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How to spice up your weekly status meetings

by Ana Lopez
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Team meetings are often the most telling sign of an organization’s culture. And who among us hasn’t attended the painfully dry and boring weekly status meeting? The format is predictable: each person shares their work status and ends up with a brand new to-do list at the end.

Status meetings can be helpful. But most employees stop these meetings until it’s their time to speak. This defeats the whole purpose of sharing information and joining a meeting. This format couldn’t be worse for employee engagement and organizational morale. It makes employees daydream, put themselves on mute, pretend to take notes on their laptop while browsing Facebook, view other job openings on LinkedIn, etc. And with remote meetings, the likelihood of withdrawal increases even further.

Unproductive meetings are more than just an occasional nuisance. According to Researchthe average employee spends 35% of their time in meetings, of which about 67% is considered unproductive. This results in a total cost of $47 million per year in labor hours.

Do you want to transform meetings in your organization from a routine, valuable experience to a motivating and inspiring one? If so, start by answering the following questions and applying the tips below:

1. Are our meetings efficient and focused?

Do our meetings have a clear, specific agenda beyond updating each other on statuses? Are there predetermined topics that need to be discussed? Are materials sent in advance to reduce wasted time during meetings? Are meetings greatly facilitated so that they do not go off-topic?

Tip: Set the context for the meeting ahead of time by identifying specific areas to discuss. Make sure only employees relevant to the meeting’s topics should attend, and keep it optional for others. Meetings can often deviate from the topic due to one or more attendees expressing different concerns. Ensure that the meeting leader is able to keep the meeting on track and moving forward on the topic(s) under discussion, while writing down other issues for follow-up discussion if necessary. Try to keep to the meeting’s scheduled agenda and finish on time. Keep meetings smooth and efficient.

Related: When meetings get stuck: Getting past the “cork in the bottle.”

2. Are our meetings inspiring?

Routine meetings that take place on a weekly or daily basis can be taken for granted for both leaders and employees. The meetings then tend to jump into the weeds: current status updates and upcoming action items and steps. Do you take the time to inspire employees and stick to the broad outline?

Tip: We can make these meetings more inspiring by putting great context at the beginning and end of the meetings: recapitulation of the project vision, long-term goals and outcomes (and why they are exciting). Encouraging an attitude of innovation and openness to solve problems in new ways. Instead of jumping into the weeds right away, start the meeting by establishing the intent and ground rules aimed at inviting input, innovation, and crazy ideas from all members of the team, regardless of their skill level. Just expressing this intent can help foster a mindset of openness and non-judgment throughout the team.

Related: How to Lead and Inspire Effectively in Virtual Meetings

3. Do our meetings promote inclusion and collaboration?

Do meetings maintain a clear hierarchy or differentiation in terms of contribution level? Is the conference call dominated by one or two people? Is there enough room for each member to contribute not only status but also ideas?

Tip: One way to increase engagement in meetings is to remember that not everyone communicates best with words and may find it difficult to express their ideas in a group. Meetings often create a competitive and stressful environment where every voice struggles to be heard, and the loudest and most assertive voices usually win.

Consider other forms of collecting input from all members: menti.com is a great tool for polling and crowdsourcing ideas or using chat features on Zoom. If you want to be more creative, lead a drawing/outline exercise during your meeting where each individual can illustrate their vision and ideas and share them with the group. Look for parallels/synergies between ideas to create a collaborative whole.

4. Do our meetings in the same sentence give room for conflicting ideas?

Are meetings dominated by groupthink, or are team members empowered to speak up when they disagree? Often the quietest members in a meeting are those who are not quite on board, and these are the individuals who may need to be heard from.

Tip: One of the most important points for a meeting leader to remember is that silence does not necessarily mean agreement. A valuable leader skill is a keen awareness of the collective field of the team and each individual. If a participant seems less engaged or enthusiastic, as a leader, you should encourage and support that person to speak up – even if, and especially if, he/she has a different point of view. By addressing individuals by name, you can say something like, “Kate, it seems you have a different opinion. What do you think?”

5. Are our gatherings thankful?

Do we show recognition and appreciation to individuals for great and small successes by naming them in meetings? Do we thank all meeting members for their unique contributions?

Tip: Don’t forget to celebrate both financial and non-financial successes to foster a healthy organizational culture. Emphasize all organizational goals (e.g., diversity, collaboration, acts of kindness) — not just those directly related to financial gain. Often the simple act of showing that you noticed good work is enough to boost morale.

Truly constructive company meetings depend on both a clear agenda and cross-functional and inter-organizational openness to share ideas and opinions. These are the types of meetings that everyone on the team looks forward to every week. They know they have the chance to be heard and introduce something new. Strive to use new facilitation techniques and collaboration technology to breathe new life into your company’s meetings. Then see how the involvement, innovation and performance of your employees increase dramatically.

Related: 3 tips to get the most out of your meetings

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