Try using team meetings as a chance to collaborate instead of just update

Team meetings are a cornerstone of team-wide communication and team culture. This becomes increasingly true as teams grow- recurring team meetings may be the only time that everyone on the team is in the same place at the same time.

I’ve observed patterns in team meeting norms emerge as teams reach and then pass the 10-12 person mark. The team meeting starts with team/company updates led by team manager (ex- upcoming team-wide deadlines, metrics review, company announcements, hiring updates). Then, the remainder of the meeting is dedicated to project updates led by individual team members. The team manager is typically responsible for curating the roster of updates who seeks examples of exemplary work to be presented by team members.

These norms bias more towards team-wide communication than they do team culture. Meeting structure helps keep the team on the same page and showcase work that is in flight, but does little for team culture. The project update portion of the meeting is a particularly at-risk for adverse effects on team culture.

Firstly, highlighting only exemplary work could implicitly signal to a team that failure isn’t meant to be discussed or learned from. And, depending on how that update is delivered, the opportunity for participation and discussion from the rest of the team can be limited which typically means lower engagement.

Secondly, the selection process (or lack thereof) for individuals’ updates can have unintended consequences on team culture. This stems the implicit awareness by everyone on the team that the opportunity to present in the team meeting is a form of recognition. That recognition is a signal to not only the individual who is asked to present, but also to the rest of the team about what and who is valued.

Typically, however, the selection criteria for updates isn’t well defined or made explicit by the curator of the meetings. As a result, it is unclear to the team why some work is recognized as exemplary and others’ is not. This also means that the rotation of updates is likely not evenly distributed across teammates- team members, perhaps even more than team managers, are very good at sensing these imbalances. If neither the selection criteria nor the rotation is clearly-defined, assumptions can emerge about what or whose work is regarded as most and least favorable and why.

A shift in meeting structure away from updates from team members and towards opportunities for collaboration between team members can make meetings more interesting for the team and alleviate some of the risk for team culture snags. Topics can be sourced from some combination of requests from individual team members (“can I ask the team for help on x in the team meeting”) and requests from the curator for the meeting (“what would you think about asking for the team’s input on y?”).

A team I was on recently tried this new format for meetings. The shift was transformative for not only the spirit of the meeting, but also for the dynamic of the team. Team meetings began to feel much more natural and collaborative. We started to hear from everyone instead of a select few. Over time, team members started to express more personality in sharing problem-solving tactics and vulnerability in the way they asked the team for help with challenges. When this happened, other team members dove in to help by sharing their own experiences, successes, and challenges. This often led to follow-up 1:1’s between team members giving updates and someone with particularly helpful experience or feedback during the meeting. It organically and authentically fostered a collaborative spirit amongst the team within the meeting and in doing so, brought team members closer together outside of the meeting.

Team meetings will always need and want room for updates, but it can be boon to team culture to have a healthy balance of team members talking about what they’re up to and asking for help from others.

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