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We are a small (5 people) team of geographically dispersed employees in a big international corporation. Up until now, our manager decided not to have 1-to-1 meetings with any of us, but a single weekly 2-hour meeting in which we would all in turn tell about our activities and our issues. I always thought this was a waste of time, as we were all talking to her only, while other team members were actually distracted or working discretely on their computers. I am not sure I can blame them for this, as the whole format of the meeting seems problematic to me. The official goal was to make sure all team members were aware of what's going on in the team, and allowing people to cover for others during holidays. Most often than not I've observed that the meetings resulted in a mix of bragging for some achievements, and complaining for all the difficult challenges each had/has to face.

Now, I was recently appointed the new team leader. I have no management experience, so I wonder on how to improve things and make those meetings more efficient. My first idea would be to schedule weekly 1-to-1 meetings with all team members, and to shorten the global team meeting to make it something like "share your challenges on which you need a brainstorm, or help from the team". Each team member would not have to talk in turn, if they have not much to add. I am also thinking of having 2 team meetings per week to increase the pace a bit, while not doing like the digital equivalent of a daily stand-up (that would be difficult considering the timezones!). What is relevant also is that we do not report on hours spent on each topic, which to me is a bummer, because that could help me in my new position see the disparities of work between team members and the overall time we spend on each project. Since it's just not standard practice in the company, I don't see how I could implement something similar in the team.

The reporting to the department head was previously done through a different process, where each team member would send weekly a standardized short document, that would be summarized and merged by the team leader. That resulted in some redundancy and team members complained. I am not sure if this particular redundancy is bad, or bad enough to want to avoid it. It might not be a best practice but I was thinking of keeping this the same.

My question is then, in this context, what would be a better approach to team meetings and reporting that would be efficient and respect everybody's time? ideally I would want it to encourage people to be productive, and discourage the bragging and complaining for the sake of it.

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A problem with team meetings is that many people misuse them to brag and discuss topics just with the manager, topics which aren't relevant to any or most other participants and which they don't have enough info to understand.

Personally, a 2h long team meeting is my definition of hell. I even work during one-hour team meetings, can't imagine not working or doing something different when a colleague goes on about people and changes I don't know - and I don't need to know about.

Interestingly, these meetings don't even necessarily favor team communication. In my team, people are excluded from decisions on purpose although we have plenty of team meetings. Communication should be encouraged and demanded from team members in their everyday work. One meeting once a week, even if it's long, won't change anything if otherwise the communication doesn't work.

Shortening the meeting would be a good first step unless the work of your team members is so interrelated that there is plenty of topics everybody should discuss together.

Setting clear rules for these meetings (e.g. "present a short summary of your important tasks, without going into details, plus discuss the road blockers and help needed from other people") could help too.

Things that need to be discussed with just the manager should be discussed during 1:1s.

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First thing, is that you don't have to make a "final" decision. Try out something, see how it works, and adapt it.

I run:

  • Daily standups. What have you done/what do you plan to do/do you have any blockers. About 2 minutes per person max; longer topics should be taken offline to those relevant. It's "difficult" given our AMER and EMEA timezones, but it's less difficult than not doing in and getting worse velocity and results. These are never for "reporting to management" they are so the team can actually talk to each other (sounds like that's not happening now) and help each other solve problems (also sounds like it's not happening now). One job we had EMEA, AMER, and APAC people so we did individual standups and scrum-of-scrums; once we had just two junior folks in one location iwth no time overlap with the other teams so we sent them an audio recording of our standup and they sent theirs in email.
  • Weekly one hour team meeting. The first half is sprint planning and the second half is discussion of designs, issues, and so on. Issue discussions use structured discussion techniques so they don't go off the rails. Structured brainstorming, blameless retrospectives, lean coffee... Search up some of those, learn them, determine what helps.
  • Biweekly one-on-ones with my reports. Personal coaching, working on their issues, professional development. Use these to focus chronic complainers on being self-actuating and finding solutions to their own problems.

Tune those and find the right mix of time spent and value gained.

Regardless of the type of meeting, focus them on the tasks at hand and solving problems, don't let them turn into interminable bitch sessions or saying the same thing over and over. But that goes past the meeting format to, in general, managing and developing your people, which you'll also have the opportunity to learn!

  • I would point out, depending on the organisation, daily stand ups are very useful for projects, but not so much for (line management) teams. Otherwise, everyone says, “I’m working on project X again today”, “I’m working on project Y, and I’m blocked by Bill, who is also on Project Y, but is in another team, so isn’t here”. This gets crazy repetitive, and achieves nothing of value. There has to be project overlap between those in a daily standup, otherwise weekly meetings are better for the manager / team to keep an overview. – Joe Stevens Oct 22 '18 at 7:02
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Changing the existing meeting to weekly one-to-ones will just take the same thing and spread it out over a greater period of time. It may save the individuals a small amount of time but will cost you quite a lot. Which is a trade-off you'll need to weigh up based on your own responsibilities and work load. Doing it that way can also be an absolute pain to schedule.

A better approach would be to give people a soft time-limit for their updates in the meeting (i.e. Agile stand-up style) - this way you would likely cut down on the extraneous stuff and keep them more on point. If you still feel like the content is too bragging/complaining then address those specifically with the individuals.

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