After a year and a half of working with Ali and her teams in various degrees of leadership, I’ve learned the single most effective way to lead a team meeting. And in just a few moments, I am going to let you in on that insider secret (handed to me directly by Giovanni).
But before I jump into all that, here is one nugget I gleaned from AJ: 70% of the effectiveness in every meeting comes from setting a clear agenda.
If You Want To Be A Successful Leader, You’ve Got To SECURE THE PERIMETER AND FOCUS ON THE GOAL.
The first day I joined Ali‘s team she threw me in front of the bus. Lovingly, with all the best intentions and highest hopes for everyone involved, of course.
I had been telling her about my E-Myth background while working on our first launch campaign together. She liked what I had to say – which was theoretical, at best – and promptly decided I should lead her team meetings.
It was exciting! I did my best to set an agenda and run the meeting like a seasoned leader – to the chagrin of the other alpha types on the call. (One of whom called me to clear her angst over the experience, and proceeded to give me the single best piece of advice in my career – so far – with Ali: “You’ve got a tiger by the tail. If you can keep her on track you’ve got it made, but don’t expect it to be easy – she’ll throw things off track at every turn.“) [Tweet This]
Now, Here’s An Easy 6-Step System Guaranteed To Improve The Flow And Effectiveness Of All Your Team Meetings:
1. Define a clear ending time for the call/meeting – and stick to it! If it looks like you’re going to spill over, renegotiate early enough by asking if anyone has a hard-stop at the previously agreed to time, and get agreement to extend to another clear ending time (e.g. 20 minutes… and stick to it!)
2. Start with a quick round of Check-In’s – This is particularly valuable on virtual team calls, but I highly recommend you try it in all your meetings. Even family dinner! The idea here is to go around, state your name, what’s ‘alive’ or ‘hot’ for you, and I like to ask everyone to share a win from the previous meeting on our weekly whole-team calls – just to begin on a high note. If it fits for your team, I also recommend beginning the process by asking everyone to close their eyes, take a deep breath (or 3) together, and just ‘drop in’ together.
The process brings everyone out of the hecticness of their previous engagement into the same mental/emotional space by inviting the team to individually name how they’re feeling, or any mental distractions so we’re more engaged with each other as we conduct the call. It’s magic. Try it. (Oh, if you’re doing it virtual, it helps to have the leader call on people so they know to go next.)
3. Define Outcomes for the call – There may be an agenda for the call, but it’s never as relevant as what’s hot for the team the moment they meet. So I keep our agenda in a google doc that my assistant emails everyone before the call. This way they can state their outcomes next to their name. (At the top of the gDoc is the call-in number and the 3-point check-in process, btw).
Once we’re live, and checked in, we go around again and state what we want accomplished by the end of the call to ensure the agenda is complete. As the we finalize the list of outcomes, new things may arise, or team members may realize something is much hotter for them than they thought when they joined the call.
Tip: While everyone is responsible for taking their own notes and following up on the commitments made on these calls, it’s proven very helpful for one person to take note of the agreements made in a google doc – either a simple list, or a more involved thrashing doc, which I’ll describe in more detail in a future post. I love having an assistant who will handle the administrative follow up for me after a call so I can move on to my next highest-order work.
4. Prioritize Outcomes for the call – Ask participants which of the outcomes are most important/urgent & start with those. Often several team members will have questions about the same outcome. By getting the big rocks in first, we can all relax and deal with the less important or urgent stuff from a healthier place. Even if they have to be taken offline because the call has to end on time.
5. Use Accountability Words – Everyone on the team is responsible for keeping the meeting on track, and accomplishing the outcomes by the agreed upon end time. If conversations get off track during the meeting, as they generally will, we need a way to swiftly bring it back to focus.
Giovanni suggested using the word “weeds” whenever anyone feels like we’ve wandered off the path into the weeds. This holds the team accountable and swiftly brings us back on the path. If the conversation really wants to go off point (e.g. a fire erupts that takes precedence over the stated outcomes at the top of the call), then everyone on the call either agrees to take that offline to another meeting or email thread, or we have the option to scrap the agenda and refocus on the new outcome.
Another important word is “offline” which means the conversation (often between only 2 team members) is best handled off the call, by email or a short call just between the relevant parties, since it’s a waste of precious time for the rest of the team to listen to two people hashing something out. An example of this is scheduling.
My new favorite is “laser” which is a bit different than “weeds” because it’s not exactly a matter of being off topic, it’s a matter of too many people using too many words to answer a question that was answered 30 seconds ago. Keeping the call laser-focused ensures we get to more items on the agenda, and hop off the call early rather than becoming verbose to fill the available time.
6. Close in a good way – It’s so easy to run right to the last minute of the scheduled meeting. This may be the best use of time every so often, but I prefer to leave 5-10 minutes at the end to power down and check out. This puts a bit of finality to the meeting by closing the container we opened with our checkins.
We close in a good way by going around in our virtual circle and stating what worked for us about the call. Often for me it’s the way someone showed up and took a leadership role, or delivered exceptionally on their promises.
After stating what worked, we’ll name what would make the next meeting even better. AJ & Gio calls these +EBI’s for ‘even better if.’ Be as specific as possible, take notes, and put these little tweaks into practice on your next call. This type of constant and never-ending improvement (CANI for all you Tony Robbins fans) is what turns a good team into a GREAT team!
Of course, we take a deep breath together to punctuate the meeting with finality. And get right to our offline follow up items or a quick ‘bio break’ which is means get up and stretch, make some tea or use the rest-room. (It’s a good idea to have a bio break in the middle of any call that lasts longer than 90 minutes.)
That’s it. That’s the system!
- Define a clear ending time – and stick to it!
- Start with a quick round of Check-In’s
- Define Outcomes for the call
- Prioritize Outcomes for the call
- Use Accountability Words to stay on track
- Close in a good way
The fascinating thing is, I’ve done every single thing on this list at one time or another in my management career, but never all in one meeting, consistently & predictably.
Use this system religiously and watch your team calls sail into super-productivity-ville, relax into the power of clarity and give yourself a hi-5! for taking the easy road by learning from my mistakes.
ps – I’d love to hear your thoughts & questions in the comments below!