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View from HR: Change team behavior is best way to reduce number of meetings

Ask employees what they think about team meetings and expect a bellyful of complaints.

“I can’t get my work done due to all these meetings!” “Our meetings are boring, long and time-wasting.” I have to laugh when calling a businessperson and their voice mail details all their meetings for the day!

Time wasting is a big problem. But it may not be the biggest problem caused by bad meetings. I nominate the “meeting after the meeting” for the worst-effect award.

After-meetings are follow-up conversations among team members without the entire team present. Often in a hallway or in closed-door conversations, team members continue to argue their points of view. In other words, conversations that should be heard by the whole team are now heard by only a few.

A meeting-after-the-meeting usually means the team failed in some respect. Something was left unclear. The leader shut down debate too early. In some way, the work was incomplete, so it gets completed (poorly) in these after-meetings.

Lack of trust

The most common cause of after-meetings is a lack of trust between team members. You see, when team members mistrust each other, they withhold their honest beliefs. Why should I risk expressing a doubt, challenging a proposal or suggesting a crazy idea when it may be held against me?

When important thoughts are withheld in a meeting, those thoughts look for another outlet. If I feel strongly the team decision was wrong or incomplete, my point of view can live on in an after-meeting I create.

Look for phrases such as “He does not know what he is talking about,” or “I wanted to raise this point but knew it would do no good,” and my favorite, “I can’t believe no one said anything!”

After-meetings break the already damaged processes of a team. When two or more team members would rather rush to the after-meeting than spark a healthy group debate, a destructive cycle is in place. Leaders and HR professionals who see these behaviors owe it to the team to help change the situation. It could be a simple individual reminder, or it could mean a serious all-team re-commitment to productive behaviors and building trust.

The next time you feel the urge to engage in an after-meeting, ask yourself three questions:

• Should I have brought this up with the whole team?

• Would our team’s decision be better if I did?

• What prevented me from discussing this with the team?

A good team leader will welcome your thoughts and help get the right issues on the table next time. A less capable leader may need your help to change team behavior. Can you explain the most recent after-meeting and why it happened? If team members engaged in deeper debate (with the right kind of conflict and personal risk), would we make better decisions? Would we all be more likely to understand and carry out those decisions?

Reducing the number of after-meetings through good team behaviors is the best way to improve all meetings.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit