Die "Status Meeting"! Die!

There is nothing I dread more than a “status meeting”. You know the one where everyone goes around and updates everyone else about what they’ve been working on? Shouldn’t this just be an email? If we are reporting information and not interacting about that infomation, then email does this job just fine, and in much less time. You can have productive meetings, but I don’t think status meetings are one of them.

And yet, I still see “Status Meetings”, Monday meetings, stand-up meetings, etc. all the time in business owner’s offices. Almost all the participants see these meetings as a waste of time, but they continue to hold them and attend them. Why? What is gained in this meeting?

Reasons for having a status meeting

  • Status meetings give bosses a chance to check-in with everyone. It gives them a pulse on what’s happening.
  • Status meetings give bosses a chance to redirect people’s activity to reflect changing priorities (that they haven’t take the time to share).
  • Status meetings give bosses a chance to “rescue” team members who have spent too much time on something that’s not important.
  • Status meetings give bosses a chance to discover team members with unused capacity.
  • Status meetings give team members a chance to: get informed about what all is going on and volunteer their time or knowledge to help one another out.

With the exception of that last one, all these reasons really boil down to lazy bosses. The status meeting is a backstop for the boss who isn’t taking time to keep tabs on what is going on — this meeting is for them to get informed, and who cares if it wastes ten other people’s time to do it. Logging into the team collaboration tool is too time consuming for the boss, that’s for the project managers. “I want to hear their voices and see the look in their eyes.” (I’ve actually heard bosses say things like that!)

Really?

There are lots of tools you can use to keep track of your team’s efforts, and none of them involve going around a room reviewing each project one at a time. Wasting your team’s time because you don’t want to have to learn one communicates disrespect and disdain for the value of their time every time you have that meeting. I would rather stick a fork in my eye than sit through another one of those meetings; and, I bet if you ask them, your team members would too.

Allright. I’m being a little harsh here. Maybe there are some good reasons to have a status meeting:

Other reasons to have a “status meeting”

  • Major business changes: When there are big changes–like you close a major account, or lose some business, or have personnel changes–you might want to engage the wisdom of the whole team in discussing the implications. That might be a good use for a meeting. (But does it happen frequently enough to warrant a standing meeting?)
  • Troubleshooting existing projects: If your flash report emails surface a major issue that you need your best people to troubleshoot. Maybe things haven’t gone wrong, but you can see a major risk down the road. Or, instead of a risk, your team may have uncovered a major opportunity that needs to be capitalized on. That might be a good use for a meeting. (But again, how freqently?)
  • Team Building: If the team doesn’t come together often, and especially if you have a largely virtual team, the status meeting can be a way to connect and build trust among the members of the team. I think there are some more innovative and productive ways to do that, but I can see that meetings are another tool to accomplish that goal.

So let’s say that you are committed to the idea of a standing meeting for team building purposes, or because your project management methodology requires it. How can we have a standing meeting that doesn’t devolve into a “status meeting”?

1. Convey all “status” information via email before the meeting. Better yet, use some kind of team collaboration software that tracks status in real time. Any one way communication–that doesn’t require a response from the team members gathered in the room–should be handled in writing. The point is, this information should not make its way into the meeting.

2. Use the time in the meeting to discuss new business, major issues/roadblocks, risks or opportunities ONLY. Have the team leader assemble these ahead of time in an agenda. There is a risk that these discussions can get lengthy. It’s worth it to train your people to be brief. If a discussion starts to be just 2-3 people digging in at a level that the remaining participants can’t contribute to, table it for a separate discussion.

3. Review your meeting results before adjournment. Was this time well spent? How could we have made this time more valuable? Regular review will help you to keep the meeting meaningful, instead of mundane.

Oh, and one more thing. Being the only person on speaker phone in a meeting stinks, don’t you think? It’s hard to hear, and even harder to put your two cents in. In our company, if one person is on the phone, everyone is on the phone.  Switch to Skype, or a meet me number, or any other online meeting tool — it won’t change what is being said, it’s just levels the playing field for everyone.

Those are my ideas. What about yours? How do you make your team meetings more productive for everyone?








Photo Credit: Dilbert Comics

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