A Guide to Having Better Meetings
If your team's meeting are unproductive, this article is for you
I am often surprised by how poorly prepared and structured our office meetings can be. For example, our management team, sensing the end of the year approaching, decided to schedule an end of year review of the law firm’s activities and financials for the purpose of setting reasonable goals for 2017. Yet, interestingly enough, we allocated about 90 minutes for the entire task. You would be safe in assuming that no one even recalls what was discussed or whether anything was decided.
The unfortunately reality is that our team isn’t the only management group with these issues. After taking some time to evaluate this problem, I have discovered that it is a fairly common problem for management teams to ignore the complexities of issues with the need to simply conduct a meeting. As such, there are some basic processes that can be implemented to assist in creating a better mechanism for management meetings.
Begin by outlining what the management team should accomplish. Consider evaluating the tasks so as to only present those issues where team involvement is necessary. It is important to remember that there is no benefit to meeting and discussing issues where one person or manager is accountable for the item and does not need or require guidance. As such, it is advisable to focus on issues where the team will be able to discuss and explore solutions to problems that are addressable by the group.
Second, consider itemizing the issues by category so that any meeting can be specifically tailored to similar topics of conversation. Instead of jumping from one issue to another, the team could consider adopting a better strategy that may be able to address all of the problems at once. In essence, don’t let your management team treat the need to problem solve in meetings as an exercise in puzzle building. When someone builds a puzzle they must locate the pieces and then identify where they go. If the pieces are sorted and grouped by a commonality, the team can build that proverbial puzzle faster. A classic example of this problem at work is a team’s inability to shift pace from handling employment-related issues to speaking about fiscal growth. Streamline your meetings by splitting discussions into categories.
Third, if you have spent time organizing topics of discussion, consider allotting time for certain topics or, if possible, defining what options are available for discussion. If the team happens to be deciding between two practice management solutions, A and B, give the team only those options that are necessary and ensure that the team stays focused on the mission at hand. Be sure to avoid any discussion about solution C, as it is not an available solution. This means presenting and limiting discussions to solutions that are viable rather than allowing the team to explore items that are not under consideration.
Fourth, it is advisable to set a time limit on your management meetings. However, it is important to understand that certain meetings may take longer than others. For example, traditional operations meetings should be short and to the point compared to strategy and planning meetings, which will require time for discussion and analysis. If you end a meeting without a decision, it is essential that another meeting be called to resolve the outstanding matters to ensure that your team isn’t ignoring problems or operating without a plan.
Finally, plan for disagreements. Effective teams and invested managers will disagree on the best path forward. Disagreement and discussion is not the enemy. However, be sure to plan your meetings with enough time to facilitate healthy debate over your topics and issues.
Your law firm needs more than a one-size-fits-all approach to handling office meetings. Consider exploring how you and your team can improve your decision-making environment by bringing structure and direction. After all, realizing that your current model for conducting office meetings may not be working is the first step to determining how you create meetings that build success.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success.