Teams, and especially executive teams, spend way too much time in the weeds. It’s a colossal waste of precious time together and, in my experience, the main reason why people are so fed up with meetings.
Team time should be spent on the issues and discussions that require the team. (Oh if only this ever so obvious rule was followed!) A meeting is not meant to be a series of one-on-one conversations with a room full of spectators. And that means the conversation needs to be elevated to the issues that are relevant to the majority of the team.
At the same time, there are millions of reasons why leaders need to be in the weeds. There’s the anxious meddling superior who wants to know why the numbers from North Dakota are down; the irate call from your second largest customer about poor quality in their recent shipment; the micro-managing team leader who is afraid to go into a meeting with her boss without ALL the detail about EVERYTHING. I could go on (and I’m sure so could you).
I know all of those things exist. The issue is that a team meeting is not the appropriate forum to deal with most of those situations effectively. If a deep dive is required, follow these rules of engagement.
I agree that most issues need to be understood in some depth to be solved. But there is no point in dragging everyone on your team down. Instead, appoint one member to investigate and bring only relevant issues back to the team. If that means calling off a team meeting while the issue is resolved, so be it.
Don’t Grab the Reins
The worst thing I see leaders do is to deep dive into an issue and essentially hip check the responsible parties out of the way and resolve the issues themselves. This is disempowering and demoralizing for the person whose job you just usurped. It’s also a sure fire way to get yourself back in the same crisis again because no one but you has learned a thing. Unless the building is on fire, go in asking questions.
Include the Layers
Another major violation is to skip over layers of people and go straight in two or three layers down. Now you’re not only disempowering the person whose job it was to address the issue; you’re disempowering the people who are there to manage the situation. At the very least, let them know what you’re up to so they can provide context to you and assistance to their teams.
Zip It and Listen
As painful as it might be to admit, you’re probably out of touch with how things are working on the front lines these days. It’s been a while since you wore a hairnet, hardhat, or a name badge. So when you do your deep dive on an issue, do more listening than talking at first. Ask great questions and be open to the answers you get.
Close the Loop with the Front Line
When you resurface, don’t go back to business as usual without ensuring that what you learned is embedded. Follow up with any employees that you interacted with.
“Thanks for working with me on the shipping issues last week. If I didn’t say it at the time, I appreciate what you’re doing to keep things moving. I’ve escalated your concerns about the loading docks and I’ve given the Facilities team 4 weeks to come up with a new plan. Until then, if you think you’re getting into trouble, raise the red flag and we’ll get you some help. Is there anything else I need to know?”
Close the Loop with the Managers
The learning might be slightly different for the layer(s) in between you and the front line. Was there value they should have been adding that was missed? How could a similar situation be handled without your involvement next time?
“As you know, we had a crisis on the loading docks last week. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about it until my boss got a complaint from our biggest customer. First, I need your help to make sure issues are escalated before they become crises. Now, what do we need to do to prevent a similar situation in shipping in the future?”
Close the Loop with Your Team
Finally, although addressing the immediate issue at a team meeting would not have been a good use of time, there is likely value in raising any systemic issues or concerns after the fact. What are the themes or underlying issues that are appropriate for your team to discuss?
“As you know, we had a crisis in shipping last week. We resolved it for the moment and are working on a plan for a longer-term fix. First, if you’re putting through any large orders, can I ask you to give me a heads up so we can be ready. Next, I think there are a couple of issues that are worth discussing here. First, the culture in that plant is a concern. Everyone knew there was an issue and no one raised a red flag. I’d like to get everyone’s thoughts on that. Second, we’re trying to squeeze more and more volume through a plant that can’t handle it. I would like to discuss our facilities strategy for the next 3-5 years.”
Doing the deep dive is a given in our performance-oriented, high accountability work environments. Deep dive when you need to, just stop dragging your whole team down into the weeds.
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Great article. I think teams also need to be clear on the “intent” of the meeting as well – is it for information sharing or does a decision need to be made as an outcome. Those leading meetings also need to consider who really needs to participate and what value they can add to the meeting. I think team members also need to speak up in advance of meetings if they are unclear of their value or role in that meeting and discuss their participation. Meetings can be highly effective and can result in collaboration of ideas and informed decision making, but not for the sake of having of meeting!