Keep workers from checking their phones during staff meetings by Jeff Beals

Does this describe the meetings at your company?

It’s 10:06 a.m. on Tuesday and people are still strolling in for the start of your standing 10 a.m. staff meeting. Those already seated, including the vice president in charge, are chatting about what they did over the weekend and are in no apparent rush to get things underway.

When the meeting finally does begin, at 10:08, half the people are looking at their phones. Others didn’t bother to show, saying they had “important client meetings.”

The meeting bounces from one topic to another with a lot of interruptions and tangential conversations. When the meeting finally ends — 17 minutes past the scheduled time — attendees bolt as fast as they can, grumbling to one another about how much time they just wasted.

Sadly, the above passage describes too many meetings at too many companies. And that’s why attendance at staff meetings is often not so stellar, and those employees who do show up are often sitting back in their chairs, rolling their eyes and not engaging in the meeting.

People generally dislike staff meetings, but that’s because meeting leaders typically don’t put enough effort into those meetings. If you’re the leader, it’s up to you to make your meetings useful and desirable.

Do you want people to attend your staff meetings? Do you want your colleagues to be more engaged and contribute more during the meetings? If so, I have some help for you.

• See it through their eyes: When you view the meeting agenda from the participants’ eyes you can assess the meeting’s strengths and weaknesses. In order to increase the attendance at and participation in your meetings, make the meetings valuable to attendees. As a leader, you don’t define what the attendees value; they do.

• No B.S. Zone: Be as honest and transparent as possible. Try to establish a “No B.S. Zone.” Most professionals hate hearing a bunch of politically correct corporate double-speak from their manager. Sure, there are some things you aren’t at liberty to discuss with staff members, but with everything else, be an open book. Your people will trust you more and become more engaged in all facets of the company. Too many organizations are unnecessarily tight-lipped about nonessential things.

• Skillful facilitation: The person who leads the meeting must have good facilitation skills, which means he or she is fully present and in charge of the meeting. A competent meeting facilitator is inclusive-but-assertive, meaning he or she makes sure all people are involved in the discussion but has the discipline necessary to keep the meeting on schedule. The facilitator should always be on the lookout for an excuse to publicly praise individual attendees in front of the group.

• Free stuff: Everyone likes to receive something for nothing. Periodically give away some company swag, such as T-shirts or coffee cups with the company logo. Free food also helps.

• Rotating facilitators: Once in a while it might make sense to have one of the employees lead the weekly meeting. Periodically ask one of the normal attendees to be guest facilitator. Let him or her design the agenda.

• Outside speakers: Meeting attendees tend to listen more intently when someone from outside the company is presenting. High-quality speakers provide valuable information that will help the team be more effective.

• Book club: Find a well-written book about sales techniques or industry content and provide a copy to each staff member. Assign one chapter a week and take a few minutes to discuss that chapter during the meeting.

• Team building: It might make sense a couple of times a year to cancel the weekly staff meeting. In its place, schedule a bonding activity such as an outing to a go-kart-racing track, golf course or game arcade.

• Welcome the newbies: Always take time to introduce newcomers to the team. Give rookies a chance to introduce themselves and give an overview of their career backgrounds.

• Leave them wanting more: In the end, the meeting should be a positive experience filled with valuable information that helps attendees be more successful. And a great meeting is even better when it ends on time.

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