People meeting around a table with computers

I recently read the U.S. Surgeon General’s first-ever report on workplace well-being. The elegantly simple but thorough report gave context, human needs, and key components for five areas: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth. As I scrolled through the report, I saw several common issues that come up in my coaching and organizational culture work. What came to mind in every section was how meetings touch each of the five areas, for better or worse.

Meetings stay on my mind as I spend nearly 70% of every workday in them. Additionally, I’m a facilitator who works hard to deliver meaningful experiences and outcomes when groups come together to think about and work on complex problem and big goals.

I constantly struggle to find (make) time to dig in on an issue, have open time to creatively think, or just be able to process information from one meeting before I enter the next one. I try to be mindful of my calendar – time for emails, time for recurring work, time for lunch, time to reflect after facilitating. Yet, I cannot seem to work around the sheer volume of meetings.

I attribute the spike in meetings to three things: (1) poor leader/organization communications, (2) the need for many executives to “see” their staff because they didn’t change their management approach with a remote work model – which is connected to trust, (3) the misapplication of agile scrum techniques, from a focus on productivity and work realignment to manager oversight and accountability.

Meetings & Well-Being

What began as a response to the COVID pandemic and the overnight flip to a remote work force, is now a mindless habit of meetings and more meetings. It’s time to get intentional. I think a commitment to better meetings – more intentional meetings – can support each factor of workplace well-being called out by the Surgeon General. For example:

  • Protection from harm:  Do you have meeting norms in place (and enforce them) to support open dialogue and belonging, rather than the oldest, most senior, or loudest person dominate? Do you have meetings that support different adult learning styles and neurodivergent thinkers? Are you clear about on/off camera and why? (Note: one friend set a “faceless Friday” norm and some quite hours on Friday as a why to help folks close out the week and prepare for the following one)
  • Connection and community:  Do you have dedicated time within meetings to simply “be human” and talk about life… or simply have a meeting to foster connection? Do you offer walking meetings – either in person or virtual where employees can get outside to share updates?
  • Work-life harmony: Do you have meeting-free time within your week or month for the entire team? Do you or your company constantly hold meetings 11:30-1 which prevents time to separate from work and eat lunch or take a mindful moment to recharge? Do you have a common approach to meetings (see below)?
  • Mattering at work: Do you have a habit of recognition in your meetings… how do you give kudos or provide space for team members to give gratitude to another person?
  • Opportunity for growth: As a leader, are you being transparent with your work – and sharing teachable moments about what you’re handling, why, and how—and the lessons you learned? Do you let various members of the team design and lead a meeting, or rotate facilitation for a standing meeting? Do you set aside time for “learning meetings” when an employee can spotlight new findings, helpful habits, or an interesting article or podcast?

Improve Meetings

A good meeting requires time for the host (meeting organizer) to create. If you hold meetings where you just show up cold turkey as host, it’s time to rethink things because you’re probably wasting time, losing value, and alienating your team.

  • Review your organization’s or divisions meeting’s:  How many meetings are conducted a week and a month? How are standing meetings – and what is the % of the workforce’s day? What is the cost of each meeting (e.g., each person’s hourly rate x number of attendees… if you don’t know this just use $150 per person)? What is the value of each meeting – how can you show it was worth the cost in terms of what it generated (e.g., knowledge, quality, creativity, strategy, efficiency, innovation, community)? How satisfied are attendees with the meeting, or how beneficial do they rate them (e.g., ability to do job, increased productivity, connection)? How many attendees multi-task during the meeting?
  • Set meeting standards: To get the most of meetings, consider what is needed to help attendees generate and receive value. Did you put the purpose of the meeting in the invite, and clearly articulate what will be accomplished by the end of the call/session? Did you include pertinent background information in the meeting invite? Did you attach all essential information several days before the meeting, and did you also block attendee’s calendar to read the materials, so they come prepared to engage?  Did you set the right amount of time for the team’s work and provide a realistic timed agenda in the meeting invite (note: most folks misjudge time by a deficit of 25%)? Did you send out a summary that same day with actions for whom and by when, decisions made, core topics discussed, and next steps – that can be read in 5 minutes?
  • Teach meeting design and management:  It’s important for all employees to know how to create and run a meeting – it’s both a skill and an art. Make sure folks are clear on what type of meeting is needed for the issue at hand: plan (assign roles, “define done,” set deadlines); sync (coordinate across a team on where things are in a complex integrated initiative); collaborate (work on a specific issues as a team or cross train); strategy (explore future, brainstorm); out-brief (provide status to executive/project lead); or connection (time for team to celebrate, recognize outcomes, or get together a humans)—and label them as such in the invite. Help folks understand how to put together a timed agenda that builds connection, elevates all voices, and creates outcomes. Teach basic facilitation skills to help team members create a safe space for hard conversations, as well as fun. And don’t forget how to integrate technology into meetings – music, chat, collaboration tools.

Here’s to better meetings filled with engaged staff and meaningful conversations, as well as more white space on our calendars … I feel better just thinking about it.

Better Meetings, Better Well-Being

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