Dear Dan: How Should I Lead my First Group Meetings
Your work is both an encouragement and a kick in the pants.
My question is, “What themes or approach would you suggest for my first group meetings as a leader?”
I have many ideas swirling and I’m particularly concerned about striking the right balance between personal and professional. Your thoughts would be valuable.
Thank you for your email. Your interest in leading group meetings is well placed. I’m responding to you from two perspectives. First, I’ll offer a coaching perspective. Second, I’ll offer a few suggests.
Best and worst:
Make a list of the 5 best and 5 worst meeting leaders you have experienced. Beside their names record two or three things you see in them that makes them the best or worst.
Based on your reflection, what three things will you do and what three things will you avoid like the plague?
- When you reflect on your lists, what patterns emerge?
- What makes the best the best and the worst the worst?
Bring the best meetings you’ve experienced to mind.
What happened in those meetings? How will you create an environment where the best possible meeting will be likely?
Reflect on the worst meetings. How will you create an environment where the worst meetings will be less likely?
#1. Involve as many people as possible.
The more other people talk, the more successful you will be at building trust and engagement.
If you want an engaged team, engage them early and frequently.
Allow people time to prepare by showing them an agenda and asking them where they can make the best contribution.
#2. Regarding personal and professional.
Focus on others.
Before the meeting, focus on your performance. When the meeting begins, forget about yourself.
- Like and respect the people around the table.
- Provide opportunity for others to shine.
- Talk to and about others more than you talk about yourself.
What suggestions do you have for Swirling?
How might Swirling balance personal and professional?
(I exclude the “Dear Dan” portion of these posts in the word count.)
7 Tips for Leading Meetings More Effectively (Inc)
6 Meeting Saboteurs Every Leader Meets (Leadership Freak)
In my first meeting as a incoming leader we had a postit session on what the team’s hopes and concerns were for us as a group and agreed some ground rules. My aim is for them to see each other as a resource when not in the meeting too. Keep it simple. Going forward have short updates to allow enough time for deeper conversations, discuss real and significant issues, pull apart the problem rather than focus on solutions. Lastly, enjoy it! I cannot tell you how amazing it is to hear people share such creative and insightful information when they are just asked!
Thanks Caz. Stress seems to kill joy. Your suggestion to enjoy it speaks to me. Joy in the leader is energy in the team.
I like the idea of having an initial postit session to set goals, boundaries and expectations of each other. That is a big key to building a highly functioning team…they learn to lean on each other.
It seems like you are new to leading a team. I’d highly recommend that you read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. That book should give you the insights as to how to run your meetings and get everyone working as a team.
Thanks John. I second that.
Snacks and Ice breaker at the beginning are always a success
Thanks DD. SNACKS. 🙂
Your anxiety about being a good leader and holding a successful first meeting is commendable.
The fact that you are “swirling” suggests that you need some clarity about what it is that you wish as an outcome to the meeting. What will you have at the end of the meeting that evidences the desired outcome?
My biggest struggle with meetings are those that have no actions associated to them..just talk shops.
Other than Dan’s suggestions ( my personal is your role as facilitator) my suggestion is be your authentic self and trust that you are enough.
Thanks Gianni. “What will you have at the end?” Great question. You remind me of a question I frequently ask. “How do you want people to feel during/after the meeting?
* Restrict the group of only concerned people based on the agenda and the decision to arrive at by way of action plans.
* Can give a day’s time for people to come bit prepared!
* You can act as a Coordinator and listen to each member’s views keeping due respect.
* Jot down important things that can help in coming to a conclusion.
* Sum up by focusing on the practical views as suggested by a few and plan future course of action.
* Encourage good participation and conclude the meeting in time.
* Start the meeting in time and fix time-slot for small 1-2 breaks. Avoid any kind of distraction like serving tea/coffee/snacks, use of mobile phones, abruptly leaving the meeting for any reason etc.
Thanks Dr. Asher. Many wonderful insights. We haven’t talked much about taking notes, but it’s useful.
I had a leader tell me to take the minutes myself. I think it’s an added burden and perhaps might distract the leader, but you are certain to get the “right” information if you keep the notes yourself.
Good morning Dan! My name is Barney and I’m one of the many Tulane graduate students currently raiding your awesome blog. Firstly, I want to say thank you for hosting us and introducing me to such a great resource. There so many clear and concise discussions on leadership topics, and I’m excited to learn and participate. Group meeting leadership is an area I could certainly use a few pointers in, and an area of cooperation that seems to affect nearly all of us within our professional and educational realms. Teamwork is simply unavoidable, and understanding how to properly lead any cooperative event, or discussion, is definitely an important skill to have in both the professional and personal spheres. As a result, the coaching tips and suggestions that you provide above on leadership planning for group meetings really resonated with me.
