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Transcript: What You Need To Know About Meetings (EP14)


Intro (with music): Welcome to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. This is a podcast where we talk all things, culture, leadership and teamwork across business and sport.


Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 14.

Today, I'm talking with Andrew Moore. Andrew is the Principal Consultant in Australia for The Table Group, where he works with CEOs and Executive Teams to help them apply the concepts of organisational health. His clients span a broad spectrum of organisations in fields including emergency services, construction, market research, travel, telecommunications, education, and insurance. Prior to partnering with The Table Group in 2012, Andrew worked as CEO of Harcourts Real Estate in Western Australia. Andrew holds a doctorate in Cultural Change Management and post graduate degrees in Economics and Strategic Organisational Development, and lives with his wife and family in Bris Vegas.

Andrew and I connected on LinkedIn in 2018, and I was lucky enough to meet him that same year when I visited my hometown of Brisbane. The focus of our conversation today is meetings. And I know you will also be fascinated by his insight into why meetings are so important, and why as leaders, it is vital to have great meetings.

Andrew, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.

Andrew Moore: Thanks, Brendan. Great to be here.

Brendan Rogers: Mate, let's get straight in. What I'd like you to do is just to give listeners a bit of an overview of your journey, even a little bit about The Table Group and this concept of organisational health.

Andrew Moore: The Table Group, we’re a firm run by or led by Patrick Lencioni, who's an author and he's written several books, including most famously The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. And as a firm, we've got a small group of consultants spread out around the world, mostly in the US but a few of us in Australia and in Europe. And we work with leadership teams and CEOs, mostly in the area of organisational health.

And when we talk about organisational health, we talk about four key disciplines. One is the idea of getting the team highly functional, so getting the leadership team really functional. Without that, you can't really do anything. And once the team is able to discuss, debate, decide and execute together in a strong way, then we want them to create clarity for the organisation to say, “This is exactly what we are going to do as an organisation.” And clarity is different to certainty. It's important to note that. No one can be certain. The markets move, you know, government policies change. So, we can't give anybody certainty, but we can say right now, in the current circumstances, this is what we're all going to do. And we're all going to row in the same direction. So, we ask them to work as a team to clarify, “Here's what we're doing as an organisation,” and to communicate that really clearly and make sure those systems support it. And the broad categories there, we talk about that as organisational health. So, when an organisation's doing that. So, that's what we do. We spend our time doing that with leadership teams and as I say, CEO’s in a lot of cases.

Myself, I joined The Table Group in 2012, formally. I've been talking to them the year before that, originally as an international partner and then as a, what they call a PC or an internal consultant two or three years after that. And yeah, it's been a really great journey. I spend all my time sort of working with people, meeting with people like yourself, Brendan, and other sort of leaders of the industry and working in organisations that are genuinely, putting these things into practice, which is always really exciting.  

Brendan Rogers: Let's get into our topic around meetings. First of all, let's put some context around this. Why are meetings so important?

Andrew Moore: Oh, I think I'll take a leaf from Pat’s book here, my boss effectively. We talk about ‘If you're a surgeon, then the surgery table is kind of your place. If you're a teacher, the classroom is kind of your place, if you're an executive or someone in a management role, then the meeting is kind of your place’. It's what it is that you do.

Coordinating people, coordinating resources, coordinating talent, taking advantage of the talent in your team. Most of that genuinely happens in the meeting. It's where the ideas come together. It's where alignment comes from. So, a team that doesn't have good meetings really can’t be a good team. It’s where you combine the ideas and you take advantage of the different capacities and views and perspectives of the people. And you bring them to bear on the problem that you face together. The whole notion of meetings, being anything other than the central part of any given day, I think fails to see why we organise originally the notion of coming together to organise is so, we're trying to do more together than we could do by ourselves. And the way we coordinate that activity is largely through meeting together, discussing challenges, and then deciding on what we're going to do together. I don't think meetings could be any more critical.

Brendan Rogers: Given your experience, if you could put a percentage on good meetings versus bad meetings in an organisation, where would you say that percentage sits?

Andrew Moore: I would say 95% bad. Most meetings are terrible. And that kind of comes back to our measure of what a good meeting is. We would say that the two things that a meeting needs to be a genuinely good meeting. Number one, it needs to not be boring. It needs to be engaging. It needs to be interesting. It needs to be vibrant. It needs to have a real life to it. The reason for that is, because, as I said before, the point of the meeting is to move information from some people to other people. We need people talking about challenging things. We need other people listening to that, so that we can a) share different perspectives, so if we're trying to make a decision, we can make the best possible decision given the knowledge that we all have, and b) so we can all learn. Learn from the other people in the team. You know, the whole ‘two heads are better than one’ thing. So, that's the notion of why we're in a meeting. And if you're not really listening or not really contributing because you're not engaged, because the meeting's boring, then it fails.

So, the very first thing a good meeting has to be is interesting and engaging. And most meetings fail right there. Most meetings are boring. Most meetings spend a little time talking about things that aren't relevant to all parties or in a way that's off track. And people feel disillusioned with it. There's lots of wasted time with them and they fail to engage properly because of that.

