Excerpt From Building Teams That Work Course
by Vivian Harte
If you’re in charge of a meeting, what you do and don’t do will have a great influence on its effectiveness. The goal of a meeting is for everyone to learn as much information as possible, discuss it openly and honestly, and make decisions based on the discussion. So you want to create a healthy, problem-solving atmosphere where your team members feel free to open up with their thoughts, discuss their differences, and work amiably toward a joint solution.
Here are some tips from my 6-week online class, Building Teams That Work, that will help you lead your next meeting effectively.
Your Main Purpose
Keep in mind that the purpose of each meeting is action: either actions you need to take, the results of actions you’ve taken, or deciding among alternative actions.
How to Start
If it’s one of the first few meetings for your group, provide name tags so everyone can start to learn the other team members’ names. Give everyone an overview of the agenda items, and introduce the overall objectives of the meeting. This sets the tone for the meeting and reinforces what you need to accomplish.
Once you’ve talked about the agenda, ask for suggestions for modifying it. If there are any, make the changes, and have the team approve the final agenda. However, don’t give individual items time frames for discussion—this can make members feel that they have to stick to the schedule instead of taking the time to bring up good ideas.
If You Get Bogged Down
It’s your responsibility to keep the discussion on point. Do your best to minimize interruptions, disruptions, and irrelevant comments. If your teammates begin to talk about another topic, intervene quickly, thank them for their comments, and bring the discussion back to the topic on the table. If the discussion goes on and on without carrying the topic forward, you can schedule that topic for another meeting.
Another technique to use if the discussion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere or is going into irrelevant topics is to take a two-minute break. Have team members stand up and stretch. This allows them to take their minds off the discussion for a short time and cuts off the old discussion so that a new one can begin after the break.
Make sure you take only a couple of minutes, though. People tend to want a longer period to chat, but bring the group back quickly to work again.
Make a Space for Every Team Member
Resist the temptation to use the group to rubber-stamp a decision you want. As leader, you may want to say what you think only after other members speak so that you don’t unnecessarily influence them. In fact, you may want to avoid making your opinions known so that the team will take greater ownership of decisions. It’s better to focus on facts and understanding points of disagreement than to force others to make the decision you want.
Call on the quieter participants, and ask for their opinions and ideas. Don’t assume that silent team members agree with what others are saying. They may just be too shy or intimidated to say they disagree. By asking the quieter members of your team to express what they’re thinking, you give them a chance to have their say.
Sometimes it’s useful to break the team into groups of two to four to discuss a particular topic and then report their thoughts to the entire team. This will also encourage quieter members to express themselves. Remember, having everyone participate makes the discussion more interesting and brings more depth to the decision.
About our ed2go Instructor
As a professor at two colleges for over 14 years, Vivian Harte taught students how to build and maintain successful teams. In the workplace, she helped teams create a city’s strategic energy plan, write a state’s recycling manual, organize and facilitate educational conferences for recycling coordinators, and make recommendations for improving college policies for faculty members. But perhaps her favorite work is interacting with students online to help them build the kind of teams that make a difference in workplaces across the country.