If you are the manager of a team of people at your job, here is a format we suggest for running your staff meetings. We call it the 3-5-7 format because of its convention of giving 3 to 5 minutes per person to answer 7 questions. This system assumes that you have fewer than ten direct reports so that you can complete such a staff meeting in under one hour.
The purpose of a staff meeting need not be to get status reports. If you have excellent collaboration tools at work where statuses, issues and risks are already documented, that’s preferable. Some companies like Automattic (WordPress) make great use of internal blogs for communication. However, face-to-face meetings are continue to be useful because our brains have evolved being wired for being most effective in face-to-face conversations for several things.
An in-person (or via video conference) discussion structured around these questions is likely to be effective in finding solutions, building a more collaborative team and keeping everyone on the same page.
Here are the seven questions we suggest you request each attendee to come prepared to answer.
- What did we (you and the team reporting in to you) do over the past week?
- What did you learn over the past week?
- What do we (you and the team reporting in to you) plan to do over the next week?
- What issues are we (you and the team reporting in to you) facing now or are likely to face in the future?
- What do you suggest are our countermeasures to address those issues?
- What do you need help with from the rest of us in this meeting?
- Is there anything non-work-related that you’d like to share?
Each person may answer the seven questions the order of their choice and may also combine the answers to multiple questions. The only requirement is that all seven areas be answered in a focused, efficient, and effective narrative lasting between three to five minutes.
Some of this advice is based on management experiences shared by Don Kiefer in an operations management class he teaches at MIT’s Sloan School of Business.
When stakeholders, executives and team members have confidence in the abilities of a leader/manager, it results in their lending greater support to that leader/manager. It also tends to make them more forgiving of mistakes made by the leader. Both of these things result in better performance, effectiveness and results from the leader. That, in turn causes the stakeholders, executives and team members to have even greater confidence in the abilities of the leader. This causal loop scenario is good for the leader’s career.
In the study of System Dynamics, this would be called a reinforcing loop as illustrated in the diagram. This is an example of applying Systems Thinking to a workplace scenario.
The reverse of this also holds. When stakeholders, executives and team members don’t have faith in a manager, it results in them not lending their support and effort to the project being led by the manager. It also causes them to be unforgiving when the manager makes mistakes. Those things result in problems and the project performing poorly. That, in turn results in the people having even less faith and confidence in the manager.
A manager needs to break out of such an undesirable reinforcing loop situation before it results in his/her downfall.
The ways out of such situations include:
- The executives replace the manager. However, this is often an undesirable result for the manager.
- The manager has the team work on some tasks in the project that he/she has a high probability of making successful. These help the manager gain the confidence of others.
- The manager starts to perform other things well that help build confidence in his/her management qualities. For example, becoming highly responsive to emails and requests, following up after meetings and discussions, etc.
- The manager starts to meet constructively and regularly with executives, stakeholders and team members one on one with the goal of developing and maintaining relationships of trust with them.
For an executive, having a management team of people who are good at their jobs and work well with each other is one of the most important factors that lead to success together. Observing a number of successful projects, I realized that it is critical that your management team members care for each other, work well together and give to each other. Their sincere collaboration is far more important than their individual strengths.
I began to write this article impressed by how well the management team comprising of my direct reports functioned, collaborating with each other towards shared success. I was pleasantly surprised by how these directors shared responsibilities, how closely they worked with people in each other’s teams and how comfortably they gave credit to each other. When conflicts arose between them, they frankly, respectfully and nicely expressed them to each other, often one-on-one. Every time, they resolved them quickly and came out with a closer professional relationship. They actively and regularly talked to quell any turf battles between each other’s departments before they could form.
They had a wonderful professional relationship. They barely knew each other outside of work, having busy personal lives with their families on most evenings and weekends. I felt that my management team and I were like a work-family, sticking together through good and bad times, always believing that our success comes as a team.
When you manage and organize your company or your department, spend time multiple times a week with your direct reports together so that you all work well with each other towards shared success. In turn, they should ensure that their direct reports care about each other and collaborate. If you have, say five direct reports, make sure that just the six of you get together in a room to work openly and collaboratively at least twice a week (assuming you are in the same geographic location). The forum for this need not be always a staff meeting, it could be a working session on a project.
I was struggling to come up with suitable words to describe this and its importance. While reading the book The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, I found that the first discipline described in the story talks exactly of this and hence is the title of this article. The book is written as a fictional story that teaches leadership lessons. It is easy to read being under 200 pages in large typeface which you can read in one evening. I highly recommend it.