Meetings are the bane of modern work-life: they take up time and attention and often provide little value. But meetings — what we talk about, who talks and how we talk — send messages to everyone who participates. Meetings tell people, “this is what’s important to us; this is how we work together; this is how we expect you to think / feel / act.” If you’re looking to change your organization, meetings are a great place to start. Go ahead, paint your corporate mission statement on the wall, but also make sure your meetings are aligned with that mission! Use your meetings to model and re-inforce the mindset and behaviors you want to promote. There are a few common types of meetings that, if done well, can make all the difference. How many of these meetings does your organization have — and what message are they sending to your team-members?
  • Start-of-day team meetings. Most organizations want employees to feel engaged and responsible — but daily team meetings are usually dull and disempowering: the supervisor reads announcements, calls out assignments for the day and asks if anyone has a question… no-one ever does. The message is clear — we talk about engagement, but what we want is to get to work as soon as possible. The best supervisors use team meetings to cause interaction and participation. If something needs to be read aloud, they get a team member to do it. When there’s an announcement, they ask an open-ended question about how it affects the team. Before assigning work, they call on team-members to talk about the previous day: what went well, what didn’t and how can they do better today? And if at all possible, they get people laughing. If you want engagement, start the day with meetings that engage!
  • Production reviews. Companies want front-line supervisors to engage and develop people, while also ensuring productivity. But when it’s time for the daily or weekly review, engagement and development aren’t on the agenda. The best senior managers use meetings to model the behaviors they want to see from the supervisors who report to them. For example, in addition to asking about production delays, they ask, “what’s going well… and who have you recognized for doing good work?” When it comes to safety, instead of focusing on incidents, they also ask supervisors what they’ve done to make the workplace safer, or what accounts for continued good performance. When defects or delays occur, they ask the supervisor what they have learned from the situation and how they will share this knowledge with their team. The way we talk to front-line supervisors during meetings is replicated when they talk to their teams. Are you modeling the behavior you want to see?
  • Management staff meetings. What leaders doesn’t want more innovation, collaboration and cross-functional support within their team? But when it comes to staff meetings, so many of us default to presentations and one-way broadcasts. We review some charts, re-cap what we heard at the executive meeting, and go around the table for brief updates from each participant. The message we send is, “show up, stay awake, and let’s go through the motions quickly so we can go back to work.” The best leaders make time in staff meetings for reflection and dialogue as well as progress reports. They prompt conversation by asking interesting, probing questions, and challenging their staff to carry the same questions to their teams. What if you dropped a few slides from your next staff meeting and used the time to ask a question like, what’s keeping you awake at night, what’s the biggest opportunity we’re missing, or how is someone likely to get killed working here (and why haven’t we done something about it yet)’.
  • Safety inspections. Nowadays it’s common for companies to have safety-related banners and posters — and many of them talk about the importance of people. But when it comes time for the weekly management safety walk, most managers look at tools, equipment and materials, and forget to talk to people. This sends an unfortunate signal: what we really care when it comes to safety is “stuff” — trip-hazards, head-knockers and unprotected edges. The most-effective leaders understand that safety occurs through people, so their site safety walks include conversations. They ask questions and listen to what is said (and not said). They pay as much attention to safety hazards that occur between peoples’ ears (distractions, attitude, mindset) as those involving “stuff”.
  • Employee orientations. What company wouldn’t want to harness the excitement employees feel on their first day, and seize the opportunity to make the right first-impression. And yet the vast majority of companies ask new team-members to spend hours (days!) sitting through dull, dry and disengaging slide-shows about rules, requirements and threats of punishment for failure to comply. Companies that are committed to engaging and inspiring employees design on-boarding processes that engage and inspire. The best leaders make time in their schedule to attend new-employee orientations and personally express their vision for the organization. If safety rules are reviewed, a discussion of why we work safe is also incuded. If a slide with the corporate mission is shown, there is also time for conversation about what this means to the new employee — why are they here?
These are just a few of the most-common meeting types we see in our work with clients — your organization likely has others. Look for the meetings that happen most-often and engage the most-people. Attend those meetings and experience them as if you were new-comer: what’s the message the meeting sends? How does it make people think, act and feel? What message do you want to send? How could you re-design the meeting to more closely align with the change you wish to see in your organization? Meetings may be a necessary evil — but they are also powerful tools for change. Are you using your meetings to send the messages you want your team members to hear? Interested in learning more? Ready to have more meetings that matter? We’re ready to help.   About the author: Andy Erickson is a principal and CTO at Humanus Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in people-centric leadership. He can be reached at