Problems won’t go away if you ignore them

Tackle your team’s problems before everybody leaves for the holidays- Photo by Pawel Chu

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be meetings.” ― Dave Barry

Before this year is over, you’d probably have spent at least 500 hours in meetings.

There are over 25 million meetings per day in the US only, and a third of them are unproductive, a waste of time, and boring. It comes at a cost: an estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings.

Meetings are a necessary evil if you are part of a team. But they don’t need to be a painful experience. The problem is not the time you spend in meetings, but attending those that lack a purpose. Meet to make things happen, not just to report or waste time on meaningless tasks.

Why do you need another meeting?

Because your team members are busy dealing with constant fire drills. And those unexpected, and painful, intrusions are not allowing them to address longstanding issues. Unsolved problems won’t go away just because you ignore them.

Before the year is over, your team needs to pause and reflect. Cancel all the useless meetings and have this one instead.

Why You Need Another Meeting

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” — Phil Jackson

Leaders talk a lot about continuous improvement. But very few provide space for teams to work on it.

A results-driven culture can blind managers: when scoring is the only thing that matters, teams forget about playing at their best. Just 21% of employees strongly agree that their managers motivate them to do outstanding work. When magic is missing, performance and engagement collapse.

Though it seems counterintuitive, you could win more games by focusing less on the win.

Bill Walsh — the second greatest coach in NFL history — celebrated every well-executed play regardless if it resulted in a score or a win. He was obsessed with training his team to play with precision.

Winning is a byproduct of both training and playing. Athletes spend more of their time practicing than playing. In the business world is the other way around.

You know what’s worse? The more senior you are, the more time you are supposed to play: middle managers spend 35% of their time in meetings, while senior executives spend 50%.

“Train like you are the worst player, play like you are the best player.” ― Amit Kalantri

Your team needs to spend more time training on how to become a better team. I don’t mean attending leadership development programs or skill-building courses. They need to spend time together to reflect on group dynamics, adjust game tactics, and redefine collective behaviors.

Training your team how to play with precision can be the most valuable meeting they can attend.

What better way to get started than to have an end-of-year meeting? Here’s how it can help your team improve its game:

  • Practice reflection — personally and collectively. Distance helps decant what matters from painful but unimportant issues. It’s critical to reflect on the journey — how the team has worked together, not just on the projects.
  • Let it all out: Allow people to speak up freely, to share their feelings and what’s bothering them — about their job, others, the organization, and even you as a leader. Tensions are fuel to keep your team at the top of their game, as I wrote here.
  • Identify problems: Everyday fire drills keep everyone busy, but also clueless. Use this time to uncover blind spots and areas to improve the game.
  • Focus passion and energy: Getting together before the year ends is the perfect opportunity to refresh the team purpose. What’s their shared ambition? Why do they want to play together? What does the team want to achieve next year?
  • Prioritize work: Busyness makes us lose perspective on what’s critical and what projects or duties are irrelevant. Use this meeting to identify and remove useless tasks from your team.

An end of year team meeting is more than just a kum-ba-yah moment.

Feedback is the most painful part of product design — engineers feel hurt and want to go home and cry. Feedback on team performance is even harder. It involves emotions and personalities: everyone can take it personal.

It’s better to address these tensions before the year is over rather than ignoring them. Being in denial only postpones the suffering.

Have A Meeting Your Team Wants to Attend

“People need to feel safe to be who they are — to speak up when they have an idea, or to speak out when they feel something isn’t right.” ― Eunice Parisi-Carew

Planning and setting up this meeting is the responsibility of the leader. To make sure that people understand ‘why’ it’s happening and that they don’t perceive it as yet another meeting.

Here are some tips to set it up right from the get-go.

Make it an everyone’s meeting. The reason you are getting together is not to recap of all the year’s victories and make you look good. Its purpose is to encourage collective reflection. As a leader, curate the meeting but don’t own it, neither make it about you.

Balance the content. Spending too much time strategizing can make the meeting too abstract, the opposite can happen if you just talk about operations and day-to-day issues. Here’s how I like to break down the time: 25 % to reflect on the past, 50% to acknowledge the present, and the remaining 25% to plan for the future.

  • Reflect: What have we achieved? How was the journey?
  • Acknowledge: What worked and what needs to improve? Celebrate achievements. Identify tensions, reinforce good behaviors, call out those that need to be changed.
  • Strategize: What’s possible? Build a shared ambition for next year. How is everyone going to contribute to get there?

