This is a question which must have been asked countless times by countless lawyers. It is popular to grumble and whinge about team meetings, and there are so many jokes and videos about meetings that they have practically become a byword for ‘time-wasting’.
But team meetings can serve a purpose – in fact, they can serve many purposes, and serve them well.
“What?”– you are probably saying or maybe – “Well you haven’t been to any of our team meetings then.”And this is completely understandable; because every lawyer, at some time in their career, will have been to a meeting which they felt was completely pointless.
Unfortunately, the widespread contempt for team meetings creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When no-one going into a meeting expects it to be useful, it will invariably accomplish nothing. My clients tell me that this can make it very difficult for them to conduct a successful meeting, whether they are a team leader, the Head of Department, or a Managing Partner. And, just as importantly, it can prevent the attendees from contributing effectively. Without any contribution from the other attendees – it is not a meeting but a briefing.
This blog aims to show you that your meetings can and should have a point.
Why have team meetings?
In other words: what is the purpose? Well-conducted meetings can do much to build good team cohesion and potentially resolve differences of opinion before they take root in gossip and resentment. Leaders of the best sports teams, and winning generals, have recognised the benefits of the ‘here’s how we win’ meeting and the same thing can work in business.
So the main purpose is to develop the ‘we’ approach to collaborative working, and the starting point is to lead and create a good meetings culture. If you are in a position to do this, it is vital to create the right impression. If it is clear that you resent the time and effort which go into the meeting, or you make it clear that you are busy so the meeting needs to be finished quickly, then the attendees will pick up on this and react accordingly. Change, therefore, has to start with you – with your mindset and your emotional investment in meetings.
So what are the benefits of creating this new/different approach to your team meetings?
Effective team meetings will improve four main areas within your organisation:
Communication. How often do you hear the complaint that, “nobody tells us anything”? When a business is proposing change there may be a strong case for holding briefing meetings in order to encourage a positive attitude towards these changes. The great advantage of a meeting over a written briefing is the two-way nature of the communication. So, if you want to avoid rumour and distortion, change attitudes, or persuade people to your way of thinking, consider the case for a meeting or series of meetings.
Workload Planning. Meetings can be extremely useful in resolving any workload challenges your team or organisation may face. These might arise from major transactions or litigation activities, but could also occur when work needs to be shared out due to absences (planned or otherwise). Through meetings, a collegiate team will work together to ensure that the distribution of fee-earning work (and non-fee earning work) is shared out fairly between individuals. This can help avoid unnecessary stress, save money and potentially duplication so there will be an impact on the bottom line if not done properly.
Business Planning and Development. Policy formulations are activities that require ideas, discussions, and debates on key issues and alternatives. They benefit from the collective wisdom of the management or of specialised teams. There is a significant amount of change affecting the legal sector; and it is useful to carefully consider proposals and options as collaboratively as possible. Involvement promotes ownership, giving your team a greater sense of responsibility and participation. This process can only take place through meetings.
Decision-making. Some decisions have to be made or endorsed in formal meetings of the organisation’s executive – the Board or the Partners, for example. Further, there are many circumstances in which the quality of a decision will be enhanced if it is subjected to careful (and urgent!) consideration in a meeting at which those responsible for, or affected by, its implementation are present. Meetings therefore play an important part in resolving problems or crises, which can be better dealt with by a group solution or endorsement.
Tips for identifying Characteristics of Good and Bad Meetings
- Take place for no good reason – they are just done out of habit
- Never get down to meaningful ‘business’ or are slow to do so
- Have no agenda, and no agreed time to finish
- Are a free-for-all with no structure
- End only with a promise to meet again
- Everyone leaving frustrated and sapped of energy and unclear as to the purpose or the point of the meeting.
Therefore Good Meetings:
- Take place for a well-defined reason
- Get down to heart of the matters needing to be discussed and/or agreed
- Have an agreed agenda and time to finish
- Are controlled by someone who reviews objectives, the agenda and the time whilst allowing everyone appropriate ‘air’ time
- End by agreeing actions and who should do them thus providing clarity going forward. This could be just a note of activities agreed by individuals and timescales (i.e. what, who and when).
Now I have raised the controversial idea that meetings can actually be useful, and given you a flavour of the characteristics of good and ineffective meetings – in my next blog I will be writing about practical steps involved (with examples) in making your meetings more effective.
Before that, I will leave you with these questions to consider:
1. Have important things happened when there has been no communication at all – and what was the impact?
2. What examples of truly excellent meetings do you have either with, or prior to, your current organisation?
3. What do your meetings say about your and your organisation’s values and culture?
4. What would you like to happen over the next 6 months to improve the meetings you initiate or attend?
If having effective meetings is something that you are struggling with at the moment – losing time, money and energy in meetings which achieve nothing – then coaching may be the answer for you. Telephone me for a friendly, no-pressure chat on 07921540039 to discuss further.
YCFL delivers strategic coaching, leadership, management and interpersonal skills training for the legal profession. Since 2003 Ann has trained nearly 7000 lawyers in leadership, management, business and interpersonal skills. She has also trained with the Coaching Academy and holds a H.N.L.P. certificate in coaching as well as being an N.L.P. Master Practitioner. She is a member of the Professional Speaking Association and Professional Speakers Academy.