Second thing, you need to have a good meeting is you've got to be spending most of your time talking about the most important things. So, if the majority of your time is spent doing the most important things, and it's being talked about in an interesting way, it's super engaging, then you have a good meeting. The other thing, if you were going to pick a third one, you would say, “We conclude at the end. We come to a conclusion. This is what we're going to do.” And that conclusion is clear. So, it ends with clarity.

Most meetings fail on one or more of those of those criteria. So, that's why I say those meetings aren't good in that sense. And you can tell because of the relationship people have with meetings. So, people talk quite negatively about meetings, whether it's their own meetings, the number of meetings. If they were really engaging and most important things we're getting the most time, people wouldn't speak like that about them.

Brendan Rogers: Absolutely. Again, there's that phrase coming in my head, you know, not another meeting and I want to get some real work done. So, you've just talked about the things that are really important around having good meetings. So, that's 5% of people out there that are having great meetings. Let's contrast that so it's really clear for the 95%. What does a bad meeting look like? And what is the impact?

Andrew Moore: A bad meeting? I think a bad meeting would be one opposing that. So, a bad meeting would be boring, to start with. Normally, that's one way to have a bad meeting. Another way to have a bad meeting would be where you’re hearing dominantly from one person. So, we failed to share information in a genuine way. I know that challenge sometimes in meetings where it goes bad, is a topic might start and people get excited about that topic. And then, they all get caught up in a topic, but that topic is only relevant to a few key people, and it's not the most important thing that we should be discussing. So, if you're spending a lot of time in a meeting going this really isn't relevant, we've got this thing to talk about. We're not talking about the real thing. That's probably a bad meeting.

It's not one that you feel like we got clarity at the end. Like I don't feel I'm better able to do my job. I don't feel like I better understand what it is that we're trying to do as an organisation. When a meeting ends with these sorts of feelings in it, then that's a bad meeting. And I'd say, that's a typical meeting. A typical meeting, you come in and it might be an information cascade. The leader will come in and say, “Right, here's what I need to tell you. Do this, do this, do that. Who's got an issue?” Someone brave might raise an issue. And then, they might get a bunch of different, you know, responses. They might gather a bit of information around it. You might have sort of department check-ins, where you hear from everybody about what's going on in their department, but no one's really sure what they're supposed to check in on, what they're supposed to raise, what they're not supposed to raise. And it can sometimes deteriorate into, “Everything's fine in my area. I'll just think of something to say, ‘cause I don't really want to be vulnerable or share with people here what's actually going on. I'll do that in the background. ‘Cause this meeting, you know, I'm a bit uncomfortable sharing in front of other people, so I won't share things in my space.” So, it becomes sort of transactional or platitudinal, in what people share. So, really, it's got nothing in it. It's got nothing in it. We talk about what we have to talk about. That would be a typical, bad meeting.

Brendan Rogers: In your role, you observe a lot of meetings and you help coach leaders with meetings. Tell us a story that you may have where you've just seen a really, really bad meeting.

Andrew Moore: I think the worst meetings to observe is after you've explained to them how they should run a good meeting and you go in and they're just doing what they've always done and they ignored everything you said. I think that's the worst type of meeting you can go into. And you sit there, and you think, “No, you’re not doing that.” “Okay, now, you’ve jumped.” I think, that a worst meeting, I haven't had a sort of a horror story meeting and I think that's the problem. We think that a bad meeting should be something that is obviously bad. I mean, people have been in meetings where it got very emotional. People took offence and it sort of went socially bad, but that's really quite uncommon in my experience anyway. Every now and then, and most people can remember when it has happened, so it's not that frequent.

I think the typical bad meeting, the problem with a bad meeting is that it's really just nothing. It's sort of like a zombie meeting. I think that's what a bad meeting is. It's just a meeting that's just like every other meeting and it kinda doesn't cover anything. It's just the volume of bad meetings that's the problem rather than them being critically bad. I think it felt critically bad in that there was immediate emotional or organisational damage done from the back of that meeting. We would address the meeting’s problem. The issue is that they’re progressively and consistently and culturally and expectedly bad. You know, when I say “bad”, I mean boring and unfocused and inconsequential in a lot of cases. And you might get a bit of information from them, but nowhere near what's required to warrant an hour, 45 minutes, a bit of benefit. So, it's really the volume of bad meetings, that's the problem. It's, they're all kind of bad. And in their weight, they just dominate and make the whole of the workplace terrible, I think, in a lot of cases. Make it drudgery when it doesn't need to be.

Brendan Rogers: What is it, that as leaders, we're not getting? ‘Cause I know myself. I mean, I held those meetings that you're talking about that are bad, terrible. I'm like, “Wow, why did I even think that that was good?” I'm not sure I thought it was good, but I didn't know any better. Why do we just have this expectation that meetings are bad?

