Don't let a team meeting feel like a waste of everyone's time.
September 17, 2019 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 0 comments
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Team meetings are a norm in most sports, but not always so for ultimate. When they do happen, they tend to provoke responses from ultimate players that fall on one side of the spectrum or the other. Sometimes, players love team meetings — they can be as a chance to connect to the squad culture, voice concerns and comments, and make plans for the future. Other times, team meetings are considered fairly terrible, a waste of time at best, or even an invitation to increase drama or intrasquad animosity.
Running a team meeting should be just like running a practice. It needs careful preparation, clear focus, and most of all leadership. Too often team meetings become grievance-airing sessions or unruly mob democracies. Remember, there is a reason no government in the world operates as a true democracy — having too many voices can create too much confusion.
But team meetings don’t have to be bad. Follow these tips, plan well, and you’ll have a team meeting that is useful, efficient, and leaves everyone feeling renewed and excited for the upcoming events of the season.
Before the Meeting, Start with a Plan: Set an Agenda
Every good organization, whether in business or some other endeavor, knows that meetings can suck. There is a lot of bad things that can go wrong when you bring a group together, but the gravest sin is usually wasted time. Time is our most precious resource, so if you’re going to get a group together, you need to make sure you are focused and efficient to accomplish something worth the collective time commitment. At the most basic form this means three things:
- Have a clear purpose or need for the meeting.
- Have an agenda for the meeting.
- Set rules or community guidelines for how the meeting will run.
If you want to get really nerdy into full parliamentary procedure,1 check out Robert’s Rules of Order or associated cheat sheets. Otherwise, sticking to the three points above usually will do you fine.
First, you need a purpose. Don’t just have a meeting for the sake of a meeting. A few goals to accomplish is ideal. More than five is probably unreasonable as an expectation. Three is the sweet spot. For example, a preseason meeting to discuss the schedule for the season, player expectations, and team goals is a good meeting. Bigger topics like making cuts might need its own meeting entirely. Open forum discussions about team progress are probably best not to have at all.
Second, have an agenda and post it, ideally before the meeting even starts. Estimate time it will take for each agenda point. Have a point person or two for who will be leading each topic. At the end, you can leave some open time for things like questions (more on this later), but you really need to be clear about respecting everyone’s time. To truly respect everyone’s time, be prepared with the agenda and add at least ten minutes to each time expectation, as things almost always tend to go longer than you think. In a perfect world, you rock the agenda under time and let everyone out early.
Third, focus on the rules or community guidelines. This is the part that ultimate players tend to suck at. We are a vocal and passionate community, and we tend to invest a lot of our personal time for very little financial reward from our sport. We are also great self-advocates. This makes us awesome individuals. This does not always make for awesome meetings.
Most well-run meetings in today’s world don’t go into the weeds with the “motion and voting” parliamentary stuff, but it is important to set expectations with the team. In reality, setting expectations could be its own meeting in itself, but for the sake of time and sanity, the leadership — whether coaches or captains — should just agree to a few ground rules and get everyone else to agree when they arrive.
- Establish that certain people will be leading certain topics.
- Establish how people can participate when they want to share thoughts or ideas.
- This is a big one. Recommended (as will be discussed more later) is to incorporate a feedback opportunity completely of itself. If you are going to have open discussions on topics, which is totally normal, make sure you establish some ground rules on how to participate, who should participate, how long you’ll discuss, etc. Every person saying something will ensure you’re all there all night.
- Have someone keep notes. Sounds silly, but actually really important.
- Have someone keep time and gently remind people when a topic’s estimated time is getting near the end.
- Have a person who “runs” the meeting agenda.
No matter what rules you decide to put in place, all of these ideas should be established before the meeting even takes place. Just like at a practice, the more you are prepared with a plan, the less time you have to spend wasting time the day of.
Have And Know Roles
As was alluded to in the previous section, open forums don’t typically make for great meetings. As Leslie Knope knows, strange things can come out of the woodwork when you let a meeting get away from you; the people are great, but the people need leaders.
Have a hierarchy in place whenever possible on a team. For times like meetings, it’s perfect to delegate up the wazoo. You never thought you needed a team treasurer until the time came to pick someone to run the finances portion of the meeting, right?
Start from the top down. Who is in the leadership? Who gets to make which decisions?
At the same time, make sure people are involved. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Setting the agenda itself is a powerful item, so try to reach out to people beforehand and seek input. Explain who runs each meeting section and explain how people can help out.
Most importantly, make sure the role for the common meeting goer is carved out. Letting any person add something to the agenda probably isn’t a good idea, but then again neither is forcing a teammate to be a passive audience member. You have to find a balance. The best way to do that is strong preparation, knowing your team’s needs, and giving them opportunities — outside the meeting — to participate or share their voice. Even fancy, real public offices offer surveys to get a read of the people or conduct polls or focus groups.
Finding the right balance is tricky, but the best way to do it is to explain specific points where discussion or feedback is wanted, and carving out specific roles or sub groups to get things talked about. The idea of joining a committee isn’t getting anyone excited, but in a smaller group format, you can let people go to town on working or discussing problems. You’ll also find that complaints start to get a lot quieter and infrequent the more you offer to invite people to actually work on the process.
Some ideas for potential roles on a team or even just for a single meeting:
- Executive (to run the meeting)
- Time Keeper
- Committee member
- Committee head
Create Feedback Opportunities
Finally, what has been alluded to the entire article, we get to a big point. Reach. Out. For. Feedback.
Rather than spend time at the meeting getting into a big mess of a discussion, be proactive. First, start by asking people to email you their concerns or fill out a survey in advance of a meeting. Some of the best run-teams will do this on a monthly basis to keep on the pulse of the squad.
Also, importantly, make it crystal clear that there is a chance after meeting — ideally in a written format — to add thoughts, concerns, or suggestions. An exit slip like this will not only give leadership feedback on how they did or their own expectations from the players, but will provide an outlet for people who sometimes just need to vent, ask questions, or draw attention to important problems. At the same time, the minor barrier of needing to type something up might weed out less critical feedback. Google forms will be a lifesaver for surveying and collecting data, though there will of course be people you have to prod to get them to click on anything at all.
For ultimate, there are some hot topics that always need to be carefully controlled. Getting feedback on performance and intrateam dynamics are big ones. Players ALWAYS want to know more from leadership on what is expected of them and how to improve. You can spend time scheduling one-on-one meetings or conferences, but do not make this a team required event — do these at a later time outside of a team meeting. Even easier, do it all online or over the phone. Just make sure you do give that feedback. It takes time, but is is super important.
Likewise, people are often going to be unhappy about decisions that are made, whether it is scheduling, playing time, team strategy, or simply responding to the way other people behave. You can’t ignore these feelings or shut them out. You have to give people a chance to share, but outside a meeting setting is best.
Finally, feedback on leadership dynamics is arguably the most important form of team relations. Team leadership will control a lot of what happens and the direction of the team — everything from who makes the cut to who gets to cut. The way to set new leaders is the most important meeting that a team may have. And therefore it’s most important that the biggest part of this process doesn’t actually take place in a meeting. You need to give people time to honestly craft their feelings in writing on how the team works and how it can be even better moving forward. Change is difficult, but just as often it is as important and necessary.
So there’s the rundown. Be clear, be precise, and be concise. Have a good plan, have good goals, have an agenda, and stick to it. Explain and keep clear roles for everyone involved. And finally, be sure to have opportunities for feedback built in. Do as much as you can outside a full team meeting through data collection or conferencing online or one-on-one. That’s the way to run a meeting in a nutshell.
Not a totally useless skill in life, actually. ↩