The disinterest was making me anxious.
Bodies were slouched in chairs. Eyes were staring at the floor. A few people were even looking at their phones.
The manager running the staff meeting droned on about doing a better job of cleaning. At some point he reminded everyone to use the correct bags for recycling.
One person in the room nodded.
I felt less embarrassed.
But not for long. Another manager took over and began to dispassionately lecture the staff about food quality.
No one said a word in response. Blank stares became….blanker.
Everyone wanted to leave including me.
If your staff meetings are like this one, don’t despair.
Here are four steps to start running better staff meeting today.
1. Less is more
A staff meeting with 20 agenda points is not very effective. Why? Because no one is going to remember everything covered much less take action.
Instead of discussing 20 items, cover 3-4.
As soon as I started doing this in my own staff meetings, they improved. A lot.
Talking about fewer things will help you focus on what’s really important. It also increases the odds everyone will remember what you said.
What about the other 15 items on your list you want to discuss? Review them with staff on shift. Yes, its more work, but its also much more likely to stick.
If I tell a room of twenty people to do a better job of cleaning the utility sink, one or two may actually do it.
If I spend 2-3 minutes telling each person the same message in a one on one setting, more people will clean the sink.
2. Meet then follow up
The follow up to the meeting is as important as the meeting itself.
The more important the issue, the more important the follow up.
Many years ago I remember struggling to implement procedures to make our store safer. I presented my plan at two separate staff meetings. Each presentation was long and detailed.
No one took action.
I presented my plan once more, but this time I kept it short and sweet.
The next day I went over the plan with the people on shift and made sure they carried it out.
I did the same the following day. And then the day after that one.
After a few weeks of daily follow up the procedures became habit.
I know. Following up with people isn’t a genius concept.
But I can’t tell you how many time I’ve seen young managers who don’t do this and then wonder why staff isn’t responding.
Its not hard. Its just work.
3. Engage your audience constantly.
In a group meeting with 20 people its easy to “hide” and space out.
If you’re leading the meeting you have to do more than run through your agenda.
You need to make sure people are paying attention.
This means looking at your audience and bringing back anyone who is straying off
There are several ways to do this.
My favorite is to stop whatever it is I’m presenting and call out the offender.
“Jack, you’re staring into space. You with me?”
Doing this is uncomfortable but it immediately gets the person’s attention. It also gets the attention of everyone else in the room. No one likes getting called out in front of their co-workers. Geez!
Another option is to pepper my presentation with questions and pick on the people who aren’t paying attention. This is what you junior high school teacher did. It works.
“Jack, the toilets have been really dirty lately. How do you think we should tackle this problem?”
Lastly, I like to throw in an occasional well timed expletive to get people’s attention. Of course, if your modus operandi is to swear like a sailor this strategy won’t work. But if you’re a classy person an unexpected f-bomb is a subtle and effective attention getter.
4. Energy and Humor
Audiences like a presenter who is funny and has a lot of energy.
If this is not you, no worries. Reach out to someone on staff who is both of those things and ask them to help you lead meetings.
What’s the worst that can happen? Your meetings become more fun? You’re staff is more engaged because one of their co-workers is leading the meeting?
“But I’m the manager. I’m supposed to run staff meetings!”
No, you’re supposed to make sure people get shit done. If enlisting a charismatic person to run meetings helps you get better results, you’ve done your job. Period.
Every once in awhile some of our managers have an existential crisis around meetings.
“Are we meeting too much?”
“Our meetings are running too long/short, I think we have a problem!”
After many years of being a meeting junkie and then a meeting avoider, I’ve come to the following conclusion:
Frequency and length are the wrong metrics for assessing success.
Today, I’m just concerned with action and engagement.
A successful staff meeting is characterized by robust conversation and positive energy. And what happens afterwards.
If the meeting doesn’t result in action of some sort what’s the point of meeting?
Because I’m focused on action and engagement, meeting length isn’t really important.
If there is a lot of participation a good meeting can last a long time.
But If I’m doing all of the talking then the meeting will be short. Maybe just 15-20 minutes.
Does this mean this is a bad meeting? Not at all. Sometimes there just isn’t much to say so instead of wasting time with nonsense, better to call it and focus on following up the next day.
Action and engagement.
Action and engagement.
Make this your North Star and better meetings should follow.