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Making Special Meetings Work

Special meetings should add value to what team members are doing.

Boston: Steve, a successful team leader, raised an interesting question during a recent coaching call: "We hold regular team meetings every two weeks, and those meetings go quite well. However, when situations arise between those meetings, everyone is so busy that I have been reluctant to call a special meeting. Either one person is then left to solve the problem, or we put the whole thing off until our next regular meeting -- which is frequently a week or so away. I know that putting things off is often not wise, but still..."

After discussing it further, I realized that Steve's reluctance to call special meetings had more to do with not knowing how to make those meetings work than with everyone being too busy. He sensed that the typical team meeting agenda format wasn't appropriate, and he was right. Steve wanted to know two things ...

  • When to call special meetings.
  • How to make those special meetings work.

When to Call Special Meetings

Timing is a critical factor. From Steve's comments, it was clear that timing was a major reason he asked about calling special meetings. He realized that relying on one team member or waiting until the next regular team meeting was often not adequate. Steve was also aware that in an affluent client's mind, timing is everything. Cycle time has become a critical competitive edge determinant.

Timing is not the only factor to consider. Special meetings should add value to what team members are doing. With that in mind, here are two basic purposes for calling a special meeting ...

  1. To provide vital information and give advice on how that information should be used. We will call these Information & Advisory Meetings.
  2. To solve a problem and determine how to implement the solution. We will call these Problem-Solving Meetings.

Special Meeting #1: Information and Advisory Meetings

This type of meeting will add value under these conditions ...

  • Time is a critical factor. Team members need to know right now.
  • It is important that everyone hear the information at the same time.
  • It is important that everyone hear the information exactly the same way.
  • The information and advice on how to apply it will add value to what each team member will be doing following the meeting.

Timing is important, but at least one of the other conditions should also be true. You can use the above conditions to form your stated purpose for the meeting. Your agenda should be to ...

  • Present the information and make certain it is clear to everyone.
  • Explain how to apply the information, and answer any questions.
  • Ask each team member for his or her commitment to apply the information as discussed.

Everyone on your team should be present so that there are no feelings of being left out.

This does not require a formal, sit-down meeting. You could meet most anywhere and remain standing until you are finished. If everyone is standing, you will be "encouraged" to move through the agenda quickly.

Special Meeting #2: Problem-Solving Meetings

This type of meeting will add value under these conditions ...

  • Time is a critical factor. This problem needs to be solved now.
  • The commitment of team members is vital for the successful implementation of the solution.
  • The synergy of team member interaction will contribute greatly to reaching a quality solution.
  • There are likely to be conflicting points of view that need to be reconciled.

Once again, timing is important, but I suggest that at least two of the other conditions should also exist.

Everyone who will be involved in implementing the solution should be present at this meeting. If that excludes anyone, they should be informed that the meeting is being held and why they are excluded. Following the meeting, they should be briefed on the solution and how it will be implemented.

Depending on the complexity of the problem, this will usually require a sit-down meeting.

Your stated purpose for the meeting could be something like this ...

Purpose: To find a solution to our problem and plan how we will implement the solution.

There are numerous techniques for solving problems, and you probably know of one or two that you have found to be useful. Here is one more that is designed for group problem solving.

This technique builds on the idea that a problem well-defined is half solved. It uses three sets of questions: first to expand your understanding of the problem, next to focus on finding a solution, and finally to evaluate your progress. You will benefit the most by deliberately working through each question one at a time. Do not change the order, and do not skip any of the questions.

Expanding Your Understanding of the Problem

  • What happens when this problem occurs?
  • When and where does it happen?
  • Who is involved? (note: avoid the blame game)
  • What impact does this problem have on serving clients, on team performance, and on team morale?
  • What is causing this problem? (note: focus on "what," not "who." Again, avoid the blame game)

Focusing on Finding a Solution

  • What solutions can we come up with that will eliminate what is causing this problem?
  • For each solution suggested -- what impact will this solution have on serving clients, on team performance, and on team morale?
  • Which solution do we want to try first -- and why?
  • Who will take responsibility for managing the implementation of this solution? (note: always assign responsibility to one person, even when others will be involved).
  • How will we monitor the implementation of this solution?
  • When will we meet again and evaluate our progress?

Evaluating Progress

  • What impact is our solution having on serving clients, on team performance, and on team morale?
  • What improvements can we make to this solution?
  • Should we continue with this solution? If yes, when will we meet again to evaluate our progress? If no, which solution should we try next?
If you continue with the same solution and decide another evaluation meeting is needed, use the same set of questions under "Evaluating Progress" for that meeting. If you select another solution to implement, repeat the last three questions under "Focusing on Finding a Solution."

Steve is a team leader who skillfully inspires and directs his team to high performance. Knowing when to call special meetings and how to make them work has enabled him to take those leadership skills to a higher level. My hope is that it will do the same for you.

If you have any topic or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected].
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