Andrew Moore: I think it stems from the nature of what a leader thinks that their role is. I think, as leaders, we think our role is to have that strategic insight, to see over the horizon and to kind of be pulling the levers as we need to. Quite often, we think of our role as a leader to communicate out to the broader organisation about the direction, to be visionaries and foreseers, and those sorts of key parts, in our language, we would say it was smart that most leaders think that they're the key part of their role is smart. And one bit that gets neglected is that ownership of their team. And as a consequence of not really owning their team, they don't really own their meetings.

Let me do that in two parts. So, the first one is owning your team means taking responsibility for them as individuals and how they coordinate together, what work they're doing, what work they're not doing, having challenging behaviour conversations with them and all those sorts of things. You've got to say, “Well, this is my team. If this team or any individual within this team isn't doing well, then that's my personal responsibility.” You can't just hire great people and expect them to just do their work. If you hire senior enough, you won't have to manage them is not a thing. That's not a legitimate thought process. All people need management, top to bottom of any organisation. So, once you own your team and you have taken that sense of, “That's part of, a key part of my leadership role”, even as a very senior CEO, where it's always hardest sometimes, then you've got to say, “Well, as part of owning my team, I need to own my meetings. So, if I own the meeting, which doesn't mean that necessarily I'm facilitating all of them, but if they're bad, that's my problem. If they're unfocused, that's my problem. If they don't conclude, that's my problem. If we're not clear on what we're agreeing to do, that's my problem. If they're boring, that's my problem. This is my meeting. I own this meeting, and it will be how good this meeting is that delivers how good our team performs. And it will be this leadership team performance that dictates how successful we are as an organisation, as a whole.”

And to clearly see that, not only as your responsibility, but a clear causal chain, or at very least, the number one lever you have to pull in influencing your organisation. I think, its leaders fail to see that, and to understand their role in that, that leads to most bad meetings.

Second to that, most people learn how to run their meetings from the meetings that they are in with their boss. So, if the senior leadership team is having bad meetings, you can almost guarantee that the next layer of the organisation are also having bad meetings, because we've set and accepted that level, that expectation. So, in a little bit of that, there's kind of the solution too. It has to come from the top down. You do get pockets of brilliance in lots of organisations where someone's taken the initiative, but broadly, if some meetings in the organisation are bad, probably most of them are.

Brendan Rogers: We built meetings up a lot. I think, we've, hopefully, we've given people a perspective or you've given people a perspective of how important these things are to get right, and to improve upon. How about you tell us a little bit about the different types of meetings so that people get a context around it? ‘Cause that is a big problem, isn't it, understanding the different types of meetings?

Andrew Moore: Well, one of the challenges is if you don't know what you're supposed to be talking about in this meeting, it's very hard to stay on topic. So, we try and break them up. So, we say, well, there's different topics. There's administrative topics, there's tactical topics, there's strategic topics. And then there's kind of nebulous over the horizon, really, really big picture topics. And to cover each of these topics in one meeting, it's very, very messy. We talk about it as meeting stew. So, Pat talks about it as meeting stew when you're just trying to, you don't really know, “Am I supposed to be talking in this level of detail? Do we need to move to a strategic topic and all the challenges associated with that?”

So, what we try and do is we try and say, “Right, there are different types of meetings. The very first type of meeting is an admin meeting. And this is the day-to-day, little bits and pieces, coordinating diaries, being in meetings together and appointments, little bits and pieces that you need to be able to talk about that. And for anyone that's co-located, which I assume, basically, no one is at the moment, but even in a virtual sense, this is actually even more impactful. We call it the daily check in. So, a daily check in is normally very short, 5 minutes, 10 minutes at the absolute outside. And really, what you're doing is you’re just coordinating everybody's diaries. And you're creating a place where those relationships that have been built in that team can be maintained every day.

Lots of teams that we’re working with at the moment are doing this virtually and have found that if they were doing it, it was okay and kind of important before when they were all co-located or working in the same office.

Now, it's extremely important and it's yielding great results for any team that's done that. So, the first thing I would advocate is if you're a remote team, just checking in for five minutes at the start of the day. If everybody's working, anyone that is working should be on the call. If you're not working today, you don't have to be, and really just go around and hear from everybody really quickly. So, we call that the daily check in. That'd be the meeting number one. That should get most of the small admin things out of the road. So that when you get to your weekly meeting or what we call the tactical meeting, you're able to focus in on what's important in the next couple of weeks, how are we going and what we're trying to do collectively, and how we’re tracking against sort of key tactical measures. The keyword there is ‘tactical’.

So, this is the normal meeting that everybody dumps everything into, like the weekly staff meeting or the fortnightly staff meeting or team meeting. Getting this meeting right kind of fixes the rest of it. But that's the second type of meeting. One of the key things with this meeting is it shouldn't have big strategic topics in it. A strategic topic is something that's going to take longer than 20 minutes to talk about, or really isn't relevant in the next two to three weeks. So, if it's not important in the next two to three weeks, or it's going to take longer than 20 minutes to talk about, then don't put it in your tactical meeting. Put that in its own meeting.

