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If your meetings are about status updates, your people are withering on the vine, losing interest in your company and your leadership.

Employees want to do good work and know they are accomplishing something that matters.

If they feel that 90 percent of what is discussed doesn’t apply to them, and what does apply to them could’ve been sent in an email, it is time to reevaluate meetings.

When done right, meetings are the most important and most exciting part of the work week.

Here are three tools for creating engaging and productive meetings that energize your staff.

Create a Vulnerable Team

Effective meetings are a food fight of ideas. In one room, you gather all the people who have the best information on a topic. Those people then debate and defend what they deem important, and share their insights.

That is, they debate and defend IF they are vulnerable enough to say what they really think.

Most people don’t.

Some Obstacles to Vulnerability

There are many reasons team members are unwilling to be vulnerable:

  • A peer or manager is condescending
  • Wanting to avoid hurt feelings
  • Fear of being controversial
  • A leader already has his or her mind made up
  • Simmering factions haven’t been addressed

Creating a vulnerable leadership team takes bravery.

4 Steps to Success

  1. As the leader, you have to address tough issues publicly in the group.
  2. You need expertise in handling difficult conversations, where you allow just enough blood and guts to get out on the table.
  3. Offer insightful perspective to help people understand the other side and see their own contribution to the lack of trust in the room.
  4. Lead everyone to seeing each other as a team, with the same goals. You want just enough of a kumbaya experience to bond these folks together, but not so much that you create touchy-feely aversion.

Once you have successfully addressed the elephants in the room, the tough work begins. Daily life happens, where people do things that unknowingly break trust and make others question someone’s motives.

A leader continually reminds people that we are on the same team with the same goals, showing how each incident of presumed bad motives are actually actions of someone caring about the company, just from a different perspective.

When people trust each other, they can share their thoughts openly.

Vulnerability is a fundamental requirement for effective meetings.

2. Encourage Differing Opinions

Many managers act as though they are threatened when someone disagrees with them. Disagreement is the fertile ground where better decisions are made.

Prove to your team members that you want them to share their thoughts by welcoming their differing opinions.

  • “Crave” differing opinions, because “welcoming” differing opinions is weak.
  • Don’t get defensive at disagreement.
  • Understand the why of disagreement.
  • Ask what dangers they see that may have been missed.
  • Explore what customers may not be served by your solution.
  • Can adjustments be made to address concerns of others?

It is your reaction to disagreement that determines whether your people will speak their mind during a meeting. Prove to them that you want their thoughts on the table.

3. Make the Agenda about Tough Decisions

While it is helpful for the leader to have everyone in the room at one time sharing their statuses, it is usually much less helpful (and certainly less engaging) to one department leader to hear status updates from another department.

Instead, the team members should become engaged with active discussions about decisions, where they feel their opinion is valued, and they are contributing to the company’s direction.

Additionally, leaders should regularly place some difficult conversations about “people issues” on the agenda. While you don’t want to use a public meeting as a place to triangulate about people not in the room, you do want to show the team that it is OK to discuss hard topics publicly.

By talking about people issues with your full team, you create the opportunity to brainstorm on people solutions and to teach them the company culture and leadership traits you want them to have.

Now you have built an environment for your staff to be vulnerable, the freedom to disagree, and the empowerment to engage on strategic topics.


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