The student affairs profession has wonderful graduate programs that help you learn and apply theories, build budgets, project or program plan, and work on departmental or program assessments; however, in my experience there is very little training on how to manage teams.
While working on my doctorate, I read a number of books by author Patrick Lencioni (his most famous book is called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) and fell in love with his writing style and practical approaches to management. One of his lesser known books is called Death by Meeting and that is what I will be reviewing.
“Meetings are boring because they lack drama.” – Lencioni
Meetings must have a purpose beyond just being the norm to have them. Each meeting should have a specific, focused reason for happening and each should answer questions. The leader should communicate the context of the meeting; for instance, is it a quick check-in, a tactical meeting, or a strategic meeting? Examples of strategic meeting topics might be budget cuts, programmatic assessment, or the need to evaluate a process or policy. The most critical piece is that the leader cannot be sold on the answer to the question(s) at hand — like budgetary cut ideas, or an assessment tool of choice, or how the policy should read. The answer needs to be generated by the meeting participants. Once this starts to occur, the leader should mine for conflict – i.e., call out different ideas and get healthy discussion going. Ultimately, this will create an environment for the team to brainstorm and hash out differences. Of course, the conflict has to be healthy and professional, not personal in nature.
From a practical application perspective, setting up the structure of these meetings is the most important part of the management style. If you are in a strategic meeting with your team, you can easily keep agenda items broad then work with the team to create the path in which you attack the reason for the meeting. Keep it simple, broad, and go into the meeting without having a path to the problem in hand. In these meetings you should facilitate, not lead. Teams must have trust in order to have productive meetings that include disagreement or conflict, and it is the leader’s job to keep those conflicts healthy and reestablish trust if meetings become too passionate.
“Meetings are ineffective because they lack contextual structure.” – Lencioni
The three types of meetings outlined below can change the way you manage or participate in meetings.
The Daily Check-In or Huddle: a five-minute meeting where the participants talk about their daily activities and then report on their current outcomes. These meetings require representation from every department and a sense of discipline and structure. The leader must see these as essential for the team members to take these meetings seriously.
These meetings help you establish:
* Who on your team is working that day (to create transparency for all team members)
* Where each person is on their outcomes
* What each person/department is prioritizing on that specific day
Weekly Tactical Meeting: a weekly replacement to what you likely currently call your staff meeting. This meeting lasts about an hour and includes a lightning round, progress report, and an open agenda.
* Lightning round comprised of the top two or three priorities for each person/department (5 minutes)
* Progress report includes a structured analytical sharing of metrics for each person/department (10 minutes)
* Open agenda – should allow time for anyone to bring up anything that is an obstacle within their department or toward reaching their goals (30-45 minutes)
Strategic Meeting: occurs monthly but can also be scheduled ad hoc as needed to analyze a few critical issues. Agenda items should come from the weekly tactical meeting based on the inability of the team to overcome the obstacles towards organizational success. The meeting should be at least two hours; key departmental leadership should attend this meeting.
* Agenda should be small
* Research and preparation should be done ahead of time
* Disagreement (conflict) should be healthy, passionate discussion should always be about topics and processes, rather than people or performance
* Trust needs to be established on the team in order to have healthy conflict or disagreements
* All participants should add value, even if their department is not directly involved in the issue at hand
In all three of these meeting types, the good of the macro unit (college/university/department) should be placed above the intentions of the micro unit (person/department), and the best outcome for students needs to be kept in mind. For the last two years, I have used these three types of meetings as suggested by Lencioni, and meetings have become more exciting and straight forward. Additionally, departmental leadership has learned to move beyond the silos and political barriers that had previously existed. With a few minor tweaks, these meeting styles can be implemented within residence hall student staffs, departmental professional staffs, or university executive teams. If you are not currently leading meetings, see if your manager will adapt some of these techniques.
For more information about Patrick Lencioni, please visit http://www.tablegroup.com/.
Reference: Lencioni, P. (2004). Death by meeting: A leadership fable– about solving the most painful problem in business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.