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StrategyMar 31, 2014

The Joy of Meetings – Part 2: The Dreaded Status Meeting

Marleta Hansen

Status meetings can be one of the most important components of teamwork. They can also be the most dreaded hour (or more) of the week for some teams.  In his book Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni suggests that meetings should be more interesting than our favorite TV shows and movies because meetings are interactive and apply to our lives much more directly than any TV show or movie.  I think he’s onto something, but that’s much easier said than done.

I encourage you read Death by Meeting—it provides some good ideas for making meetings an effective tool.  Much of the book is focused on tips for an executive team and some of Lencioni’s tips may not apply to all teams, but it’s still worth reading.  In the rest of this post, I’ll review a few tips to improve status meetings. It’s not likely your meetings will actually rival the team’s favorite TV shows and movies, but status meetings shouldn’t be dreaded by the team.

1. Preparation

Each team member must spend a little time to prepare for the meeting.  Depending on the nature of the meeting, preparation may be creating a full status report, writing a status summary, or taking a few minutes to think through what is important to share with the team.  Look to the team leader to guide the type of preparation needed, but never skip the preparation step.

Without preparation, an hour-long status meeting can easily be filled with wasted time: Team members try to remember the important facts and others ask questions to get clarity on a simple status report. There’s no need to meet to get an unorganized status report – you could probably assemble that through email.

Replacing the status meeting with email sounds like an efficient idea, but let’s explore another option: If each team member prepares a status summary that can be delivered in a fixed time limit (maybe 30-60 seconds), the status report will essentially be complete before the meeting begins, which will leave most of the meeting open for more fruitful discussion.

2. Lightning Round

Lencioni talks about the concept of a lightning round in his book.  The lightning round is a chance for each team member to deliver their status report.  This is the fixed time-limit report they prepared before the meeting.

Rules of a Lightning Round:

  • Stick to a time limit – This can vary based on the nature of the team, but 60 seconds per person is probably sufficient for many teams. Give it a try with a timer. Sixty seconds is longer than it seems and racing the clock can add an element of fun for the team.

  • Give a summary status report – This is the status that each team member prepared before the meeting.

  • Save in-depth discussion for later – If there is a topic from a team member’s status that needs further discussion, make a note of that topic but don’t discuss it yet.

  • Questions are allowed from other team members, but try to stay within the time limit – If your questions break the time limit, consider if the question should be a topic for further discussion or should be handled outside the meeting.

The lightning round brings everyone up to speed on the status quickly.  The time limit forces the team to prepare and hopefully means the team can get through the pure status portion of the meeting before team members start to zone out.

3. Discussion

After completing the lightning round, the team can devote the remaining meeting time to important discussions that will drive activity between this status meeting and the next status meeting.  Take a look at the list of topics for further discussion and consider the following:

  • How much time is left in the meeting? – Decide now if other meetings will be needed for some topics and assign someone to set up the follow-up discussion.

  • Is the topic applicable to all (or most) participants? – If not, this topic should probably be a separate meeting to use the team’s time effectively.

  • Will the topic impact the team’s progress between now and the next status meeting? – If not, consider if the topic should be handled off-line or in a separate meeting.

  • Do you have what’s needed to discuss the topic now? – If there is research, analysis, or another person needed for the discussion, a separate meeting with appropriate preparation and audience would be a good idea.

With those considerations in mind, the team can have a focused discussion during the status meeting to boost productivity, make decisions, and/or remove roadblocks.

4. Standup Meetings

For fast paced work or a team with many interdependencies, standup meetings can be a good addition between your normal status meetings.  In the standup meeting, each team member talks about their planned activities between now and the next standup.  In particular, the team should make sure to call out things that could impact other team members or things they might need help with.  The standup meeting helps move tasks forward and keeps the team on the same page between status meetings.

Also, I recommend that the team actually stand up during a standup meeting (if it’s physically possible) because it reminds the team to keep it quick.  I like to hold standup meetings in an open space instead of a conference room so no one is tempted to sit down and get comfortable for a longer conversation.

And don’t forget, we are learning that sitting is the smoking of our generation. So, it’s also good for you to standup.

If you’re familiar with agile development, the standup meeting probably sounds a lot like a scrum meeting. It is a similar concept.  Part of the beauty of the agile methodology is the meeting structure that helps the team be effective.  I don’t have space in this blog series to cover agile meetings sufficiently, but several of my colleges have written on agile methodology concepts.

Every team is different and has its own unique dynamics that come into play during status meetings, but if your status meetings are the most dreaded hour of the week, I encourage you to talk to your team about trying out some of these tips.  I can’t promise it will be as fun as your favorite weekly sitcom, but maybe a fresh look at status meetings will be the jump-start your team needs.