In particular, the idea to reflect on one’s five worst and five best group meetings is an excellent way to form a good do and don’t list, and maximize efficiency from the get go, rather than be mired down for who knows how long in dull opening discussion points led by a singular monotone speaker. Just one of many examples I immediately thought about after reading that tip. It is almost funny how easily the goods, and especially the bads, of group meetings/projects stick out when you put even a little thought to it. The other suggestion that really stuck out to me was, as a team/meeting leader, simply “forget about yourself” after the meeting starts. This way all parties and/or stakeholders are provided the time to opinionate and discuss topics on their own terms. It seems as though if you can maintain the fluidity of a group meeting while also prioritizing the other members voices, you will probably get more information from, and collaboration between, your constituents, the ideal result for public health meetings.
Welcome Barney. Thanks for the good word and for your participation. I wish you well in your studies.
The way a meeting begins sets the tone. I’ve found it very easy to suck the life out of people, but to energize them takes intention and skill.
Those long and dull beginnings are difficult to overcome.
Start with a check-in. How is everyone doing in the new environment?
Then balance the discussion between having a task-focus and a people-focus.
Task-Focus–what exactly do we need to get done? Discuss priorities, deadlines, resources, obstacles, roles and responsibilities etc.
People-Focus–have some activities for people to get to know you and each other on a more personal level. Have fun.
Thanks Paul. Like the two buckets you bring to the table. Task-focus and People-focus. It help to clarify thinking.
While many people seem to be excited about the possibility of Zoom, Skype or Teams and similar platforms replacing the need for in-person meetings even after the pandemic, these meetings are also vulnerable to all the classic mistakes made at in-person meetings. Everyone is familiar with interminable meetings that are all talk, no play and no action.
I agree with Dan that wherever possible, a clear agenda needs to be provided prior to the meeting. Attendees should be encouraged to ad items to the agenda before the meeting, rather than waiting for “other business” to be called. It is also a good idea to assign a specific discussion time for each topic, and have the attendees understand that item x will be discussed for no more than yz minutes.
Start on time. Small talk is okay, but too much of it upsets the meeting rhythm. There are several meeting minuting apps that have timers that can be assigned to different topics. This way the chair can see when it is time to wrap up any given topic. The chair should not be a tin pot dictator who jumps in at the slightest straying from the core topic. Some straying can ignite creative problem-solving. However, if the discussion strays too far, the chair should know to bring it back. A bit of humor can help to focus attention again (‘I will be the first client at your new pub, Sam. But I won’t have time to come in if I cannot solve this problem first.’). Suggest brief breaks when attendees are getting fidgety or have that thousand mile stare.
Often the discussion will get stuck on what the problem is, without coming up with potential solutions. Remember to ask, “How can we fix this?” or “What are we planning to do about this?” at appropriate intervals. Resist the temptation to table too many discussions. They can still show up on the agenda two years later. End the meeting on time (or earlier!). You will soon be the most popular meeting leader in the entire organization
Thanks Charlene. The tension between a relational style meeting and all business is an interesting challenge. All business might work, but relationships bring energy and build trust.
The idea of time limits makes sense as long as we don’t become robots. However, blabbing on and on also drains energy.
You bring up the essential purpose of meetings — move the ball forward. The danger of talk is it feels like you got something done.
Thank you for this post as it is perfect timing. I am meeting my team for the first time as a meet and greet via Zoom conference – which of course makes connecting that much more difficult. I have led teams before, but I am a little nervous about the format. Any suggestions on how to make this effective?
Thanks Joe. Welcome to the crowd. It took me time to adjust to the pauses between people talking.
One thing I do, if there’s going to be a round robin conversation is make a list of the people at the table and call on them in order. “Mary is up first. Bob, we’ll be coming to you next.”
Of course, providing time for people to respond to Mary’s contribution before Bob speaks is also important.
I wonder if asking the team for suggestions on running an efficient zoom meeting would be useful?
Whenever people come together for a meeting with a brand new leader, there is apprehension and anxiety abound. Some want to show their hand quickly, others not so. Some will be outspoken, others silent. If a new leader really wants to know what others think during a meeting, have them write their thoughts down on paper then go around the room one by one asking about what they have written. This allows the vocally silent to have their say as it gives them time to think without being outvoiced by the vocally confident. Putting a time limit on each persons feedback helps to keep the meeting on time.
Thanks Carolyn. Any technique that helps people communicate is helpful. How about putting what is written in a bowl and drawing out the responses. Read the one you get. No names. (Fun option: guess who wrote it.)
Fabulous idea Dan – will take you up on that.
Leaders leverage their position to highlight the work and success of others. Especially when I have the visibility of higher organizational leadership, I applaud their contributions. It has always been appreciated.
