To Meet, Or Not To Meet? Conducting Impactful Team Meetings

Lain Hensley

The days of the "over-the-top" sales meeting are history, as we know them. Or are they?

The real question is, "How will you go over the top without going over the budget?" How will you continue to exceed the expectations of your participants without political blowback after the final gratuity is paid? Not only is the general public more interested in how big businesses are spending hard-earned profits, but so are the internal employees and actual participants included in such meetings.

What is the solution in the face of these challenges? We know we need to meet with and to reward our teams. We know we need to inspire our people to work twice as hard for less money in a market that requires them to be more in touch than ever with their customers and clients in order to even stay in the game.

In 2011, teams are running on skeleton sales forces, profits are slim, competition is fierce and it is more and more difficult to justify your company spending unnecessary amounts of money on a getaway when many of your friends and coworkers have been let go. But we know we still need to meet and it is important to celebrate organizational victories. The ROI on face-to-face company off-site meetings is still amazing, and it is a necessary part of building a healthy culture.

Throwing tons of money at the meeting to make your participants happy is not enough. Employees are interested in new and creative ideas to get together around purpose and vision. They want to have a sense of social responsibility as they plan for the upcoming year or examine the past year’s successes and failures. They want to know that you see the things that really interest them and the things that really concern them. They also want to be recognized as an important part of the company’s success.

Here are a few of the do’s and don’ts I have seen as I’ve traveled around the world for the past 18 years observing and participating in some of the worst and some of the best meetings:

Don’t kill them with PowerPoints and flashy presentations that have no heart. People are interested in three things when you present: Who are you, where are you going and if they can trust you. They think the same thing about your company. Don’t get together and not address those questions. If your teams are stuck on these, forget anything else. They will not remember what you said, but how you made them feel. Be sure that they feel every word of your presentation is something you really believe in and the information inspires you. They will not remember if slide No. 27 in your financial projection had the correct graphic, but they will remember if you seemed truly honest and optimistic. They will get a sense of who you are and if you understand what they need to hear.

• Salespeople are people of action, keep things moving! Most of them got into the sales part of the business because they love people, they love to talk and they like action. Play to those qualities. Keep it interactive and fun. Involve them in the discussions and give them a chance to be heard. The biggest challenge they probably face at a meeting is staying awake or running out of paper to doodle on.

Break the ice. And I don’t advise getting them all drunk! What I mean is, have some kind of structured activity that forces them to interact and get to know other people in the group. They will always stay in their cliques unless you make them branch out and get to know other people on the team. People typically get to know each other just enough to get business done. They will gravitate toward people in the group that think like them, walk like them, talk like them and so on. We know they will learn more from the people in the group who think differently from them, people who see life and work from a new perspective. In the safest way you can, get them together and teach them to respect that diversity and value the challenges it presents as well as the benefits it provides. Most of the key lessons learned at a team meeting will be between the team members, if you get them talking.

Do something good for the world at the same time. One of the hottest trends in corporate training is philanthropic teambuilding. This is a combination of team building, leadership development, sales training, ice-breaking and volunteering. It is impossible for someone to participate in a program that benefits a group in real need and not feel something positive. I have never heard of a participant saying that we should not have given those kids a bike, a playhouse, a prosthetic hand, etc. During bike-building programs that I have attended, the children actually come into the conference room to receive the bikes. This interaction breaks the walls of even the toughest attendee and helps reconnect everyone to the real purpose of the work.

Whatever you do, do something that makes them feel good together. They will have something to talk about besides the news or latest office gossip. Something that reminds them that the purpose of all business is to give real value to someone who needs what you are coming together to provide. If you don’t do this at some level, then it might seem like you are just going through the motions without any emotion.