Expecting More, and Getting More, from Your Staff Meetings
Staff Meetings, when the whole of a staff group are convened in one place (physical or virtual), are an important investment that a team makes on a regular basis. And they can be a significant investment – if you monetize the time that is used to convene this group, you can have a significant sum of money on the table – 70 staff members for an hour, at an average of 50 USD an hour, is 3500 USD per staff meeting! (BTW, that’s $182,000 a year for a weekly staff meeting…and 3,640 person hours of time…quite a contribution!)
These all-staff meetings are incredibly unique and valuable moments, and have a important set of purposes in a team setting. They can be used to:
- Share information (among team members, among layers of the organizational hierarchy)
- Collect information (get insights, opinions and ideas from the staff)
- Encourage collaboration (from greater insights about what others are doing)
- Build relationships (develop interpersonal connections among people)
- Energise (get energy around an initiative or collaborative task)
With these good purposes, and the considerable investment that is made in achieving them – why then does feedback after a staff meeting sometimes include the following: “Not sure what the purpose was”, “Not relevant to me”, “Too long”, “Boring format”?
We have a couple of thoughts on this as facilitators and process designers! Let’s look a little deeper at these Staff Meeting purposes and how to achieve them:
The traditional format for sharing information in a Staff Meeting is for someone to stand up and talk to an agenda point. Followed by another and another. They might have a limited time, and might be using a PPT slide to help, and some people can get away with this from sheer charisma and/or scintillating topic. However, after a few people doing this, and especially switching topics rapidly, it is both hard to follow, and chances are some of these speeches will not be entirely relevant to 100% of the team. Once you get a few with less than exciting delivery or content, people will gravitate to their phones or their minds will wander gently back to what they were doing before they joined the Staff Meeting. Busy people trying to optimise their time.
What are some other ways to share information?
- Can you ask people to make a short 3-minute Screencast of their input using a free online tool like Screencast-o-matic, or the many other options. This is fast, and easy, and can seemlessly incoporate a wide range of media in the 3-minutes (webcam, web page, video, still photos, etc.). It also creates an artefact that people can refer back to later, and help those who couldn’t come stay up-to-date. (Warning, if your staff meeting format is only information push in the form of one presentation after another with no or limited interaction, you could serve this purpose by just sending around an email with the links to all the screencast updates. Consider adding some interaction to your staff meeting to make it more logical to be there in person.)
- Can you cluster presentations in a logical way so that there is a clear flow to them, this will help people follow the thread. Share your logic with the group and show it on the agenda which is in the room on a flipchart, so people can follow along and see how far they are in the sequence (two presentations to go, nearly there!)
- Can presenters be given a template to prepare their input in the form of a “teaser”. In addition to a strict time limit (3-5 minutes – use a bell or the timer on your smart phone and be strict and equitable), the teasers could include: key facts, why this is important to us all, how staff members can help the presenter or vica versa, and where to get/give more information. Have this template list on a flip chart in the room to remind the speaker. Make a job aid – like a credit card sized card – and give it to everyone at a staff meeting, so they always know how to prepare if they are giving an input at a future Staff Meeting.
- If you have a longer update to share, can you provide it in the form of a Quiz? Draw out the key message and craft a 5 or 10 question fun multiple choice/true-false quiz (making quizzes fun is an art!) Have people take the quiz as a Table, and take time as you go through the answers to share the information you want to provide (always giving the group the opportunity to answer first). Give shareable prizes to the table that gets the most answers and be prepared for a multi-way tie. I would even say have enough of the prizes – wrapped small chocolates, etc – that everyone gets them or the winning table can share them with all. (See this blog post for some ideas on how to use quizzes as learning opportunities: Want to Learn More? Take a Quiz )
- Staff meetings are really mini-workshops. Why not use the multitude of workshop techniques to crowdsource ideas from your group? Perhaps start with a How to Have a Great Staff Meeting brainstorming exercise. Here’s one example of how to do this – we used storytelling to generate a discussion that provided us with ample ideas for how to improve staff meetings in one organization, see this blog post for a description: Using Storytelling to Generate Ideas: We just went to a great staff meeting – what happened?
- If the information you want to collect is a little sensitive, why not use an online polling tool such as polleverywhere.com to ask the group questions, allow for anonymous responses and visualise on a screen in real time the collective answers from the group – from which type of end of year party we want, to which of these options for office rearrangement is preferable, you can ask these questions using this online polling software. All you need is for everyone to bring their phone with them – people will be very curious if the invitation to the Staff Meeting includes a line that says, Please bring your cell phone…
- Using Open Space Technology as a technique in a staff meeting can help satisfy the first two purposes above, as well as encourage collaboration. In its purest application, it allows the group to create the agenda on the spot, and allows people to choose what they are most interested in hearing more about and contributing to. Small parallel conversations are scheduled (you can also do this in advance if people are responsive), and marked tables (A,B,C) help people know where to go for which conversation – whether they want to hear more about the new Sustainability Policy, or about what that successful project in East Africa is learning. It also means that you can’t go to everything. Through 1-minute teasers before the start of the Open Space session, staff members can get a sense of what each table host will talk about and what they need from the group. This helps people choose where to spend their time, and enables them to follow-up with the person later if they couldn’t attend that conversation (or even if they did).
- Of course, asking any speakers to explicitly note what kind of help or input they would like from their colleagues (see template information above) also opens doors to collaboration. Speakers in Staff Meetings tend to just share facts, encourage them to ask questions.
Build Relationships and Energise
- The interactive techniques mentioned above can take you far into this social capital building territory for your staff meeting. Quizzes, prizes, small group focused discussions, creative screencasts, and more. What about having a featured person each Staff Meeting whose name is pulled from a hat and gets to answer the Proust Questionnaire on the spot? (See: Workshop Games Everywhere: Even from Proust and Vanity Fair) Even the cost of coffee and croissants seems minimal when you consider how much you are already investing in bringing team members together in the staff meeting!
These collective moments are incredibly valuable in the life of a team. They go far in setting the tone and sharing the values of the management and the team members. As we have seen, they cost a lot and can do a great deal. They are, as the bottom line, worth taking the time to prepare them beautifully and thoughtfully. This care demonstrates their value, and communicates the respect for the time and attention of the team members who are there and contributing to your collective work.
A final thought, staff meetings as a regular occurrence can also be programmed over time. Instead of seeing them as one-offs all the time, can you think of them as 10 one-hour mini-workshops over a 5-month period? Can you iteratively programme in something that the team is working on or contributing to over the whole period (this can complement the weekly updates or other work done in the Staff Meeting). This can be effective for change management or strategic planning goals, and as long as the team has visibility over the longer-term purpose and how the individual staff meetings fit together, they will be happy to contribute.
Wouldn’t you like your team to walk out of the room after an hour together saying, “I just went to a great staff meeting“?
(Just a note: One type of training course in the Bright Green Learning Academy focuses on design different kinds of meetings and workshops – there is a specific half-day course on designing Effective Staff Meetings, as well as Team Retreats, Strategic Planning, Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues, and Partnership Scoping workshops. Our course schedule is on our website, and we will be posting our new course calendar for Fall 2017 in the next few days!)
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