Clear accountability, not blame: I apply the 50%-50% approach: every problem requires both parties to solve it. When two individuals are part of a conflict, both must own 50% of the responsibility for making things right.

Encourage participation, not presentations: Create space for dialogue. No Powerpoint required. In the next section, you’ll find an outline to facilitate the meeting and drive conversation.

Trust is the base for candid conversations: Preach by example. Embrace your own vulnerability and flaws to encourage honest dialogue.

The context matters: Finding a quiet place is critical, but you don’t need to get out of your office. Avoid going out for lunch or other activities that can cause interruptions. Provide a space that makes people comfortable, safe, and focused.

End of Year Team Meeting Process

​”You will never see eye-to-eye if you never meet face-to-face.” — Warren Buffett

Getting together to address issues collectively by embracing empathy and vulnerability requires a lot of courage. That’s precisely why it’s a transformational experience for everyone.

Use the following process to facilitate the meeting. Based on experience, you will need two hours.

1. Reflection round

Start by providing a space for every participant to share how they feel about the team and their role. This first step gets team members present for the meeting. Everyone speaks, one at a time. The rest just listens, they don’t need to provide any feedback or comments.

2. Year in review

The leader or lead team present/s a summary of collective achievements (projects launched, wins, kudos, etc.). Provide time for participants to add remarks and celebrate.

3. Team Journey

Now focus on the team dynamics. Reflect on collective mindsets, behaviors, moods, process, and collaboration. Once again the leader or team leaders can provide an overview with room for participants to add their comments and things that might be missing.

The purpose here is to focus on how to play better while the previous section was about the games and victories achieved.

4. Capture & Process Tensions

Now you want to focus on identifying issues affecting personal and team dynamics and generate potential solutions.

First, build an agenda of tensions to process. A designated Secretary captures the agenda items for everyone. Each participant can use a couple of words to share their tensions, so they’re added to the agenda. No need to discuss them in more detail yet.

Then, one by one, each person can present their tensions and a recommendation on how to solve it. The rest of participants can then provide feedback to improve the solution. Ideally, the team should come up with a clear solution. If some of the issues are too complex or get the conversation stuck, move on. At least, try to reach to a clear assessment of the problem and afterwards continue working on the solution.

The Integrative Decision Making process (IDM) — that’s part of the Holacracy approach — could be used in this part of the meeting. If you are not familiar with it, read more here.

5. Feedback

This section demands plenty of time, but it’s critical to reinforce the trust and improve performance. So, ask people to come prepared to keep the rhythm going.

Each person will provide feedback to everyone in the team. One at a time. Use the following format:

  • You should STOP doing…
  • You should START doing…
  • You should CONTINUE doing…

Participants should provide one line of feedback per each. Setting a limit pushes people to focus on the most critical issues rather than sharing their whole laundry list.

Once the feedback is provided, the recipient just needs to acknowledge it and say “thank you.” Assimilating feedback is about listening. Reacting to it make us defensive.

I left this for the end on purpose; you want to avoid people reacting to the feedback they receive and derail the meeting. It also provides space for team members to take the feedback home and reflect on it.

6. Closing: Designing the future

The leader or lead team present the high-level goals for next year.

Then the secretary should share a recap of the agreements regarding new behaviors, improved tactics, and team dynamics. Basically, a summary of what was discussed in part #4 of the meeting.

Provide room for participants to express how they will contribute to achieving those goals. Not wishful thinking, but clear actions.

Once the meeting is over, the secretary should send a minute capturing everything with the team. Ideally, this should happen within 24 hours to keep it fresh.

Note: A skilled facilitator can run these meetings more effectively. Not only he/ she has gone through the experience several times but is not emotionally engrained in the team dynamics. In this case, I wanted to provide an outline for you to experiment on your own.

Training to Win

“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind.” — Marcus Aurelius

Great teams value the power of self-reflection.

Dominant teams know that preparation and practice are as important as playing.

Successful teams learn from their defeats and can speak about it openly without blaming each other. When you are committed to playing with precision, feedback is a gift.

High-performing teams are used to address tensions openly. They know that unsolved problems don’t go away just because you ignore them.

It takes time and practice to build the trust necessary to embrace candidness and vulnerability. But you need to get started. Before the year is over, invite your team members to the meeting they need the most.

Does your team have end-of-year meetings to reflect and adjust overall dynamics? Which of the ideas shared above can you apply to your organization? Please share.

Before You Leave

Do you want to learn more about running transformational team meeting or retreats? Reach out: [email protected]

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This Is the Only Meeting Your Team Needs Before the Holidays was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.