Regular meetings are a part of any organization, schools included. We know that some meetings are scheduled when one-way information needs to be shared or when a spontaneous task force has an immediate problem to solve. The reality is that a majority of our meetings consist of teams of highly educated, experienced professionals who set aside regular blocks of time in their busy schedules. My guess is that most educational leaders spend anywhere from 20-50% of their professional time in these types of meetings.
It causes one to beg the question: How effective are your team meetings?
The only way to answer that question is to first look at the intended purpose. For some, the purpose of these meetings is to communicate various pieces of information in an effort to keep one another “in the know” regarding current initiatives. Consequently, most meetings have agendas that expect various team members to take turns sharing information and are therefore adjourned when each person has shared their information. If this is the rationale for your team meetings then the answer to the above question is most certainly, Yes!
Is it reasonable to expect people to spend 15-20 hours a week in these types of meetings? I believe our purpose in educational leadership should be about increasing our organizational effectiveness, advancing our goals, and pursuing our noble mission to educate all children.
Perhaps a better question should be: How effective are your team meetings at fulfilling your organization’s purpose?
Research (and probably your personal experiences) will tell you that teams in highly effective learning organizations operate at much different levels. Often these teams are characterized by norms of operation that promote active listening, professional critique, and respect of opposing viewpoints. The most productive team meetings are focused on solving problems, developing creative solutions, and generating legitimate action steps. Peter Senge refers to this as Team Learning and identifies this as one of the five essential disciplines for learning organizations
“Team learning is the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire.” – Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
So what can we do as leaders to increase team learning for our people? How can we help the team create the results that the members desire?
We need to first start by reflecting on the nature of our current team meetings. Below are four reflective questions that we must ask ourselves as leaders.
- How many questions are asked around the room and at what level are the questions? (Too few questions suggest one-way communication; a preponderance of low-level clarification type questions suggests the level of thinking around the room is at Bloom’s lowest level – knowledge.)
- What percent of your team members regularly provide thoughtful contributions to the meeting? (A low level of engagement is characteristic of irrelevant information or the wrong audience. Perhaps the agenda item at hand is not applicable to all of the people invited to the meeting.)
- At any given time, what percent of your team members are actively using technology? (Unless you hold your meetings remotely, laptop and smartphone usage should be minimal. If you have team members on their computers, checking email, then you have not provided an engaging team meeting that is professionally enriching for your people.)
- What happens to your team members or to your organization when your meetings are canceled? (Are your people relieved? Does business continue as usual? If so, then we need to re-consider the importance of the meeting to begin with.)
Some suggestions based on my experiences:
- Bring a legitimate problem to the meeting – a complex situation that requires multiple perspectives to come to a solution.
- Share an experience that occurred in your organization that is outside of the norm and ask for their feedback. Asking for their perspective or thoughts on how they would handle a similar situation down the road causes people to reflect and grow. This will cause them to learn about one another’s perspective and help you understand how each operates.
- Rotate the responsibility of facilitating the meeting. This will give you a perspective on team members’ engagement and allow you to empower budding leaders.
Time and people are the most precious resources within our school organizations. Ineffective and unnecessary meetings can serve to waste both. As a leader, you hired (or inherited) your team, they are your responsibility. You hold their careers, their futures, their livelihoods in your hands. Empower your people as individuals and maximize every opportunity that you have your team together. Your people will thank you, improvement will happen, and, in schools, kids will learn at higher levels. That’s how we make difference.