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 are 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 this meeting and update time, they were all very unhappy with the results because they could not find time for all the topics on the agenda. The meetings often lasted longer than scheduled, not everything that was important to the team members was addressed. The opposite was happening; the team members felt they were under constant time pressure and were criticizing their manager for all these meetings and no time to get work done. The project manager was under pressure to keep work on-time, on-budget, and on-quality – but was having 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 there any situations in recent meetings that were similar to what you imagine? What exactly was happening then?
The team leader read the responses, typed them all 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 leaders explanation was: “I am not entirely sure, but I think that by asking how to improve in a different way, it was possible for the team to share what is working so we can increase that. Instead of sharing new fads and pointing to road blocks, we were able to use what we got. In the past, we kept asking each other what is wrong with us? We were asking why we are so inefficient? This resulted in a blame game and pulled us deeper and deeper into the problem. By blaming each other, the clients, and me we all stopped talking and kept doing more of the same, just 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.