Employees hate sitting in meetings that have no direction. They represent time and productivity that farm businesses can’t afford to throw away.
“You’ll greatly improve your discussions by tailoring your meetings so their objectives align with the content, frequency and duration of your meetings,” says Liane Davey, an author of several books on team leadership and co-founder of 3COze Inc., a Toronto-based business consulting firm.
Maintaining Momentum. Team meetings happen at least once a week, and more often as needed, at Brenneman Pork in Washington, Iowa. The meetings are organized by Erin Brenneman, public relations and Day 1 farrowing specialist, and production manager Jeremy Robertson. They think having a plan before the start of a meeting makes their time worthwhile.
“The best aspect of our meetings is that a clear direction is given beforehand so everyone is prepared to discuss their topics,” Brenneman says. “This encourages forward thinking and prevents repeating issues that were already covered.”
The clearer your meeting’s objectives, the more beneficial it will be, says Bob Grace, founding partner and principal consultant for The Leadership Effect, based in St. Louis. Focus on what you want people to know or do differently as a result of the meeting. Have an agenda and stick to your timeframe.
“The best outcome you can have for a meeting is to finish business topics in a timely manner and end the meeting early,” Grace says. “You’ll get high-fives from everyone in attendance.”
That outcome is more achievable if you begin on schedule.
“Be honest about your start and end times,” he says. “Have a ‘parking lot’—a place where you can put topics that need to be addressed in an appropriate way at a different time.”
Equal Voices. At Brenneman Pork, each person has a chance to be heard. The team is directed by a facilitator rather than someone appointed as the leader.
Although it’s important to give everyone an opportunity to speak, Grace says, there are times when a participant simply wants to be heard, whether because they have a complaint or are feeding off of emotional energy in a room. Don’t let them derail a meeting.
“Let them know that you heard them and that their concern is valid,” Grace says. “Then determine if the concern can be addressed right away or dealt with at another time. The leader-facilitator must make a conscious choice to deal with it now or set it aside, and usually that choice isn’t made.”
Review Outcomes. When a sports team finishes a game, players and coaches usually hold a post-game meeting to review the results and discuss areas for improvement. Participants in a business meeting can benefit from the same exercise, according to Bob Frisch and Cary Greene of Boston-based consulting firm Strategic Offsites Group.
“A quick post-meeting wrap-up with attendees before they leave the room goes a long way to ensuring the gathering achieved what it set out to, and that future get-togethers will also prove successful,” they wrote recently in Harvard Business Review.
They also recommend you confirm key decisions and next steps. “Recap what was decided in the meeting, who is accountable for following through, when implementation will occur and how it will be communicated,” they wrote. “You want every attendee to leave the meeting with the same understanding of what was agreed upon so there’s little chance of anyone reopening the issues later.”
Grace agrees. “We recommend simple meeting notes of one-half to one page of what was discussed, what was decided and who is responsible, and what items are still open,” he says. “That accountability helps keep people moving forward.”
It’s helpful to allot the final 10% of any meeting to review action items, set the agenda for a follow-up meeting if needed and align communication messages, Davey adds. “Bad meetings are boring, circular and unproductive, and people long for valuable, engaging discussions that serve a valuable purpose in moving the business forward,” she says.
At Brenneman Pork, progressive and inclusive meetings have proven to be powerful tools.
“If people are engaged and eager to learn, each meeting can be an opportunity to truly make your team better every single day,” Robertson says.
Five Guidelines for Better Meetings
A handful of easy-to-implement guidelines can turn a good meeting into a better one, writes Liane Davey, co-founder of business consulting firm 3COze, in a recent Harvard Business Review article.
1. Define the work of the team. “Exclude topics where one person has clear accountability and can proceed without input,” Davey says. “Instead, focus on the items where the team’s input will change the trajectory of the work.”
2. Parse items into different categories. Davey suggests putting similar topics into categories so meetings can be tailored to the content. “Meetings become ineffective when they combine different types of discussions,” she says. “We aren’t good at changing the pace or tenor of a conversation once it starts.”
3. Determine the frequency of discussion for each category. Pressing issues or topics need to be addressed right away, while long-term projects can be discussed on a monthly basis.
4. Set the length of the meetings. “A regular operational meeting needs to be crisp and therefore as short as possible,” Davey says. “Strategic meetings need more time because the topics require space for people to explore and dissent.”
5. Plan for overflow. “Having a receptacle for the overflow prevents cramming at the end of meetings and also reduces the likelihood that people’s time will be wasted on issues requiring only a small subset of the team,” Davey says.