When I met with the team leader, he shared his frustration with the project team meetings and how the team members always complained that communication and support were weak, leading to project completion that was late, over-budget, and below-quality. So, the team leader kept trying more and more meetings – and the same communication and poor outcomes kept happening.
The team was having a weekly 3-hour project update meeting plus an additional finance and staffing meeting on another day of the week. In total, 5 hours of team meetings every week! Even with all these meetings and update times, they were all miserable because they could not find time for all the topics on the agenda. The meetings often lasted longer than scheduled, and not everything important to the team members was addressed. The opposite was happening; the team members felt they were under constant pressure, criticized their manager for all these meetings, and had no time to get work done. The project manager was under pressure to keep work on-time, on-budget, and on-quality – but had too many meetings to update everyone!
The team was having more meetings and after meetings to figure out what was causing the unproductive meetings when I told them, “you are doing the same damn thing over and over again. How will you know when you do something different?” They shared their fishbone diagram attempting to root-cause the poor meeting productivity.
I recommended the team leader try something different – a solution-focused approach.
At the end of the next meeting, he passed out a piece of paper with three questions that every person was to answer:
- How would you design a meeting in which you would like to participate? What would it look like?
- What exactly would you be doing differently?
- How would our best customer notice this progress?
- Were any situations in recent meetings similar to what you imagine? What exactly was happening then?
The team leader read the responses, typed them into a document, and shared them with the team at the next meeting. The team co-constructed a meeting structure based on the responses that made it possible to deal with the project updates, plus the finance and staffing, within 2.5 hours.
The team leader explained: “I am not entirely sure, but I think that by asking how to improve differently, the team could share what is working so we can increase that. Instead of sharing new fads and pointing to roadblocks, we could use what we got. In the past, we kept asking each other what was wrong with us? We were asking why we are so inefficient? This resulted in a blame game, pulling us deeper into the problem. By blaming each other, the clients, and me, we stopped talking and kept doing more of the same, pushing harder. When pushing harder did not work, we did not stop because we were going to fix this damn problem.”
Finding what works in leadership and doing more of it.