The effectiveness of a client-facing team is as much to do with how well team members exchange ideas with each other, as it is their ability to deliver the work itself.
Through open discussion and the sharing of ideas between colleagues, team meetings should be pivotal to promoting team effectiveness – but sometimes they play out quite differently in practice:
- Busy schedules mean some team meetings are seen as unwelcome distractions which need to be pushed through as quickly as possible.
- And traditional meeting formats aren’t always the best for exploring a team’s full diversity of thinking.
So what can we do about it?
Here are three things you can do to shake things up and help keep the ideas flowing:
This is all about being honest as to how many quality opportunities your team really have to think about things differently and to share their ideas.
First, take a look at your team’s scheduled meetings over the next 3 to 6 months and label each using one the following categories, depending on which activity is most likely to dominate:
- RADAR: Review & Ratify (for example, discussions around internal policies, technical processes, standardisation of delivering client work)
- RADAR: Analyse & Allocate (pipeline outlook, resource allocation, billing & utilisation, financial performance)
- RADAR: Daring to be different (encouraging challenging thinking and nurturing new ideas)
Most of us will find that our RADAR outlook is dominated by R&R and A&A.
Whilst such activities are necessary, they often require critical, focused-attention. Expecting team members to switch between this state-of-mind to the more open, diffuse mindset needed to suggest and nurture new ideas is unrealistic and unlikely to bring many positive results.
So instead of expecting your colleagues to show their best innovative thinking during a typical monthly schedule of team meetings – or in response to a ‘New ideas’ item levered into a typical meeting agenda – commit to periodically carving out time for meetings dedicated to providing the right environment for team members to think creatively.
Better still, setting aside an entire day where team members are free from having to enter a critical, focused state-of-mind at all will not only provide a better platform, but really dare your team to think differently.
Before any meeting in which significant issues or plans are to be discussed, ask all members of the team to write a brief summary of their position, including any key questions, concerns or suggestions.
These are submitted in advance and ‘in confidence’ to a designated Chairperson, who will use them to (anonymously) guide the meeting.
In this role, the Chair can ensure that the meeting’s discussions are more representative of the full diversity of independent views within the group. This can be done in two ways:
- i) By providing a balance to the opinions of those who speak early and assertively, reducing the chances of others simply lining-up behind them.
- ii) By giving a voice to those who, for fear of giving others a reason to knock them down, may otherwise have kept their opinions and ideas to themselves.
Exposed to this broader diversity of views, team members are more likely to explore idea paths they normally wouldn’t, join together previously unconnected thoughts and stimulate new creative thinking.
And even on more process-driven matters, proportional representation can have a positive impact.
For instance, whilst not all team decisions are taken democratically, proportional representation can help ensure that more views are taken into account during the decision-making process, promoting transparency, trust and collaboration within the team.
Take the meeting on a deeper dive.
Another way to shake up your team meetings is to invite along a colleague from a different part of your firm as a guest.
Their role would be to actively participate in the meeting in order to probe, understand and stimulate.
In this way, your guest can make a positive impact on your team meeting as:
- They are more likely to challenge the status quo. By digging deep as to why historic decisions were made and why practices are the way they are, they can really challenge your team to think whether current commonly held beliefs and approaches are still relevant.
- They can bring new ideas and a fresh perspective based on their own experiences in a different part of the business.
For this to work, the remit of your guest needs to be carefully defined, and your team needs to be reassured and bought-in to their participation in advance. It can be helpful to explain that the role of your guest is to:
- Be interested and constructive – not carry out an audit or review of team practices and performance.
- Share ideas based on their own experiences – not to ‘sell’ the part of the business they are from.
- Challenge why things are done the way they are. This means team members might need to lower their defenses a little – and sometimes be comfortable admitting ‘I’m not sure, it’s just the way we’ve always done it’ – and be prepared to set aside more time than they would typically, to allow your guest to take the meeting on a deeper dive.