How to Run an Effective Staff Meeting

Last Updated Jan 16, 2009 2:32 PM EST

What is it about staff meetings that brings out the worst in otherwise reasonable and intelligent business folks?
  • Is it their weekly frequency, come hell or high water?
  • Confronting a nemesis who gives you a hard time whenever you open your mouth?
  • Having to answer to an abusive boss in front of peers?
  • An opportunity to act out and childishly disrupt others?
  • A chance to demonstrate animalistic dominance.
  • Or a sign of a dysfunctional workplace or management team?
Meetings are hard enough to do effectively, but weekly staff meetings are the hardest. Why, I don't know. But in my experience, most managers are so inept at conducting effective meetings you'd think it's rocket science or a rare genetic trait.

Look, for companies to operate effectively, executives and managers need to know how to run staff meetings. They're where conflicts are resolved and plans agreed upon. They're where critical strategic and operating processes are developed and managed.

If your staff meetings are ineffective, these five tips, from decades of experience both good and bad, will help.
  1. Consistency is key. Have it weekly and for two hours, every week. Why two hours? Because, in my experience less it too short and more is too long. Really. Exceptions should be rare. Make sure attendees who are out for whatever reason send a replacement.
  2. Manage the meeting. Whoever's in charge must ruthlesslessly manage the meeting. That means the boss is responsible for every aspect, including agenda, attendance, punctuality, and documentation. That person keeps everyone on topic and moves the meeting along, no matter what.
  3. No dog and pony shows. Staff meetings are not a time for show and tell or goofing around. They're for communicating status and discussing key issues affecting the company's business, not for each department or division to robotically share every little detail and get pats on the back.
  4. Keep debate and conflict productive. Staff meetings are for debate and consensus on critical issues. Attack the problem or issue, not the person. Stay on topic, but don't beat a dead horse. Be open, honest, and forthcoming. Don't hold back, bulls--t, or sugar-coat issues.
  5. Document key decisions. Key decisions are nuggets of corporate gold that pop out all too rarely. They must be published within one day. That also goes for follow-up or action required (AR) and an owner for each item, unless it's an executive staff - they should be senior enough to track their own ARs.
I thought I'd seen and heard it all until I read this account, by now ex-CEO of Seagate Bill Watkins, about his first executive-level meeting with legendary Seagate founder Al Shugart:

"The meeting lasted about four or five hours, and I have never been around so many people who just screamed and yelled at each other. Everyone was, 'F--- you, f--- you.' The sales guy would say, 'I need this' and the operations guy would say, 'Well, f--- you. I'm not doing that.' And the design guy would say, 'F---, I hate doing that.' It was six hours of 'f--- you,' Watkins recalled. And when it was over, they brought out the dog head. It was a head of a stuffed dog. They cut it off and sewed up the bottom. Then they all took a vote on who is the biggest ---hole in the meeting and they gave him the dog head award."

I invite you to share your meeting horror stories and tips.

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