In these days of open office arrangements, Agile project management, and a flood of fast-and-light startup practices, the idea of sit-down weekly meetings seems almost quaint, like chalkboards and rotary phones.
Even Hewlett Packard abandoned the practice of weekly meetings years ago in favor of “management by walking around”. Managers were encouraged to get out of their corner offices and to meet their team members at their cubicles, right in the midst of their work.
While this and other philosophies seem very proactive or egalitarian in their approach, I’ve found that the good-old weekly meeting is the best communication tool I have in my management toolbox, even with a small agency where everyone works in one small room or as remote freelancers.
While weekly meetings aren’t flashy management hacks, they have saved me from countless hours of frustration, piles of revisions, and team conflicts.
Week in and week out, I hold onto my weekly one-on-one meetings, and I make sure I keep them with employees, customers, and my own boss.
The Hidden Benefits of Weekly Meetings
If music is what happens between the notes, then much of management is what happens around the meetings.
In other words, some of the power of a weekly meeting comes from the discussion inside that set time and location, but just as much power comes from your dedication to the meeting.
Here are some of the unspoken benefits you’ll get from an unwavering commitment to weekly meetings.
You’re signaling to your team and your company that you are dependable.
Many small organizations have meetings that have no real fixed time or agenda. This is done in the name of flexibility (as in, “Hey, whenever it works for you–just let me know.”), which sounds great. But it gives the impression that meetings aren’t very important, so they often are overlooked and then cancelled.
Insisting on timely, fixed meetings signals not only your discipline and consistency, but also your commitment to your own employees and their input.
Remember that as a manager, you are a communication hub, and these meetings are transmission lines. Without them, everyone is left running on assumptions.
Hands down, the weekly meeting is the best way to have an (nearly) no-surprises workflow.
When you host and hold onto weekly meetings, you’ll hear far more from your employees than if you waited for them to initiate conversations with you.
In this safe, supportive space, you can set priorities and keep tabs on each employee and project without looking over their shoulders each day.
But most important, you’ll have the chance to make gentle corrections so you can catch project potholes before they create full-fledged sinkholes. I can’t tell you how many times weekly meetings have provided a place for me to straighten out a misunderstanding that would have cost us dozens of billable hours.
Other times, I’ve been able to nudge a team member in the right direction without without a whiff of a reprimand. Since everyone cringes at the thought of difficult conversations, this communication tool is a perfect, painless way to offer guidance–sometimes, without the employee knowing they’re being corrected.
How to Get Maximum Productivity from Weekly Meetings
Not all meetings are created equal, however. If you’re used to meetings being stumbling, drawn-out affairs that steal time from true productivity, let me give you a few pointers on how you can make meetings work for you.
Sticking to these principles has given me a lot of management cred without having to lay down the law because they set unwritten but clear standards for communication.
- Keep the same time, length and location each week. Consistency commands respect and provides stability in an industry that requires exceptional adaptability.
- Have the meeting in a separate location, like a conference room or a coffee shop every time. This usually allows for privacy and gives an edge of formality and focus to the discussion. If your programmers are freelancers, schedule an online meeting with them.
- If your employee misses a meeting, do not go fetch them. It’s not your responsibility to make sure they remember the meeting.
- The a team member no-shows, wait 10 or 15 minutes, then send them a cancel/reschedule notice.
- When you do meet again, make sure you ask, “What happened?” as an open-ended question. Don’t provide an out for them–let them answer in their own words. You might be surprised to hear the legitimate answer.
Now that we have the foundation in place, let’s build a strong structure on top of it.
The 5-Point Weekly Meeting Agenda
If you thought the idea of a weekly meeting was old-school, you’ll probably really cringe at my next suggestion.
After years of tinkering with format and content, I’ve settled on the conclusion that the best way to organize these meetings is to use each employee’s timesheet.
Yes, I said “timesheet”.
1) Anchor meetings around the timesheet
A timesheet contains so much information about an employee’s workflow that would take me forever to collect, so I ask each team member to bring their own timesheet and a short, pre-written status report for discussion (bullet points are just fine).
Even if timekeeping is done electronically, I ask employees to print out a copy before the meeting (or have freelancers email it to me) so we don’t waste time printing it or spend time looking at a screen instead of interacting with each other.
2) Focus on accomplishments, not accounting
New employees will probably be a bit nervous about bringing in their timesheet because it feels initially like bringing a report card to the principal. But after a few trial runs, they’ll soon understand that this is a feedback loop, not a called-to-the-carpet moment.
The point of this meeting is truly to take a minute to shine a light on all of the successes that usually are forgotten in the rush of the next item on the TODO list. In other words, it’s a time that your employees get to brag a bit.
3) Review where the time was spent
Start the meeting with the open-ended statement: “Please take me through your week.”
When you review each project and how much time was given to each, you get a rapid, clear sense of a few key issues:
- Your team member’s skill level
- Understanding (or misunderstanding) of priorities
- Problem areas that need attention
- Unexpected victories
- Missed details
Keep an eye out for places they’re getting stuck, effective strategies they’ve found for saving time or eliminating problems, and places where they need to follow up to finish the job correctly.
4) Look ahead
After you’ve reviewed the previous week, ask them to set three priorities for the coming week–and write those down. Making sure everyone understands the plan of action eliminates wasted time and frustration.
Since this point is so important, I have the employee write these priorities on their timesheet, which I file and use to review the following week to see if the priorities and time spent are the same or different.
If we find that the priorities didn’t match the time spent, there may be a good reason why, so don’t leave the employee feeling like the priorities are unchangeable or the documentation will be used against them later. The priorities are just guideposts which can be adjusted as needed.
Also, take a few minutes to ask if the employee has any scheduled out of office days (i.e. vacation, professional development) planned for the next couple of weeks. Keeping an eye on time off can help the entire team plan their workflow and deadlines.
5) Set up a follow-up meeting if needed
Yes, this is a lot of information to cover in one meeting, so if you hit an issue that needs more unpacking, set another meeting to discuss just that issue.
Keeping a disciplined 30-minute structure to meetings helps maintain focus. It’s very easy to get sidetracked for legitimate reasons, and a strict time limit teaches everyone to keep rolling so production can move forward.
If they have a question for you that requires some research, like asking upper management, don’t just say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Make sure you completely understand why they have a question so you can get an accurate answer.
Communication and Momentum
Once I realized that my job as an owner-manager was primarily about communication–and I made communication a priority–I’ve seen my team’s productivity jump significantly, sometimes by 25–30%!
I say this to reassure you as you experiment with weekly meetings and add up the precious time spent checking in with your team.
While there will always be unexpected glitches and delays, the weekly meeting has been my best defense against needing the firehoses or lifeboats on a regular basis.