Hello Dan! I appreciated your thought-provoking questions in the beginning of this post. Often we as individuals already have a general awareness of our wants and opinions, but seek the guidance of others to help clarify our thoughts. Self-reflection of past experiences is a great way to shape your leadership approach and style. I also agree with your two suggestions in enhancing the experience for your audience through creating meetings with diverse teams and balancing the personal and professional aspects. I am a relationship-oriented individual, so I value meetings that start with a check-in activity or an icebreaker. For me, it is important to honor the humanity in others through creating spaces for personal expression while in a professional setting. Within my weekly team meeting for work, we typically start by asking a silly check-in question, such as “What was your favorite Halloween costume growing up?” or a timely question like “What was a highlight from your weekend?” I find these check-ins help cultivate strong work relationships. I also think it is important to be cognitive of the audience’s mood throughout the meeting, especially for longer scheduled meetings. I am a visual and hands-on learner, so it is often difficult for me to maintain my attention span in traditional meetings that include sitting around and talking about various agenda topics. Therefore, whenever I lead meetings, I always schedule breaks within the agenda to allow space for folks to regroup their thoughts. I also like asking mini check-in questions like “How’s everyone feeling? Thumbs up, thumbs down?” after major topic transitions to help shift everyone into a new conversation and the general mood in the room. Sometimes it is better to cut the meeting short when you see low engagement levels. I find that it is better to have multiple short and highly productive meetings than a long drawn out meeting that seems never-ending. Thus, as the leader of the meeting, it is important to ensure that your material is flexible enough to be changed based on the needs of the audience.
Leading a group meeting can be challenging whether it is your first or your one hundred and first. Keeping the pace of the meeting going, keeping everyone on point of the topic, and limiting discussions either off topic or inappropriate to the meeting at large are just some of the challenges one faces when leading a meeting.
While keeping the pace of the meeting going may sound easy, when there are other meetings planned for that day, or you simply do not wish to waste any time, judging the pace you need each topic covered can be tricky as one can never know what input the group has. Creating an expected time limit for each topic helps. This time limit should not be strictly enforced, but the leader should keep on eye on it. While free form conversation is encouraged to help facilitate new idea creation, they can sometimes get out of hand or way off topic. If the time limit is approaching and free form conversation is going on, it is time to move on to the next topic. If quality information on point is going on when the time limit is reached, keep going. Meetings can run over, as long as they are of high quality it is worth it.
Keeping everyone on point is a little easier. While some light joking or side talk can be brushed away with a polite cough or stare, it may come off as pushy or authoritative. A better option is to politely interrupt this behavior with either questions or statements that steer the conversation back to the idea being discussed.
Limiting discussions either off topic or inappropriate are easy to solve directly, but the way these situations are handled show a direct reflection off what kind of leader you are. Handling these situations too harshly can make you look authoritarian, possibly creating negative feelings from the group for future meetings. Handling these situations too softly, or not handling them at all, can make you look weak willed, opening the door for continual and additional disruption of future meetings. Purely inappropriate talk should be dealt with immediately and directly. Everyone knows who said what they said, so simply addressing the correction to the group will set a tone of respect for future meetings and correct the person as well. If the comment is borderline inappropriate, depending on the type of comment, it is more professional to simply steer the group back on track then speak with that person one on one to address the disruption to the meeting.
Always remember to avoid pointing out individuals for any issues you have with their participation in the meeting. Addressing the group as a whole of your conversation expectations is typically received by individuals better than confrontation.
I really appreciate your self-reflection questions. It is a great technique to learn from and modify your own behaviors to produce desirable outcomes. When thinking back to my best meetings, all of your suggestions took place. In addition, I think it is important to be mindful of your different team members’ personality types in a meeting. Some employees are more introverted and prefer to keep to themselves or not speak their thoughts out loud in front of the whole group, depending on how large the meeting is. Larger meetings can be overstimulating for such individuals and I think there are other ways to engage these types of people that supports their personality and work style. Maybe breaking up into smaller, less-intimidating groups could be helpful so they can brainstorm their ideas or responses together on a smaller scale. You could even strategize how you break up groups so there is a balance of personality types in each group (or shuffle the group arrangements each meeting so everyone has an opportunity to collaborate together on a more intimate level. I also really appreciated your suggestion about showing your team the agenda prior to a meeting. Most meetings I’ve attended do not share the agenda in advance and I think it is so important that everyone has the opportunity to make a contribution.
As a new leader in your first few group meetings, it is important to establish a notable respect to ensure that you are able to maintain the floor and attention of those you lead when needed. It is also important to gain their trust and support early on. What I mean is that lecturing to your team for an hour will have little benefit. I think the best way to gain support is by listening to what your team has to say. Lead the meeting but give others the opportunity to provide suggestions or measures of improvement. It is surprising how much we can learn from others regardless of our position. By sharing the floor this way, it also tends to relieve some of the stress from complete attention on you and the team will be more likely to take more away from the time spent in the boardroom. Lastly, meetings are a great opportunity to better get to know your team. Maybe leave a little extra time for everyone to be able to speak on something positive in their lives. It is a chance to boost morals and improve the closeness of the team.