What to put on your team meeting agenda

Here’s the #1 thing your team meeting should be focused on – and exactly how you should structure your team meeting agenda.

“What should I put on our team meeting agenda?” I asked myself this question recently because – for the first time in our small team’s history – we’re starting to hold monthly team meetings!

Bear with me here. I know it sounds preposterous to just be starting to run regular team meetings in our company, given that if you were to peek at the calendar of any working person, “Team Meeting” would likely be the most frequently slotted event.

Yet here at Know Your Team, we’ve always been skeptical of the monthly or weekly team meeting. Trade-offs come with every meeting scheduled, and as a small company, we didn’t see a regular team meeting as a high-leverage use of time.

Now, though, we do. So what’s changed?

First is that our growth as a company has dictated a need for team meetings. And the second, is, after talking with tens of CEOs, surveying hundreds of managers, and pulling insights from 1,000+ managers in our Watercooler leadership community, I recognize how powerful a tool a team meeting can be.

And so, the question, “What do you put on your team meeting agenda?” has become ripe for me. But before answering it, let’s take a step back to define the purpose of an effective team meeting – and why we here at Know Your Team decided to introduce them.

The purpose of team meetings

Ultimately, a team performs well if it is aligned. Surely, this is intuitive, but it’s interesting how research shows this to be true. A 2014 McKinsey Quarterly report cited a study where “when people understand and are excited about the direction their company is taking, the company’s earnings margin is twice as likely to be above the median.” In short, as a leader, if you want your team to produce exceptional outcomes, you have to find ways for (1) people to know what the team’s direction is, and for (2) people to feel compelled to contribute to that team direction.

How do you create this alignment? This is where the team meeting comes in. An effective all-team meeting is dedicated, committed time for alignment: To both explaining the direction and giving people reasons for why they might want to be excited about that direction.

Specifically, an effective team meeting can help you get aligned on several areas of the business:

  • Vision: What picture of a better place are you trying to create as a team?
  • Mission: Why does achieving that vision matter?
  • Values: How are you looking to achieve this vision?
  • Individual contributions: How is what each person is contributing rolling up to the bigger picture of what the team is trying to accomplish?
  • General business context: What’s going on in the team? How is the company doing financially? What recent wins should be celebrated? What challenges should we be studying to learn from?
  • Who we are / team composition: Who is everyone else on the team and what are their roles in contributing toward the team’s vision?
  • Key decisions and high-level business / project updates: What progress is being made in the business, on a high-level?

Of all these areas to ideally get aligned around, there is one – more than the rest – that an effective team meeting should focus on…

The #1 focus of an effective team meeting

All-team meetings are most ideal for sharing vision. That is, where the team is headed and outcomes your team is trying to create. According to a survey of 355 managers and employees we conducted in the fall of 2018, we found that the most important information that they believed should be shared in a team is a vision (50% of people said this).

In particular, vision is what leaders should be most focused on sharing. Our survey respondents said vision is #1 piece of information a manager should be sharing (45% of people said this).

As a result, reinforcing vision and alignment around that vision, should be the primary focus of your team meeting agenda.

How to structure your team meeting agenda

Exactly how should you be talking about your team’s vision? In the Watercooler, managers offered these suggestions for what can be talked about, as related to vision:

  • The “why” behind the actions in each functional area and how they relate to larger team and company goals
  • Challenges each team is facing
  • Top projects of each team
  • Team-wide retrospective on what’s been working, what’s not
  • Mission, vision, and values and give examples of how a specific value impacts an every-day decision (sometimes this is a discussion, sometimes it’s a presentation)

What’s most important is to not make these meetings a progress update. We found that employees often feel they know what’s their coworkers are working on, for the most part. (When we asked through Know Your Team, “Do you know what your teammates are working on and how their work is going?” 83% of people said “Yes,” asked to 183 people across 17 companies). So don’t use all-team meeting purely as a status update. Make communicating the vision the focus.

As a result, for our own all-team meeting at Know Your Team, here’s what we’re putting on our upcoming team meeting agenda for next Friday:

  • Icebreaker! (10 min.) – As a remote company, we’ll take 15 or so minutes to break the ice, and catch up and chat casually as a company.
  • Big picture (15 min.) – We’ll discuss our vision as a company, what our #1 focus is, why, how is what we’re currently working on rolls up into that bigger picture.
  • Highlights / Recent wins (5 min.) – We’ll walk through recent breakthroughs, exciting progress we’ve made, and key highlights worth celebrating.
  • Challenges / Constraints (10 min.) – We’ve deeply reflect together on what’s tough about the business, and what limiting factors we need to be cognizant of.
  • Upcoming priorities (15 min.) We’ll dive into our biggest priorities and areas of focus for the upcoming months.
  • Next Steps (5 min.): We’ll cover any action items and next steps that should be taken.

Similarly, here’s another team meeting agenda shared from another Watercooler member in our online leadership community:

Positive chat (15 min.) – A chance for team members to share some ‘good news’. Maybe it’s something personal, or a piece of work they’re proud of, a learning they’ve had, or a new podcast they’re digging.

Business update (15 min.) – We go over only our key metrics here. Typically I present, and then we have discussion.

Client update (20 min.) – We cover how we are progressing on our main client work, any issues they’re facing that we need to be aware of, etc.

Problem solving or learning session (35 min.) – Each month we take time for someone to present a particular client problem that they could use the collective brainpower of our team on and we brainstorm and provide input. Or we have someone share a ‘teach-in’ on something that would be helpful for us all to learn (e.g. compelling communications, understanding finance better, book reviews, etc.)

Action (5 min.) – We covers any/all actions that were agreed to and any deadlines

Once we’re done we typically take some time 1.5/2 hours for an ‘opt-in’ non-mandatory ‘hang time’. Get lunch, grab coffee with someone, etc.

You’ll notice the similarities here: Both focus on sharing overall vision with the team, and in fostering alignment. Both of these meetings also occur monthly, and last about 1 – 1.5 hours.

Whatever you decide to put on your team meeting agenda, make sure you’re not doing them just to check the box. Any time the meeting format begins to feel stale, be sure to switch it up. You can also incorporate more folks or guest speakers into the agenda, as suggested by Watercooler members.

Remember: This is your critical time to encourage alignment around your vision. Don’t squander it.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.

Comments

  1. Useful blog post, thanks. 🙂

    One feedback, when I read the title, I was confused if you meant staff meeting or an all hands meeting.

    I know there are no standards on meetings names. But as a community of managers, having a common vocabulary could help communication.

    I myself like to use the nomenclature of the Radical Candor book. The author uses “staff meetings” and “all hands meetings”.

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