Two Minute Tips  

Tips for Getting More from Your Team During Meetings

Tom Moriarty | Author & President, Alidade MER, Inc.

Senior people need to strike a balance between providing enough structure to ensure there is control and stability of day-to-day activities, while giving their team members room to make improvement suggestions, grow and expand their capabilities. One place where a leader can send a strong message  regarding this balance is during meetings with their team.

When people don’t feel comfortable, they tend to hold back. They give you what they feel they need to give you, but they don’t extend beyond that. Uncomfortable people will not raise important questions, make you aware of potential problems or bring up valuable improvements. People don’t feel comfortable when senior people are aggressive, highly opinionated or don’t give other ideas much thought. In such cases people will only offer safe and uninspiring ideas and solutions.

In a typical team meeting there is time set aside for reporting the status of current activities, for discussing problems and solutions and for planning future activities. Some leaders feel the need to drive the conversation. They state the issue that will be discussed, then, they proceed to give their own version of what should happen. Once they are done, the senior person then asks for the opinions of others in descending order or seniority.

The further down the ‘food chain’ that a person in the meeting is, the more uncomfortable they are with sharing any views that diverge from the senior people’s views. What can a leader do to remove or reduce this level of discomfort?

First, the senior person can limit the amount of time they consume during the meeting. An idea I read in the book “Multipliers” was to think about having five poker chips in your possession. One chip is worth 3 minutes, three chips are worth 1.5 minutes and the fifth chip is worth 30 seconds. This concept helps the senior person to think about if they truly need to interrupt the flow of the discussion.

Second, have another person run the meeting. The senior most person is then free to listen to the flow of the discussion and ideas. Make sure the important points are discussed, and that reasonable decisions are made, but don’t drive the discussion or decisions. It’s appropriate to make sure everyone knows the scope, available resources, timeliness and any other constraints. Other than that, let the team engage in discussion and come up with the solutions.

Third, when getting report outs from the team, start with the lowest level team members. Let the line employees give their input before the supervisors. Supervisors provide their input before managers and so forth. Why? In a public forum there are few things more empowering than having everyone know you’ve given an opinion or feedback. Not filtered, not given by someone else who takes the credit for a good idea. Peers and the people senior to you all know it was your thought. The other thing this does is allows you to check on the alignment of the team. When junior people act or recommend actions aligned with the senior person’s objectives and goals it validates that the message has penetrated down through the organization.

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About the Author

Tom Moriarty Author & President, Alidade MER, Inc.

A former Coast Guardsman having served as an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School. As an enlisted person Tom had assignments at coastal search and rescue (SAR) stations and aboard the Coast Guard Cutter SPENCER (Boston, MA). The cutter’s primary missions were search and rescue and law enforcement in the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Among his responsibilities at the SAR stations were boat crewman, boat engineer, boat coxswain, law enforcement boarding officer, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and Officer of the Day.

Tom was selected for the Naval Engineering Technology Program and attended Western New England College for two years, earning a Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering, and passing the Engineer in Training (EIT) exam (first step toward the Professional Engineer license). Tom’s last Coast Guard assignment was as Executive Officer at the Naval Engineering Support Unit, Portsmouth, VA. During this tour Tom instituted a best-practice work order management process. Tom earned a Professional Master of Business Admiration (focus in organizational development) from Florida Institute of Technology and was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2003 Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

Since retiring from Coast Guard service in 2003, Tom has become a recognized expert in leadership, asset management, engineering and reliability. He has worked with well-known and diverse organizations such as Rio Tinto, Gulfstream Aerospace, the University of Michigan, Pactiv, MillerCoors, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and many others. Services include asset management assessments, master planning, implementation support, investigative/forensic engineering, productive leadership development and reliability engineering support. Tom has written monthly articles in Plant Services Magazine on leadership and management related to industrial and manufacturing workplace applications for over ten years. In addition, Tom is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division.