Let me give you a little context there. Lots of people become managers because they want to talk about those big strategic topics. That's the fun stuff. That's why you go to business school. That's why you're interested in, like, how things coordinate and then we can solve this system. We can solve that problem with this. It's talking about those big ideas that's actually quite fun. Because it's quite fun though, we tend to get distracted by it in the tactical meetings and we fail to talk about the tactical things that we need to on a weekly basis. But we also fail to talk about the big things properly, so we find that over a period of week after week after week, we might raise and half discuss a really important issue and feel like we never really conclude it because it's too big for that forum.

So, we say a strategic topic deserves its own meeting. And once you understand that the strategic topic deserves its own meeting, you've kind of, you create space for it and you move it out. Once you move the big strategic topics into their own meetings, we call them ad hocs. So, strategic ad hocs. We would advocate having a backlog of ad hoc topics.

So, here are the four or five big topics we know as a team we still haven't fixed. We haven't dealt with, and we're going to do these over a series of meetings. So, the first meeting is admin. The second meeting will be a daily tactical or your weekly tactical rather. And your third one is ad hoc strategic meetings. The fourth type of meeting we advocate is a quarterly sort of offsite or a big check in. And that might be one to two days every quarter. And in that meeting, you don't want to be too tight with it. We don't want to be too specific, but it’s for over the horizon conversations, how are we going with our own health and our own team functionality? How's the big picture plan going? How are we going against the annual strategic and what not? Those broader questions. So, that's what you want to be dealing within your quarterly offsites.

Brendan Rogers: As soon as people talk meetings, they think agenda or preparing an agenda. Tell us about agendas for meetings because all of these types of meetings, it's like, “Wow, I'm having these four types of meetings. I better prepare four different types of agendas.”

Andrew Moore: I think it's different for different meetings. And the most challenging one, as I said before, is the tactical meeting. And that's typically the one where everybody, maybe on a, if it's a Monday morning meeting, you might send out an email on Friday and see if anyone got any topics for the agenda. And two people will send something back and the rest of the team won't mention anything. So, the leader comes up with their own agenda and then we walk into the meeting. And what we've basically got is last week's conversation that we can go back to and we've got two or three agenda points from the leader and maybe one or two agenda points from everybody else.

And what that doesn't target, remembering the two things that make a meeting good is one is engagement and the other one is that the most important things get the most time, get the bulk of the time.

So, one of the key challenges is how do you determine as a team or even as the leader or facilitator of the meeting what the most important thing to spend the time is on? And we would say, you can't really know that on Friday afternoon if your meetings next Monday or next Tuesday. You can't even really know it as one individual before you get into the meeting. So, in that particular case. Now, that's not true for strategic ad hoc meetings. So, in a strategic ad hoc meeting, we know what the topic is and what we needed rather then an agenda for that is we need a process. I'm going to have two hours and we're going to go through a process here where we look at all the options. We discuss. We bring people up to speed on the challenge that we're facing and we raise options and we might brainstorm, whiteboard some options, and then we might narrow it down and we might make a decision or the leader or the decision maker will make a decision on which of those options we're going to take. And what combination of what the action plan will be.

So, that's sort of a, that's a pretty standard, like an open, narrow closes facilitator would discuss it structure of a meeting in and around a specific topic. So an ad hoc meeting, a strategic ad hoc’s quite specific, but it's the tacticals that get messy because we don't really know what we need to deal with until we've kind of heard from everybody.

Brendan Rogers: I wanted to raise the point you mentioned earlier around the daily check in. How does that meeting look? And the reason why I want you to do this around these four meetings is, you know as well as I do, most leaders, when they hear, “Alright, there's these meeting structures.” They can understand the concept, but they think, “Oh, no, it feels like I'm going to have to have more meetings. And that's the last thing I want to do.” So, go into a little bit of detail around the daily check in first, then we'll work through the others.

Andrew Moore: Okay. So, a daily check in, it's normally brief. When it used to be in room, I used to say at the end of the time, you're just allowed to walk away. Because it is the meeting that does tend to expand. I would say, if you understand the purpose, there's two purposes to that. One is to move administrative information around between team members for coordinative purposes. Ultimately, you should be able to reduce the number of emails between the team through the rest of the day. Quick little conversations, “What have you got going on?” “Okay.” “Yep, what have you got going on?” “Okay.” We would say, “Share two or three things, maybe. Your big rocks for the day, big things that you're doing today. Big things that are on your mind, your key focuses.” And that just lets you coordinate with other members of the team about what's going on. So, really, it's a team coordination. That's one of the big things.

The second thing it does is it just reminds everybody that this team is the most important team that you're part of. So, you don't get distracted by people further down in the organisation or different departments or what not. That's an enabling thing for alignment so that the team can stay aligned around what we're doing together. It keeps the team connected. It keeps the relationships in the team strong. So, the relationship and then the coordination at admin. So, pretty simply, you would say, “Brendan, what are your two or three things for today?” You would say, “I'm going to have this conversation with Andrew on a pod call and this afternoon, I’ve got another meeting, and I've also got to do some administration from a session that I did yesterday.” I’d say great. Next person. And it takes about that long. You might have time for one little follow up question, but if you had a team of 10, which would be a reasonably large team in our books that still shouldn't take longer than five minutes. Thirty seconds, you can actually talk about a lot of stuff.

