those on Project Y, but by highlighting project Y – even with an eventual positive outcome, those on Project X, W, V and U (projects that, if run smoothly, didn’t get attention from the big boss) get upset about the public praise, because now they feel like they are being ignored, and the boss has no concept as to who is doing the good work. Cringing ensues.
In previous articles, I discuss “public feedback” (another common all-hands meeting error), where the manager attempts to provide corrective feedback to the entire team. “Public praise” has a similar problem. Providing the manager’s view of who the top performers are in front of everyone and in real time has own dangers.
These cringe-worthy actions are exacerbated because these all-team meetings are often deemed “mandatory.” This means that the people who will not be entertained – no matter how high-quality the entertainment — have to sit through the entertainment. This means that the people who feel that they are not being recognized, while the less deserving do get recognized, will have their worst fears confirmed.
A disastrous all-team meeting might even be a galvanizing reason someone will want to leave their job (i.e., leave their managers), as they will see many things they don’t like about the job compressed into a single event and channeled through the senior leadership’s so clearly on display. As in the case of the consultant I was speaking with, all-team meetings are the first reason she didn’t want to join an organization.
So what I’m saying is: All-hands meetings should be considered high-risk. Managers and directors risk inadvertently embarrassing themselves and their team, and also inadvertently make it seem like they don’t know what is happening on the team and how the team feels at the precisely moment they are trying to assert their leadership.
In my next article, I’ll enumerate more reasons all-team meetings are high risk.
In the mean time, please share your memorable “cringe-worthy” moments at all-team meetings!
In my previous posts, I described a common mistake that managers make in regards to meetings: Calling mandatory meetings. In subsequent posts, I’ve listed criteria what makes a meeting more compelling from the participants’ view, and how you can even measure and track your meeting quality based on this criteria. In this post, provide nine baseline tips for making meetings more compelling, and helping you move your meetings up the meeting quality index.
1) Wait until there is a reason to call a meeting.
Instead of scheduling a regular meeting, and then try to find a use for it as that meeting approaches, wait until there is a reason for the meeting, and then call the meeting. For large groups, sometimes it is difficult to find a meeting time at the last minute, so the way to work around this is to have a regular meeting scheduled (such as a quarterly meeting). But if you don’t have immediate and obvious ideas for what will fill that time with, then cancel the meeting. Even if you have paid a deposit on the room, you’ll still save money if you don’t have immediate ideas for what the meeting is for.
This is part of a series of posts designed to help break the mandatory meeting cycle. The better you make the meetings, the less you’ll need to make them mandatory. In my previous post, I described some basic criteria for what makes a meeting valuable and compelling to the attendees. With these criteria, you can start to measure the quality of your meetings or any meeting you attend.
After a meeting, it is often ambiguous whether the meeting was a success. The person calling the meeting may have obtained or shared the information they wanted to, but was it a compelling meeting?
Here are some ways to measure whether the meeting was compelling – for all participants. You can then chart this out and create an index over time to create a leading indicator index of meeting quality that you or your team members attend. Read more
How do you make meetings more compelling? This is the latest of a series of blog posts discussing how to transition from making meetings mandatory to having an organization with meetings that people actually want to attend.
Many meetings are not compelling, they are just required. Meetings should be required to be compelling. I previously discussed some alternatives to even calling a meeting – if it is unidirectional communication, then a meeting isn’t necessary. In today’s post, I discuss the criteria for what makes a meeting useful and compelling, and thus not required to be mandatory.
Your basic goal should not be attendance at the meeting. Your goal should be instead to create value in the meeting, whether it is a large group meeting or a small team meeting.
Here is my set of criteria for what compels an employee to attend any meeting, whether or not it is deemed mandatory:
The first step to getting out of the mandatory meeting cycle: Don’t call meetings if you were planning one-way communication
In my previous posts (here and here), I discussed why calling “mandatory” meetings is a bad idea. It doesn’t work at getting more attendance and it creates contempt for the meeting before it even started. Yet, many meetings are still called “mandatory”. This blog post is the first in a series dedicated to help you break the cycle of making meetings mandatory.
As explained in the prior posts, if you feel compelled to make a meeting mandatory, then it is an indicator that the meeting isn’t worth having.
So the first question should be: Is the meeting format even necessary?
If you were planning to convey information to your team or group – and had no plans for additional interaction — then the meeting format isn’t necessary. This is also true of other “guest speakers” you may have planned. If they were planning to talk in front of the group – and nothing more—then the meeting isn’t necessary. Read more
In my previous post, I discussed why mandatory meetings create a bad dynamic for your group or your team. The post centered on the cycle that the people who don’t want to attend – the ones that compelled you to make it mandatory – end up sabotaging your meeting anyway, making it a bad experience for you, the ones who wanted to attend, and the ones who didn’t want to attend.
But there are more reasons you should consider not making any meetings mandatory. And here they are:
Reason number 1: You can’t get everyone to attend anyway
This is an obvious point, but one that seems to be lost on many managers who require attendance at meetings. For any given meeting, there is going to be a group of people who will not or cannot attend. Read more
A common management practice is to make a meeting mandatory. I’ve seen regular team meetings that are called “mandatory”, “all hands” meetings that are called mandatory, special presentations with the group leadership that are mandatory. Lots of mandatory stuff going around! The problem is that if you feel compelled to call a meeting mandatory, it probably isn’t a very good meeting. In fact, if the tag “mandatory” has been added, then it is a sign that it’s going to be a low quality meeting.
When calling a meeting, the goal ought to be that you don’t feel compelled to call it mandatory. If you do feel compelled to get attendance by invoking the mandatory card, you should consider not having the meeting at all. Lack of employee interest a leading indicator that the meeting is going to be a bad meeting for all parties. Read more