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How to avoid boring team meetings


Meetings can be fun, empowering and a way to enable new thinking. They bring people together, to share information and collaborate. Sadly, they can also be the polar opposite – dull, frustrating events where nothing gets decided and everyone’s time is wasted. We often hear from participants on our training programmes that they actually dread team meetings. For managers, being able to put in place effective team meetings is an essential part of managing people. So what can you do to make sure your meetings don’t leave everyone staring at the clock and hoping for an unscheduled fire alarm?

In this blog, Philly Graham shares five top tips for making your meetings much more interesting, to get the most out of the time you spend with your team.

Clarify purpose and structure

All good meetings should have a purpose – otherwise it’s just a hangout. And whilst there is nothing wrong with just a hangout, if you are going to insist on people making time for team meetings, you need to be sure why.

First of all consider what outcomes you want: Collaboration? Connection? Cohesion? Communication? Cascading? All of the above? Something else?

From there you can diagnose the appropriate frequency, length and depth needed. For example, if you meet frequently to share information, you may not get to any depth. If you meet less frequently but for longer, you leave space for people to really get into the topic. But too much time can be overwhelming and stifling. Think about clarity throughout the agenda (yes, you should have an agenda) and set the timing and frequency accordingly.

Co-create content

Team meetings are for teams! Therefore you don’t need to be the sole person deciding what goes on the agenda. Ask your team to get involved, share ideas, contribute suggestions. You may need some fixed items that are regularly discussed, but also leave some flexibility for emerging topics and suggestions. You can also ask people to chair segments based on their ideas – giving them more ownership over the content, flow and structure of the meeting. This can be really empowering, and ensures a diverse range of perspectives are included.

Contract ways of working to include everyone

It also really helps to make your meetings as inclusive as possible. This means setting out some agreed ways of working – and again to do this with your team. Start your next meeting with a review: What works? What doesn’t work? What behaviours would help us to get the most from our time together? Focus on ways to encourage contributions from each other – consider using breakout discussions, polls, flip charts, pair-shares as well as plenary discussions. Do you need a talking stick? A jargon jar? Consider behaviours that can prevent contributions and agree ways to avoid those too. Is it possible for everyone to engage and share in the meeting equally? Is there anything that you know of that could affect someone’s experience, contributions and participation? Ask them what would help. Ask each person what barriers they face, and what would help with those. This could also be done in a follow up or pre-meeting conversation.

Challenges not competitions

A popular format for team meetings is the round robin. This involves asking each person in turn what their headlines are and what they are working on. This kind of information is usually readily available in team plans, project boards, shared calendars, workflow systems etc. So already this is not a useful way to spend time in discussion. We have seen far too many times that these kinds of conversations become a competitive round of who is the busiest, who has the best anecdotes and can be very much like watching paint dry. Very rarely does this encourage people to share concerns, challenges, risks or even new ideas. Try to keep the updating to a minimum and use the time to get into an interesting / thorny / emerging / pertinent topic. And make the updating bit more interesting too: ask people to share something they have learned, something they have read, or something they are looking forward to instead.

Change it up

Meetings can become formulaic, and predictability can mean boredom sets in and people switch off. To keep your meetings interesting, change them up every now and then. Review at regular intervals (such as quarterly, or every six month): what is useful about our meetings? What has been enjoyable? What should we focus on over the coming months? What do we need to change? Consider things like locations – can you have a walking meeting? An outside meeting? As the manager, can you bring in surprises – make room for the unexpected, such as a team-building activity or a guest speaker. Make these good surprises, not mandatory fun or activities that will exclude some people.

By reviewing, and purposefully setting out your meetings in new ways, you’ll see the level of engagement increase. People will value their time with each other, and take more ownership for the actions and outcomes generated in those meetings. Ultimately, having more enjoyable and interesting meetings will build team connection.

If you would like more ideas on developing your team, take a look at our Advanced People Management programme or get in touch to speak with one of our consultants: contact us online or call 020 7978 1516.

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Philly Graham

About Philly Graham

Philly specialises in communications, leadership and management development and personal effectiveness. She is an accredited coach, action learning set facilitator and a CIPD Learning and Development Associate. Philly’s career...