Brendan Rogers: I know you mentioned this earlier, but I want to raise it again in the context of this. ‘Cause we're specifically talking daily check in. What do you think or what do you see as the biggest issue that teams or leaders face in that daily check in as to why they go for longer than 5 or 10 minutes?

Andrew Moore: Normally, it's because the topic escalates past administrative. So, we talk about it administratively. We've got to say, “Well, I've got to, I'm rejigging that form for you.” And someone else will go and talk about, “Yeah, we should do the other forms as well.” “Yes.” “And then we should talk about the form system.” “Okay.” Actually, you know that anyone notice that we have to go through a lot of protocols in order to get anything approved, that's really getting frustrated and then the conversation's gone. So, it's letting it deviate and missing the point. You can certainly have pre-conversations and post conversations, but there is a bit of discipline in saying, “We are, for this next five minutes, we're just going to talk about what everybody needs to be in.” And then after that, have side conversations. After that, have side meetings about things that might've appeared in this meeting, and that tends to be what happens. So, you wanted a quick call and then you go, “Actually, I heard Brendan talk about that meeting he's got this afternoon. I need to talk to him before that. I'll get on a call straight after with him.” Because he's reminded me that that needs to happen, but don't have that conversation in the meeting necessarily. That's how you keep it to time.

Brendan Rogers: So, it really comes back to that word, discipline. Understanding the different types of meetings and people in the group, particularly, the leader, having the discipline to, if it starts to go down that path to stop it. And if the rest of the team understand that there are meeting disciplines in the four ones that we're going through, they will know that there will be an opportunity to get through these things if they're indeed important for the group to discuss.

Andrew Moore: I like the word discipline, but I've got another word I like more at the moment. It's intentionality, because, I think, if the whole team understands what the intention is, then they can all support it. And we don't have to create people trying to get off the boat and then other people trying to force them back on. So, we don't have to create as much friction in the system. We just articulate clearly what the intention is and that we want to be intentional in how we do it. And everyone comes with that understanding. If everyone understands what we're trying to do in this meeting, then there shouldn't be too much force involved in it. It doesn't need to, it's just, it's a self-discipline, if anything.

Brendan Rogers: All right, let's move on to the second type of meeting. You mentioned the tactical meeting, the weekly tactical meeting. Give us a bit of an outline of that.

Andrew Moore: So, weekly tactical meeting is the big one to get right. If you're doing your admin topics out of that and you're pushing your strategic topics out of that, then you should be, you should be in a good weekly flow or a good monthly or annual flow with your meetings if you get that right.

The structure is unique. The first thing we would say for this is we don't have a pre-made agenda. We make a real-time agenda and we make it through two things. First, when we first come into the meeting, we do a quick lightning round, which is pretty similar to, you could call it a weekly version of the daily catch-up. And really, it's just, what are the couple of things that you've got on this week? What are the big things that are happening between now and the next meeting for you? What big things that you have on your plate? That is, we call it the lightning round and you've got to do that fast. Otherwise, it will hijack the meeting. It's not a department report. It's just a, “Here is a couple of things that are going on for us.” So, we do that first. The point of that is to inform everybody about what is going on in everybody's head, gives everyone a chance to talk initially. So, they all engage in the meeting and gets a few things on the table that might become agenda points in a minute.

The second thing we look at once we've done the lightning round is, “What are we supposed to be doing together?” We would advocate every team needs to have a short-term, ruthlessly-prioritised, clear picture of what it is that we are doing together right now that's most important. We have a bit of a model around it. We call it a thematic goal, but really, what you need to be able to do is say, “This is what the team, as a group, are collectively prioritising at the moment.”

So, the second thing you do is check in on that. How are we going? How are we going against what we're trying to do together? So, in that first 10 minutes of the meeting, assuming the meeting size is 70 minutes long, it might be 90 minutes long. In the first 10 minutes, we've checked in with the individuals and we've checked in with how we're going and what we're doing together. We should now be well-positioned to say, “Okay, on the basis of individual focuses and on collective focuses, what do we need to discuss?” And you build a real-time agenda right there from what are the challenges. So, if you're having challenges with part of your collective plan, we discuss them. If someone, an individual in the team is having challenges with something that the team needs to come and assist with, or that is really a team problem,  and we put that on the agenda. And the leader, when they're listening, as they're listening through that first two chunks, they should be thinking in their head, ”I think we need to talk about that. I think we need to talk about that. We need an answer. So, how are we going to solve that problem? I can see that we need to support Sarah in what she's trying to do, then I'd like to rally. So, let's put that on the agenda."

