Three ingredients to make better meetings

Culture of any kind is complex and multi-faceted. Meeting culture is no different; there isn’t one silver bullet that will completely transform your team’s meeting culture, as it is made up of a lot of little pieces.

Fortunately, those little pieces can be organized inter larger buckets to make tackling them bit-by-bit less overwhelming. Here’s Voltage Control’s recipe for a better meeting culture. 

Psychological Safety

Collect Feedback Often (and Anonymously)

Collecting and implementing feedback is one of the most important things you can do to make your meetings better. Good meeting culture is not one-size-fits-all; different teams need or desire different environments and expectations. Sometimes finding the right fit for your team is going to take some trial and error. Feedback is how you turn the error into a learning opportunity.

Collect feedback often, and do it anonymously. Teams who are given opportunities to provide feedback regularly become more comfortable with the practice, thus giving better feedback. Anonymous feedback is particularly valuable because it can uncover major issues with psychological safety or flaws in the system that team members may be uncomfortable calling out publicly.

Everyone’s Input is Equal (Not Just Management’s)

The unspoken assumption on any team is that management’s opinions are the ones that matter and everyone else is just there to do their job. This dynamic damages the work of the team by limiting their room intelligence and stifling diversity of thought. The only way to fight against it is to openly state that this assumption is untrue – and then follow through on valuing the input of every team member.

Lay Out Expectations for Handling Conflict

Good meetings where real, deep work is happening are bound to result in disagreement, which sometimes breeds conflict. Your team knows this, and it may result in hesitance to contribute with confidence (or contribute at all) during group discussions or collaborative work. This can cause circular conversations in which no one wants to take a real stance or – worse – great ideas to never be spoken.

By laying out clearly defined expectations and procedures for handling conflict, disagreements will be less daunting for your team. They will know exactly what to expect from conflict and be given peace of mind that escalation will not occur. Pre-established expectations for conflict will turn disagreements into an expected, routine part of collaboration rather than an unpleasant social interaction to avoid at all costs.

Ask Your Team What They Need

Just like good meeting culture, psychological safety is not one-size-fits-all. The best thing you can do is ask your team what they need to feel safer, more confident, and more heard.

Clearly Outlined Procedures & Expectations

Meeting Mantras

Here at Voltage Control, we live and die by our meeting mantras. They are our holy grail for successful meetings at our company. Implementing a short list of meeting mantras within your team helps keep good meeting habits top-of-mind. Post them on the walls of your meeting rooms (virtual or physical) and reference them until they are second-nature.

Meeting mantras should help your team improve their efficiency and be more intentional during meetings. Our meeting mantras are a great starting point, but allowing your team to collaborate on a list of their own may yield better results. Team members will be more likely to take the mantras to heart and adopt better meeting habits if they have a hand in creating them.

Send Agendas Early

Your team should never walk into a meeting room unsure of what they will be doing. Send meeting agendas with enough time to give everyone a fair chance to read them over. Participants who are able to look over the agenda in advance will have ample time to prepare; this may mean familiarizing themselves with tools, reading up on a subject they are unfamiliar with or preparing thoughts on a particular project or issue.

Sending agendas early will also give the meeting host an opportunity to receive feedback on both agenda points and chosen invitees. If a participant feels that very on the agenda is relevant to them or their work, they will have an opportunity to suggest another team member who may help the participants do better work than they could. If participants do not understand how agenda points are in service to the goal of the meeting, they will have the opportunity to give that feedback, allowing you to make adjustments to your agenda (or clarify the meeting’s objective).

Distribute Debriefs With Next Steps

Directly after a meeting ends, a debrief should be sent out to all participants reiterating next steps. Any tasks or responsibilities assigned to team members should be clearly listed with the time frame that they need to be completed in. Key discussion points and decisions should be recapped. If applicable, instructions for providing anonymous feedback regarding the meeting should be shared.

Meetings Are Opportunities, Not Obligations

No Unnecessary Meetings

No more meetings that could have been an email. Meetings are opportunities to collaborate, to reach important decisions, and to harness room intelligence. Unnecessary meetings are a waste of both time and money, and they put a bad taste in the mouths of the attendees. Before a meeting is called, the host needs to perform a Should We Even Have a Meeting Test.

Invite the Right People

It can be tempting for a host to invite everyone they can think of to their meeting, but this is a mistake. Participants who are invited but have nothing (or very little) to contribute will feel frustrated at having their time wasted; they will also hold others back from doing deeper work.

That isn’t to say that only the people closest to the work being done should be in attendance. Inviting people outside of your core project’s team to workshop an idea or prototype can be a wonderful way to challenge your team. Inviting others that can see what your team can’t is great for providing a fresh perspective and refreshing enthusiasm for the work. Just be sure that every invitee will bring something valuable to the table.

Make Meetings Optional

Even the most carefully-crafted invitee list can’t account for every variable. Sometimes we are unable to bring our best selves into a room. If you leave it up to the individual whether they will be a valuable asset to a meeting, you can empower everyone to bring their best selves. A team member who is distracted with a more pressing matter or unable to focus due to a personal matter will not be engaged, creative, or responsive.

Optional meetings are amazing for participation and productivity. Team members who feel obligated to be at a meeting are much less enthusiastic about contributing than team members who feel that they are there by choice. Making meetings optional may seem like an unconventional choice, but it is almost guaranteed to result in more engaged, more productive meetings.

Want to learn more about how to run better meetings?

Join our upcoming Virtual Facilitation Workshop to facilitate all of your online meetings like a pro. In this fun, fast-paced, hands-on class, you’ll sharpen your facilitation skills through practice and peer feedback. Sign up today!