And you sort of start building a little bit of a mud map agenda if you want to call it that in your head. As the leader, as you're going through, so that when it comes to agenda booking, you go, “Right. Here are the six topics that I kind of dragged on that. Did anyone have anything else? What did everybody else say?” And then we put them on there. We put that agenda down. And then we, becomes more like a normal meeting. As the leader though, they still need to drive that because there'll be some more and less important topics on that. And they'll be some there that might escalate. So, we might need to pull out at a certain moment and put into a strategic ad hoc meeting. But, basically, once we've built that real-time agenda, we just work through it. The other tricky thing about that meeting is as you're working through it, everything has to go somewhere. So, we have two other sort of boxes at the end. One is, “What have we agreed to do here?” So, at the end of each agenda point, we want to make sure we're super clear what we've agreed to do, and who's agreed to do it and timelines.

And it's still so much for accountability, it's more for clarity. So that everybody knows exactly what the expectation is, and there's no grey area within the team. So, at the end of each agenda point, before you move to the next agenda point, you should end that point with clarity. What exactly are the next steps? What exactly are the expectations? What exactly do we agree? So, as you go through, so you might need to be marking that somewhere. The other thing that we would say is at the very end of the meeting, you want to be able to, you want to come back and say, “On the basis of all of these things, who do we need to communicate this with who isn’t here?” So, once you understand that, you should hopefully work through your agenda, pause at the end for the last 5 or 10 minutes and say, “Right, let's reconfirm everything that we've said, that we have agreed too, just to make sure that we're absolutely crystal clear. And let's confirm who we're talking to about this, who, who is not in the room needs to be informed about a decision we've made or an action that we're taking or needs to be engaged in a process here that we've initiated something.” And that would be a tactical meeting structure for us.

Brendan Rogers: Go back to thematic goal, why is a thematic goal so important for teams to have?

Andrew Moore: It comes down to what a team is. So, we would say, “A team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for a common objective.” So, let me break that apart for a second. Small group, we would say less than 12. If it's less than 3, it's a duo or a person. So, more than three, less than 12. Once it gets more than 12, it gets very hard to manage as a team, a team that has sort of collectively responsible for something. And 12 is actually quite large, even. So, I think, optimal numbers, sort of, somewhere between 5, 7, between 3 and 7 is really a very good number, but you can go up to 12 and still be a team.

Secondly, collectively responsible for common objectives. If you take it to a sporting analogy, you would say that a basketball team were collectively responsible for a common objectives. Now, they've all got their own positions. They can play in different sports and they have different skills, but in the end, there's one scoreboard. So, their common objective is to win the game and they're collectively responsible for it. You can't have a great game if you're on the losing team. Well, you shouldn't be able to, if you have a collective responsibility. So, that notion there is in a team, what we're doing together is more important than what we're doing as individuals. Our individual performances are important to the extent that they contribute to the group's success. So, we're collectively responsible for a common objective. And that's what makes us a team.

The counterpoint there is a working group. And we would say, a working group, it's kind of like golf. When you play golf, you are together and you want to have different strengths and weaknesses and you can certainly help each other along the way. But when you get to the end of a round, you each have your own scorecard. As people keep pointing out, unless it's Ambrose. So, assuming it's not Ambrose. Everyone gets their own scorecard at the end of a golf game, which means, “I can have a great game. You can have a poor game and my good game or bad game doesn't influence your good game or bad game.” Even though we're together, we would call that a working group. So, on the assumption that we have a team, what we need is a common scoreboard and the thematic goal, or collectively a thing that we're collectively responsible for delivering together, that's more important, that supersedes their individual objectives. That is critical. Otherwise, you can't really have a team. And if it's the most important thing for us to work on together, then that's what we should be talking about when we are together. Hence, its centrality to the meetings.

Brendan Rogers: The other part that you haven't mentioned, but I know, and I know we're on a bit of a time limit this morning, but I do want you to share this concept of mining for conflict, because that is also so important in these meetings from a leader. Can you explain that?

Andrew Moore: Absolutely. So, that comes into the functionality of a team, like how functional is the team in being able to sort of raise and resolve issues, and then to get to that point where they are collectively responsible, they take personal responsibility for something. We would say that if a person doesn't get the opportunity to weigh into a problem, then they're not going to be able to buy into that, to the solution. So, if you don't get to share your opinion in the challenge bit, we talk about it as conflict. When there's a debate around what we should do, if you don't get the chance or if your opinions don't value within that conversation, then you're probably not going to accept the imposed decision that's made on the other side of, or after the debates happened. So, it's really important that we encourage debate. Good, strong conflict. We call it conflict within a meeting.

So, there's good and bad conflict obviously. Sometimes, there's no conflict. We call it artificial harmony. When it's really friendly, but it's friendly because we're not talking about the serious issues. So, that's almost no conflict or minimal conflict. And then, there’s inter-personally challenging conflicts that people are paying an emotional price for. And no one really likes that. And we'd certainly don't advocate that either. You should go home feeling better about yourself. You should leave a meeting being challenged and tired and invigorated to some extent, but almost exhausted because your ideas have been challenged and you've been challenging other people's ideas and trying to get to an understanding of how we can work this together. That's normal. So, tired is normal, but you shouldn't feel bad about yourself when you leave the meeting. So, we would say that conflict that's generating personal distress, kind of limits your ability to come back and have more good debate tomorrow or more conflict, good conflict tomorrow.

So, we want to find that balance between not having conflict and having bad conflict. And how do you encourage that? And we talk about mining for conflict, which is the idea a) that we validate conflict. We say, “this is important.” It's important to value the differing opinions, not just to get on board because the natural tendency, when someone raises something, it makes kind of sense for everyone just to agree with it. And once a few different people have agreed with it, it's quite hard to disagree with that point. So, what you want to have is a norm within the team. And certainly, as a leader, you want to drive this norm of saying, “Okay, that's good.” We've got that thought, “Who has a differing opinion?” and welcoming and validating that differing opinion. So, they go who's got a counterpoint, who's got another way of looking at it. “What's a potential, different solution? What if that solution wasn't the right one? What would another one be?” And just to drive that differing opinion, to value that differing opinion, which we call mining for conflict.

And it's a really key part of the leader's role. It is dependent on the relationships, being able to sustain it, as in if the relationships in the team aren't strong enough that people are willing to say something that might be a bit crazy, a bit kooky, a bit off-message to raise contentious or perhaps, unpopular opinions. Then you need to have a lot of enough rapport or enough trust in the team to be able to support that. But assuming you do have enough trust, you may still need a little encouragement. And that's part of that leader's role in mining for conflict is to provide that encouragement, the incentive, the validation for the differing opinions.

Brendan Rogers: Let’s go on to the ad hoc strategic meeting, mate. We've got two more to go. Give us a bit of detail around that.

Andrew Moore: Okay. So, the ad hoc strategic meeting, we would normally say two to four hours. It's topic specific. We're normally pretty good at this. So, we don't spend a lot of time coaching teams on it. An adhoc strategic meeting is, normally, the fun meeting. So, if you keep it within the topic and you're clear about the outcome that you want, you can work through a process.

Something that I've learned from experience is that some teams like to jump to early conclusions. Other teams like to perpetually introduce new opportunities, new options through a meeting. So, if you've got two hours, I would say, we're going to spend two hours discussing, debating, deciding what we're going to do here. I would break up a strategic meeting. We always, I always advocate breaking up a strategic meeting into parts. The first bit would be, you need to give everybody enough information that they can argue with your point. So, there will always be someone that knows more about this particular topic than everybody else. And you don't want to create an adversarial environment where they are proposing someone and everybody else is either pulling it to pieces or they're seeing that their job is critiquing a single idea.

That structure doesn't really work. It's adversarial and it doesn't tend to help. So, it's not an approval process. We want to get away from the approval process. A strategic meeting normally starts with a challenge. We don't know how to solve this. How are we going to solve this? What's the best way to solve this, but there’ll still be someone that knows lots about it. So, the first thing want to do is hear from that person and get them to bring everyone else up to the point where they can legitimately discuss the tos and fros and the bits of it. Then, you have a discussion, you generate options. Then, you want to go through a phase where you got right here all of the options. Is there anything else? Then, you close down new-option time and you go into let's-start-narrowing time.

So, one of the big keys within that meeting is to know when we're introducing new ideas and know when we're narrowing. It's tempting to do both. You'll have some people that'll be trying to narrow early and you'll have some people that are trying to keep opening up new ideas in the second half when you are trying to narrow, and reduce the options. And then, the last point is you've got to end with clarity. What exactly are we doing? Who's responsible for what? And take a good 10 minutes at the end, to really nail down the next steps, even though you'll be tired.

Brendan Rogers: Have you got a bit of an idea on a strategic type topic just to give leaders an understanding?

Andrew Moore: You could have two hours of topic. You might have a one, big topic and you could have a half-day meeting if it was, we were reviewing whether or not we're going into the Middle East with our new business unit, or we're doing a major acquisition. I have facilitated some strategic sessions with big organisations around large acquisitions. “Are we going to buy this?” And we might spend a day with the Senior Executive team, that perhaps, the Board or several Board Members saying, “Well, this is the acquisition. This is the consequence.” And there's a lot of information that the executive team needs to have. Like, “What are the financial complications associated with that? What are the implications? What does this mean for our regular running budgets in the existing regions that we're running? What does it mean for resource allocation? What does it mean for our team members? Are we going to have to pull some of our existing team members out to go and support that? What will the impact be on the existing business of that?” So, there's a lot of information in and around that. So, that's a very big end of town conversation that might be a strategic ad hoc topic, or it might be, “We're going to implement SAP. Are we going to implement SAP? Is that the best solution for our problems?” So, it's a big technical basis. So, you might need to bring everyone up to speed. Look at the pros and cons. Look at the challenges, other people's experiences. Look at the current system and whether or not it's going to be better or worse, depending on the cost, make a decision.

Brendan Rogers: Andrew, let's move on to the final meeting type and that's you call it the offsite, one or two days, potentially. Tell us what's involved there.

Andrew Moore: The big things there is the loose topics that need the time to wander. So, really the big topics there are, “What are the over-the-horizon challenges that we face? Is our course right considering the market movements and all those sorts of things?” So, it's really a big picture. And it's, “What do others see?”

The other big rock there is, “Are we functioning well as a team?” Like, “What are our relationships like?” “Let's clear some of the mess that's built up between us as individuals, and really have us a chance to reconnect as a team around some personal things and around just who we are as individuals and people.” And, “What's the really big picture plan?” We would advocate not making that too structured, but loosely, you need to have some people's stuff and some big picture topics within that.

Brendan Rogers: Is it right to say that of the four meeting types, the two that would probably require a little bit more preparation than what the other two may be is that preparation would really be needed for things like the ad hoc strategic and that offsite?

Andre Moore: I think the preparation is around those two. Yes, but the practice around the structuring is the other two is the admin meeting and the tactical. They're the hardest to normalise, but they require the least prep, which everybody loves by the way. It's great not having to plan for your meeting, just being able to turn up, have your three things that you're going to talk about. It's actually, it's a, frees up of a bit of time outside the meeting.

Brendan Rogers: You've given us a fantastic context around meetings, why they're so important. You've gone through the four different meeting types and really explained those well. So, thank you very much for that. If there was one bit of advice you could give leaders that 95% you referred to that aren't having very good meetings at the moment, where's that starting point for them to move their meetings into a better place?

Andrew Moore: As with all things that are significant, the starting point is always with yourself. So, I think the first thing you got to realise is a) you're responsible for the meetings. A bad meeting that you're in, that's your meeting, is your bad meeting. And as soon as you start to associate this bad meeting with yourself, you'll do something about it.

Second thing is know that you can do something about it. Just because every meeting you've always ever been in has been terrible does not mean that all meetings need to be terrible. There's a legitimate way to do it. And as soon as you own it, and you realise the possibilities of how fun that can actually be, once you've just put a little bit of structure around it, no agenda, structure and you're focused on how we're talking, not just what we're talking about. You'll be amazed. You'll be amazed. I think you'll find a new lease of life in your job if you go ahead and do those two things. Take responsibility and understand that it can be so much better. You can be so much better.

Brendan Rogers: I love it. Really, that take ownership side of things. Thank you. Take responsibility. Mate, how can listeners get hold of you?

Andrew Moore: I’m pretty easy to find andrew.moore@tablegroupconsulting.com or you can look on The Table Group website, which is www.tablegroup.com. I'm on the Consultant Page, down the bottom in the International Section.

Brendan Rogers: Or the other option is go up to Brisbane and you love, I can't remember the name of that coffee shop that we met in, but it was a nice little place. And I'm pretty sure you frequent there quite often.

Andrew Moore: (Laughing) They're familiar with me. Yes.

Brendan Rogers: (Laughing) I gathered that from the day we met there, mate. You're a fantastic person. I love having conversations with you because every time we talk, mate, I just, my mind starts blowing up with the information you have and the experience you've got. Thanks for giving us time today, buddy. And I look forward to continuing our relationship and friendship in the years to come.

Andrew Moore: You're very welcome, Brendan. Thanks for inviting me. It's been great. I've had a lot of fun.

(Music plays)

Brendan Rogers: There are very few leaders out there that know how to run effective meetings. As Andrew said, he estimates at least 95% of meetings taking place are bad meetings. The fantastic thing about this is that as a leader, you can differentiate yourself very quickly. If you learn how to run great meetings, you will be part of a very small percentage of leaders who will make a big difference to your team and organisation. The opportunity is now. Don't just listen to this podcast. Take action on it.

These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Andrew.

My first key takeaway. Leaders must understand the different types of meetings and their purpose. The daily check in. This meeting has an administrative purpose. The weekly tactical meeting. This has a tactical purpose with the thematic goal being central to it. The ad hoc strategic meeting. This has a strategic focus on critical issues affecting long-term success. And the quarterly offsite meeting. This has a developmental purpose and looks at over the horizon challenges as well as how we are functioning as a team.

My second key takeaway. A team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for a common objective. The word team gets used in organisations very loosely nowadays. Most teams I've seen in organisations are actually work groups. They aren't focused on a common goal. If there is no common goal, which Andrew referred to as a thematic goal, there is no team.

My third key takeaway, the leader must take responsibility for meetings. As Andrew mentioned, meetings are the leaders’ domain. If the meeting is bad, it's your bad meeting. You need to make meetings interesting, vibrant and engaging. The leader must take responsibility for the meeting, understand that it can be better and it will change everything for you as a leader.

To summarise my three key takeaways, leaders must understand the different types of meetings and their purpose. A team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for a common objective. The leader must take responsibility for meetings.

If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, please feel free to send me a message at brendan@brendanrogers.com.au.

Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.


Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.